Dec 18 2012

Transforming Me: Sing a New Song: Hope in the face of tragedy

Original post at http://dlollis.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/sing-a-new-song-hope-in-the-face-of-tragedy/

NEW SONG OF HOPE.015I walked out of the church on Thursday with a sermon ready to go for Sunday.  The tragic events in Connecticut, however, changed a lot of things.  It changed lives  and it changed what needed to be said.  I was glad to have the opportunity and the honor to speak about God’s hope Sunday in light of pain, agony and grief.  What follows are the sermon notes:

How long must we sing this song?

It’s a question that we find in Psalms when the children of Israel were in captivity in a foreign land.  They had experienced death and brutality and they felt separated from God.  And in their cries and their pain they asked God the question.

How long must we sing this song?

It came in the hundred of years before  Jesus arrived.  God made a promise of a savior, but the people rebelled and looked away from God.  And God was silent.  Generations came and went.  And still a remnant, a few who remained faithful, cried out at the top of their voices,

How long must we sing this song?

That question came after the birth of Jesus when Herod’s soldiers poured through Jerusalem, kicking in doors and slaughtering young male children in an effort to rid the world of the messiah before he even had the chance to grow up.  And mothers and fathers screamed out in agony, grief and pain.

How long must we sing this song?

It’s a question that has been asked in the shadows of war and destruction.  It has been echoed in acts of terror and genocide.  It has been screamed when people have been killed for what they believe, for the color of their skin, for the place they happened to be born.

How long must we sing this song?

It is a question that we ask in the face of tragedy so close to a holiday in which we are supposed to be celebrating.  It is the question that we ask as we watch the news and wipe tears from our eyes.  It is the question that we ask when our heart breaks at senseless violence and at lives cut down before they ever had the chance to truly live.

How long must we sing this song? How long must we sing this song?

I was thinking a little about this Friday night as Denise and I watched the news program on the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  One of the ministers they interviewed on the program captured some of this feeling.  He said someone there had asked him, “Do I even turn on the lights on the Christmas tree now?”

Here it is the third week of Advent, the week when we celebrate “Joy” and what is on so many minds today seems to be the opposite of Joy.  It’s pain and grief and mourning and loss and questions of why and how?

How long must we sing this song?

One of my friends reminded me of something in his recent devotion that was part of the Daily Advent Devotions that I’ve been posting on the Wightman facebook page.

In March 1863, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a letter from his oldest son, Charles.  Without consulting his father, Charles decided to run off and join the Union army during the Civil War.  In November of that year, Longfellow was informed that his son had been severely wounded in battle. Longfellow had also recently suffered the loss of his wife who had died in a fire and he was distraught.

How long could he sing this song?

And on Christmas Day 1863 in the middle of his pain and grief, he wrote a poem that became a song and you might have heard it.  It’s called, “I heard the bells on Christmas Day”

I was thinking about that song in light of what we have been talking about so much over the past few days.  Listen to the words of this verse.  I think they speak to us.

And in despair I bowed my head/There is no peace on earth I said/ For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good will to men.

In our grief and our pain and our loss and our sense of insecurity, it is a verse that strikes a chord with so many of us.

How long must we sing this song?

On Thursday, I had this sermon that I loved for today.  Maybe one day, I’ll even use it. Sometime though, you know on Friday and Saturday that God says something a little differently.

The funny thing though is that I didn’t have to change the Scripture text.

For the past two weeks, we’ve been talking about Mary and Joseph and how they are faced with the incredible task of being the earthly parents of the Son of God.  For Mary, we talked about how “Nothing is impossible for God” and for Joseph how it is time to “Wake up. Take Action.”  Those message still speak as loudly today as they have ever spoken.

Mary and her people had been singing that song of pain for so many years.  They had hoped that God would speak and act and move toward him. They longed for the coming of the Messiah who would set things right.

They desperately needed and wanted God’s presence.  And after so many years of silence God speaks.

Mary after finding out that she’s going to give birth to Jesus makes a visit to the one person that she hopes will understand what she is going through.  It’s her relative Elizabeth.  Elizabeth has discovered that she too is having a child despite being well past the child-bearing years.

At the end of that visit, Mary stops singing the song that everyone had been singing for so long.  She sings a new song and I want to read those words to you from Luke 1.  Sometimes this passage is called the Magnificat.

For a moment, remember the one who is about to sing this song. She’s a teenage girl from a poor town.  She is engaged to be married to a carpenter, a mason and she has discovered that she is pregnant.  Some are struggling to believe her story and she will hear so many painful things said about her.  She will ultimately watch this boy grow into a man who will be loved by some and hated by others and who will ultimately be tried, beaten and hung on a cross to die.  Yet, in the face of all of that, Mary finds these words:

46 “With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.  Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 

49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name.

50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.

51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,  remembering his mercy,

55  just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

With everything that she is, Mary sings a new song of hope in the face of a world that keeps singing a sad and well-known chorus.

How do we sum up a passage such as this?  We can try it this way:  God gives us a new song of hope.

In the face of a world that is torn apart, a world where sometimes it seems that evil has won.  Even in that world;

God gives us a new song of hope.

In a world where families will shed tears at Christmas over those who are alive no more. In a world, where there is pain and sickness and death.  Even in that world:

God gives us a new song of hope.

In a world where there are acts of terror and times of pain and despair.  Even in that world:

God gives us a new song of hope.

We read earlier that pained verse from Longfellow’s poem, but even in the face of that tragedy, God gave Longfellow a new song of hope.  Listen to these words from the verse that follows the one we read earlier:

“When rang the bells more loud and deep. God is not dead, nor does He sleep. The dark shall fail, the light prevail. With peace on earth, good will to men.”

God gives us a new song of hope.

Now, can even we sing that new song?  Can we sing a song of hope, can we sing the song of Mary?  Can we in the face of a cruel world, a world where sometimes it hurts and we experience pain and sometimes it seems that evil wins and bad people have their day? Can we sing it loudly and confidently?

Can we know with confidence that just as he did some 2000 years ago in the small towns of Nazareth and Bethlehem, that our God has come to rescue us?

God has given us a new song of hope. It’s time to sing it.

This week, I’m going to challenge you to do some things.

First, hold on to Emmanuel — God with us.  On Friday, God kneeled and embraced those who were breathing their last breath,  God shed tears with those who experienced loss, God rejoiced with those who heard good news in the face of darkness.  God’s heart was the first heart to break.  And that wasn’t just at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  That was everywhere.  And God did it on Thursday too and on Saturday and he’s doing that same thing today.  And he’ll do it tomorrow.  Our God loves his children and he is with us always.

Second, make the most of every day.  Sometimes in the holiday season, it’s easy to lose focus and fall into the busyness of this time of year.  This week is a reminder of how precious and fleeting life can be.  Maybe it’s a reminder to us to make the most, to love the most, to value each day in the best way possible.

Third, sing a better song.  Mary’s song connects us to the promise of a God who always loves, who never forgets, who comes to the rescue of his people.  Hope is the confident expectation that God will do what he says he will do and even in the face of the worst of days, we can still find joy in knowing that our God is always there.

As we close today, I want to invite you to listen to a better song.  Things changed for many people in 2001 as a result of what happened on Sept. 11.  The group the Goo Goo Dolls had been somewhat famous but as a result of that day, they changed their focus.  Their songs began to reflect more of the spiritual side of their lives. The song, Better Days, captures more than any other.

As you listen to the words, may they also become your new song, your song of hope, love, joy and peace.

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