Remembering and Renaming: December Church at Home

The worship order and sermon for December Church at Home.

Prelude: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Hymn of Praise: For the Beauty of the Earth

Prayers of the People

Pastoral Prayer and Silent Prayer

Hymn of Faith: Arise Your Light Has Come

Scripture: Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Sermon: Called By A New Name

Hymn before Communion: O Come O Come Emanuel

Communion

Closing Hymn: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love

Blessing (we use the Aaronic benediction)

I’d known what I wanted to be since I was a little girl. I’d dreamed of it from the time I first sat down at a piano- playing the keys and delighting in the sound. One day, I knew, I would sit in front of a concert grand piano on a beautiful stage in Carnegie Hall. The music would swell above the listeners, transcending time and space as I performed beloved classics known all over the world.

As I stayed faithful to my piano lessons, practicing countless hours preparing for my future as a concert pianist playing for packed houses in Carnegie Hall, I couldn’t help daydreaming from time to time about what it might be like to be the featured soloist in a concert series- in one such daydream, I even performed an original piece co-written by me and world renowned master violinist, Itzakh Perlman.

I made it into a college music program, but about three months into my piano performance major, I decided that it was too cutthroat for me, and I couldn’t keep up with the competition. After a particularly disheartening piano performance final, I hung my dreams of Carnegie hall in a back closet of my mind and threw all of my sheet music into the dumpster behind my dorm.

And just like that, the dream I’d been chasing for at least 15 years was over. Without it, I didn’t really have much sense of identity anymore, and no clear direction of what to do with my life.

Having to give up a dream, any kind of dream, a well-laid plan for your life, or a hope that something will go a certain way – is quite a significant loss; and grieving a loss can take a lot out of us – especially around the holidays. And aging brings with it its own series of losses – different kinds of losses, but losses just the same.  As we get older, things change. Life changes. Vision fails, bones crumble, muscles ache and bodies become frail.

We plan our lives as best we can and build hopes and dreams for our futures. When our lives don’t go as planned, it’s easy to wonder why there wasn’t another way.

Do you ever feel that way? Wondering why aging can’t be easier? Why there can’t be another way to get to the end of your life, without all the changes, aches and pains (both physical and emotional)? Without all the loss?

In  these times of wondering, God speaks a prophetic word of comfort and encouragement.

The writings of Isaiah chronicle the journey of men, women and children taken into captivity, and also speak to the rocky relationship between Israel and God. Israel is constantly turning their backs on God despite the new covenant God makes with them  to write God’s promises on their hearts. God’s redemption doesn’t go as they’d have planned it and they wonder why there wasn’t another way. Amidst the wilderness wonderings, they come to grips with their losses- their homes, precious heirlooms, their worship space.

As they weep for their homeland and long to be with their own people again, they do their best to make a home in a land they did not choose, trying to keep the vision of freedom alive for their children. They’ve spent what feels like an eternity in bondage, away from their own homes and their own people.

Now, as they hear the word of the prophet, the community of redeemed captives rejoices- like the gathered guests at a wedding would rejoice- grateful for this deliverance even though it’s not as they’d dreamed it would be.

As they sit with their discouragement that things are not turning out as they would have hoped, the word of God comes to them. Through the prophet, God makes a promise that their desolate home land will become a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of God; a promise built on the promises of Isaiah 60:1-9, which promises God’s light shining in the darkness for God’s reunited people.

This passage from Isaiah chronicles for us the journey of a people through despair and a painful separation from God to a reason to hope- a hope based on the possibilities of God and grounded in the faithfulness of God.

As Israel moves from despair in wondering if God has abandoned them, toward a more hopeful perspective, God responds and bolsters their hope with a promise of reconciliation. God promises that not only will the exiles be reunited with God in Jerusalem, but that so great will be their restoration that they will adorn the city like the wedding jewels of a bride, and everyone will see the glory of Israel.

In the image of rich celebration, God offers Israel a reason to hope. The restoration imagery continues with a garden metaphor. In the wasteland of broken relationship, God will plant seeds of newness, and green shoots will spring up from the once desolate ground.

Israel can hear in the prophet’s words, the glory of the promise and the hope of joy to come. Israel’s excitement and anticipation for this glorious promise of restoration, and Israel’s ability to imagine the taunting laughs of other nations turning into cheers of joy are the mark of a hope that is grounded in the faithfulness of God.

Hope grounded in God’s faithfulness is a hope where the wounds of abandonment are healed, where fears for survival are soothed away, where relationships are restored. Hope grounded in God’s faithfulness is a hope that remembers the journey and finds joy in the promises of God and the mysterious ways they are fulfilled.

Hope grounded in the faithfulness of God calls us to consider the new life that God has brought forth from desolate ground, and invites us to rejoice in the new name God gives our broken dreams.

After wilderness wanderings, war, desolation and fears that God has turned away from them, Israel is given a glimpse of redeeming hope, and a promise to be called by a new name. Israel’s new name becomes restoration, beauty and glory.

Isaiah 61 is a prophetic promise of new beginnings. Isaiah takes a look backward to Israel’s history with God and propels our joy forward as we look ahead to salvation in Christ.

Although I never became a concert pianist, music is still a very big part of my life; and though I was given a new calling and new direction for my life, I still look for ways to nurture my soul through music. One way I do that is by attending a Messiah singalong every year at Christmastime.

A Messiah singalong is an event put on by the Michael O’Neal Singers. Every year, hundreds of people come together at Roswell United Methodist Church to sing the Christmas portion of Georg Friedrich Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah. Messiah is a musical piece, beloved for over 250 years- it’s a musical setting of the writings of Isaiah.

Sopranos, altos, tenors and basses from all over metro Atlanta join hearts and voices together to sing the promises of restoration as we anticipate in song the coming of Messiah, the Christ.

My favorite thing about a Messiah singalong, besides the music, is holding my Messiah score in my hands and knowing that no matter what kind of year I’ve had, or what’s going on in life at that time, once I open my score I can be sure with complete certainty that those notes, penned over 200 years ago will always stay the same. My circumstances may change but the music never will.

We can take the same comfort in the writings of scripture. From Genesis to Revelation, the words inspired by God thousands of years ago will always stay the same. Our circumstances may change, but the word of God for us is still the same. And today, as with Israel so long ago, the word of God for us is a promise that we will also be called by a new name, we will also be made beautiful in the hands of God.

As we saw from Israel’s experience, being called by a new name is hard- especially when it is unfamiliar. But God promises us, as God promised Israel, that we will be blessed.

However, it is important to understand that blessing isn’t just about our individual lives, prospects, families or values. Blessing is about God moving us from where we are to where we need best to be. So we are blessed with a new vision for how to live our lives fully, even in our olden days.

We cling in faith that our lives will be made beautiful in the hands of God, that our broken dreams given a new name, and that the people around us will experience the presence of Christ in us and through us- we cling in faith to the promise that Christ’s light in us will make us shine like the jewels a bride wears on her wedding day, that beautiful flowers and green shoots will come bursting through our brokenness – bringing new life, a fresh perspective, and much rejoicing.

Israel rejoiced in the prophet’s words, holding their history with God in tension with their hopes for the future. We do the same today as we rejoice with the prophet in the promises of God, and as we recognize their fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Today, we rejoice in God’s ability to turn broken dreams into beautiful testimonies, willing hearts into tangible representations of Christ’s presence, a congregation of wonderfully generous and faithful people into a missional community, called by a new name and made beautiful in the hands of God.

Like the angels singing glory to the newborn king, we also repeat the sounding joy “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.”

 

 

 

 

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