Goodness, the turn from Advent to Christmastide at our Lessons and Carols service was especially striking and meaningful this past Sunday morning, didn’t you think? It was indeed our “care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels: in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem […],” as the Bidding Prayer reminds us.
Scripture and song come together beautifully in this service.
One of our anthems was Hugh Benham’s recently composed setting of Christina Rossetti’s “Love Came Down at Christmas.” It’s a text that makes us pause and reflect. “Love all lovely, love divine” comes down at Christmas in the first stanza and our response in the second is to send our worship heavenward. In the third, Rossetti shows how this sign of love brings together us as individuals, the Divine, and others. Love is our token, our symbol, our emblem. Love is our plea, our appeal, our justification for what we do. Love is our gift from God and to others. It is a sacred sign from God, it is our agape that brings us together in community.
In thinking about these orientations of earthward and heavenward, we find our place. In a different directional way, Phillips Brooks, who penned the text to “O Little Town of Bethlehem, considers east and west in a wonderful Christmas sermon where he considers the wise men from the east who come to visit the Infant Savior. He writes: “The East means aspiration; Jerusalem means revelation. The East means man’s search after God; Jerusalem means God’s search after man. The East means the religion of the devout soul; Jerusalem means the religion of the merciful God. The East means Job’s cry, ‘Oh, that I knew where I might find him!’ Jerusalem means ‘Immanuel — God with us.’” (Which, by the way, is a thought-provoking postscript to our Men’s Bible study of Job this fall!)
As we converge on Bethlehem again this year may these directional truths meet in our hearts and minds as we worship and sing “Glory to the newborn King.”