Strength and humility. These seem like odd bedfellows, but make sense after hearing Jill’s sermon today. We must have strength, both to survive hardships and wrongdoings and to fight for what we know to be right. But we also need to have humility – the humility to know that we may not win every battle, and the humility to know that we may not be able to succeed without assistance from others.
Veni, Veni Emmanuel is more commonly known as “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, and can be found in hymnals of many denominations. This song has origins as far back as the 12th century, and is still sung in churches today to signal the beginning of the Advent season, the time that Christians use to prepare and and wait of the birth of Christ. There is a tradition in many Christian churches in which Christmas songs are not sung during church services until Christmas actually arrives, similar to the tradition of the words “Alleluia” and “Hallelujah” being omitted from church services during the Lenten season until Easter, when Christ has risen from the dead. In the meantime, there is a glorious array of Advent carols to be sung that are about happy anticipation and the Biblical stories leading up to Christmas Day. In this day and age of microwaves, text messaging, and other forms of instant gratification, what a beautiful tradition!
Today’s offertory drew from a more contemporary Advent tradition; “Breath of Heaven” is a contemporary Christian pop sung that offers a frightened Virgin Mary’s point of view. Pregnant out-of-wedlock, during a time that was not too kind to women to begin with, and carrying the Son of God, no less, Mary’s position is unimaginable. Singer/composer Amy Grant brings these thoughts to life:
I am waiting in a silent prayer.
I am frightened by the load I bear.
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now
Be with me now.
Its beginning is stark and bleak, but while it always returns to its minor tonality, major chords begin to creep in and emit a ray of hope.
Truth be told, I struggled to find the right postlude for today. Today is not only the first day of the Advent season, but the first time we have met together after a dizzying week of allegations of sexual misconduct against several public figures, rampant political discord, and a controversial new tax bill. How can one pick a single work of music that encapsulates all that? As I listened to Jill’s sermon during the first service, my mind raced and based on the ideas of strength and survival, I decided just in the nick of time to play Wilson Phillips’s “Hold On”. It’s well-known, upbeat, and has a theme of courage, seemingly appropriate after hearing Jill speak about social injustice and victims of sexual harassment and abuse. There are great lyrics, such as “Don’t ever let anyone step all over you” and “I know that there is pain but you hold on for one more day and break free the chains”. I had the music pulled up and was skimming it quickly in the moments before starting “Here Together”…and to my horror realized that the third page included the text:
You’ve got no one to blame for your unhappiness
You got yourself into your own mess
Originally a message of empowerment and the importance of drawing upon one’s own reserve strength, these words couldn’t be any more inappropriate following a sermon about victims of sexual abuse, imbalances of power, and living so that we can fight what is wrong in the world. Fortunately, there is an identically named song from Broadway musical The Secret Garden, by Lucy Simon (Carly’s sister and another scion of the Simon dynasty). While less-known, the second selection is more uplifting and positive, and certainly more appropriate for today’s sermon.