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Pastor’s Pen for December 16, 2015

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” Psalm 98:4

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king….”

         Recently I spent the better part of a morning tensed in the operating chair of a doctor I had never met, who performed emergency oral surgery I had not expected, at a time of the year I had not planned. At that moment I keenly understood the Advent theme “Keep awake, be always ready.” We don’t know what’s happening next. It may be wonderful, or there may be suffering. The world changes in a heartbeat, with the ring of the telephone. In my case, it involved biting down on a peppercorn that clove my tooth in half like an ax.

         As the anesthetic began to work it’s inevitable charm, I started to relax into the moment. Though my mouth still hurt so much that I could not bear to touch it, my new dentist best friend for life was whistling. Though I couldn’t laugh with my mouth, I smiled in my heart. When there is suffering in the world, the antidote is singing.

         All I could think about last week was how many people in the world live under conditions where adequate medical care is not available, and dental care a remote possibility. Without simple antibiotics to cure the most ordinary of infections, people perish. And certainly, many people of the world suffer chronic pain.

         Nevertheless, in the heart of any darkness, God’s good news comforts and encourages all people through music. When women give birth, they choose what kind of music they want played in the delivery room. Parents provide children with a sound track of ocean waves as they sleep, and lullabies to quiet their waking fears.

         People who live through tremendous hardship develop hymnody to lift and encourage the spirit, such as the spirituals sung by enslaved African Americans prior to the Civil War. They found hope through hymns such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, that both proclaimed God’s triumph over oppression and named a stop on the Underground Railroad to freedom.

         Some of the most theologically complex and spiritually rich music has been written for the season of Christmas. It reminds us that God triumphs over evil, that death is not the end of our story, that God is at work through history bringing peace where there is no peace, and reconciling and healing all creation and we with it. This is God’s good news indeed.

         We name our pain at Christmas, and then we whistle, hum, sing or ring the good news that God is with us in Christ despite every threat to our peace. Beloved hymns like “Joy to the World”, written by G. G. Handel and Isaac Watts, become our prayer:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow

Nor thorns infest the ground

He comes to make

His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found

Far as the curse is found

Far as, far as the curse is found.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let heaven and nature sing.”

Prayer: God of all people, we thank you that you have revealed your nature to us through the life of Christ. We thank you for your light, shining through our darkest hours. We thank you for lifting our spirits through the gift of music, that ineffable capacity to whistle through suffering and to express joy regardless. Come Lord Jesus. Amen

God’s hope, peace, love and joy be with you,

Pastor Verlee A. Copeland