The hymn "The Church's One Foundation" is a favorite of mine, as I'm sure it is a favorite of many of yours. The lyrics are that rare combination of being beautifully poetic, while at the same time conveying deep and profound theological truth. Not only each verse but even each phrase within the verse affirms that no matter what the Church goes through, Christ is working His purpose out in and through it. In verse one, we are reminded that Christ is the foundation of the Church because He is the one who came and bought it with His blood. In verse two, we affirm that it is God that that draws us to Himself, from all over the world, and that we are connected one to another in Christ. Verse three reminds us that although the Church may go through hard times such as oppression through schisms and heresies, God will soon rescue His Church from all that would divide it. On and on, through each verse, there is another aspect of the doctrine and history (and future) of the Church that is examined. At six verses, it's one of the longer songs in our hymnal, but oh how rich and beautiful it is.

Merry Christmas! 
Yes, you read that correctly, and no, you have not gone back in time to December 25th. In the liturgical calendar, Christmas is more than just a one-day holiday. It spans 12 days, beginning on December 25th and ending on January 5th. And yes, in case you're starting to put two and two together, the song "12 Days of Christmas" is referring to this very season. So, if you were feeling blue about having to take down your Christmas decorations already, you don't have to! It is totally acceptable (not to mention more fun and enjoyable) to leave them up until the 5th of January. See, the liturgical calendar can be fun too!
This Sunday will be not only the first Sunday of the new year but the first day as well. We hope that you will begin the new year with us by worshipping God on the Lord's Day. We will also be observing the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and Pastor John's sermon will be based in Deuteronomy and Moses's charging the Israelites to "remember the Lord your God," and to "take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes." The new year often brings reflection and causes us to take stock of our lives, whether it be physically, spiritually, or otherwise. God's Word reminds us that at the forefront of all things, we are to remember what God has done for us in Christ, and taking the Lord's Supper to start off the year is a great way to do that.
Although most of the songs and elements of the service will be centered around this idea of remembering, I did want us to still find a way to celebrate Christmas in the service, since that is the current season which we are now in. So, I selected "Angels from the Realms of Glory" as our Song of Ascent. It calls us, like the shepherds in the fields, to "come and worship Christ the new-born King," and so do we who gather together on the Lord's Day. As we focus this season on Christ's incarnation, this hymn reminds us that "God with man is now residing." 
Our psalm for this week will be sung as the Hymn of Praise this week, and will be taken from the first 16 verses of Psalm 119. This section of the psalm talks about the importance and blessing of not departing from God's Word and Law, not forgetting His precepts and statutes, and walking in God's will and way. This would be a great reminder as we begin the new year regardless of what the sermon was, but it ties in with the Moses's initial charge to the Israelites in John's sermon passage. The tune for this week's psalm is a modern hymn that we love to sing here at Covenant, "In Christ Alone."
 In keeping with the theme of remembrance, this week's Hymn of Rejoicing is a marvelous hymn that calls upon God as our "help in ages past," and goes through a great litany of things for which we can thank and praise Him: the fact that we dwell secure in our salvation in Him, that He is the great Creator and Sustainer of all things, and that He is our guide and guard through all of our earthly journey in this life, just to name a few. It is a great hymn of the faith, and a great declaration of the holy, majestic, awesome God that we worship as we begin the new year. As I remind us from time to time, it isn't that a New Year's Day service is the only time that we should do this. We acknowledge God as God and commit ourselves to follow and worship Him continually. But special occasions such as the beginning of a new year and wonderful and appropriate times for us to set aside time to focus specifically on doing just that. And so we do as we gather together this Sunday.
 For our hymn of preparation, we will sing another wonderful, well-loved hymn, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." This hymn reminds us, before we partake of the Lord's Supper, that even we who have been redeemed by Christ are still "prone to wander," but that God, in His grace and mercy, has allowed us to partake of the bread and fruit of the vine as a very real means of grace, all to His glory alone.
Sermon: Deuteronomy 8:11-20
Old Testament Reading: Exodus 32:1-6
New Testament Reading: Revelation 2:2-5
Hymns: Song of Ascent - "Angels from the Realms of Glory" (Trinity Hymnal, 218; verses 1, 2, & 5)
              Hymn of Praise - Psalm 119 (verses 1-8, 13-16); tune: "In Christ Alone"
             Hymn of Rejoicing - "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past"
          Hymn of Preparation - "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
Until we gather together on Sunday morning, may you continue to have a Merry Christmas. We'll see you in the new year!

Soli Deo Gloria

Throughout the season of Advent, we have been looking at portions of Bobby Gross's devotional, Living the Christian Year. As I have mentioned in previous weeks, he talks about the importance of what he calls "inhabiting Advent." This week, we will look at how practicing restraint and retreat, while seemingly difficult this time of year, can deepen and refresh your spiritual life in general and enhance your observance of the season in particular. He begins by relaying an email he once received from a friend of his.

We are now closer to the end of Advent and the beginning of Christmas than we are to the beginning of our Advent preparation. It will soon be time to gather as a church body to celebrate the birth of Christ with our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, as well as gathering with family and friends to do the same with each of them. I hope you are having a blessed and rich Advent season thus far. Throughout the last few weeks, we've been taking a look at Bobby Gross's Living the Christian Year, specifically at ways in which we can "inhabit" Advent. However, I want to shift this week and look at what he calls "The Christ Story in Advent."

Happy Tuesday, everyone! We kicked off the beginning of Advent with a beautiful service this past Sunday. I hope that as you go through the week, you are able to find and celebrate the Hope we have in Christ. This season, we are delving deeper into ways that we can "inhabit" Advent by looking at the Advent portion of Bobby Gross's book Living the Christian Year. He highlights ways that, as modern American Christians, we may feel the paradox of being called to wait and prepare during Advent while living in a modern culture that seems to go into overdrive at this time of the year. One of the points he makes is that Advent gives us both "permission to sing" and "permission to groan."
"Our experience of the weeks of December can vary widely, depending on our disposition and situation. Some of us are readily caught up in the festive atmosphere. Kids are released from school, lights and decorations sparkle, gifts and cards are exchanged, friends throw parties, we gather with extended family and a generous impulse rises in us. We do want peace on earth and feel good will toward others. All this makes us want to sing.
          Some of us, however, readily feel the weight of these days--the obligations, the drift into depression, the pull of temptation, the anxiety of difficult family relationships, the resurfacing grief over those we have lost, the discouragement from daily headlines. We feel cynical in the midst of all the holiday hoopla and superficiality. It makes us want to groan.
          The dual nature of Advent invites both songs and groans.
          Imagine, with Isaiah's help, life in the world to come, the new Jerusalem: a place with no wrenching losses, tearful memories or cries of despair...a place where each of us knows a joyful intimacy with God (Is. 65:17-25). Imagine and let your heart sing! Then open your eyes to every contemporary sign of such shalom, such full-orbed peace and well-being, in the world around you and in your own life...
          Paul, too, speaks of a "glory about to be revealed" but not without acknowledging "the sufferings of this present time" (see Rom. 8:18-25). The whole creation, the very cosmos, groans as if in labor. There will be the birth of a new order, free from the decay and devastation and disease we see now. And not only creation; we ourselves groan. We see the corruption of our world and we know the corruption within ourselves, our own moral flaws and our own part in what is wrong. We see and groan in lament.
          So in your Advent prayers, give yourself permission to sing and permission to groan. Remember that the sweet taste of shalom during Advent is only that, a taste; it is not the full feast yet to come. and the groans induced by our sufferings are not the final sounds; one day they will be subsumed into a chorus of glory. So sing and let your songs be joyful songs; groan and let your cries be hopeful cries."
I think that is such a beautifully written summary of what Advent offers us as believers. To be sure, we do have hope and a new life in Christ here and now, but oftentimes, especially at this time of year, we feel we must put the best face on our struggles and suffering and not give ourselves time to be honest with ourselves and with God about our pain and heartache. We are expected to go go go and to do do do at Christmastime, when we would be able to experience and fully worship the true meaning of Christmas if we give ourselves this time to prepare. No, the things and obligations of the holidays don't go away, but we can at least make sure that we make time for ourselves to be still and to spend time with our Father in stillness. As we focus this week on Hope, what a beautiful application: we have Hope in Christ that even as we bring both our joys and sorrows to Him, He is sufficient to take care of us in our weakness and need. Not only that, but we have the hope of the new heavens and new earth. We have our new life in Christ in the here and now, and the new life that is yet to come when Christ returns. Even in the midst of our groaning, this should cause us to sing!
Looking ahead to this Sunday, we will be lighting the Love candle in our Advent wreath and looking at the role that God's love played in sending His Son to earth through His chosen vessel: Mary. Pastor John will be preaching on Mary's song in the Gospel of Luke, commonly called the Magnificat. The text has been set to music countless times, and has been used in worship, either liturgically or as special music, for centuries. In fact, the Covenant choir will be singing a lovely arrangement of the text for the offertory on Sunday morning. 
In trying to tie both the theme of Love and Mary's role in Advent into the service, I found some very lovely hymns in our hymnal that we will be using this week. Our Song of Ascent is a hymn called “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You.” It is a wonderful hymn that in the second verse, reminds us that it was love that caused God to send us His Son in the first place:
Love caused your incarnation,
love brought you down to me;
your thirst for my salvation
procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling,
that led you to embrace,
in love all love excelling,
our lost and fallen race!
This realization calls us to worship Him and to rejoice. This hymn shares a tune with the hymn “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” which we sing often on Palm Sunday. 
In choosing our psalm for this week, I went to Mary's song to see how many times, if any, she referenced the psalms. There were actually upwards of about fifteen times or so that she made at least some reference to a verse or passage in the psalms! I decided to go with a few selected verses in Psalm 107 that she references, and we will be singing this week's psalm as our Hymn of Praise to the tune of "O Little Town of Bethlehem." For our Hymn of Rejoicing, I chose a very old hymn that has some incredibly beautiful lyrics. In it, we are reminded yet again of God’s love, His choosing Mary as the person to carry His Son, and that Christ’s coming was the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem our fallen world. It is called “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” It was written by Aurelius Prudentius, who lived from 348-413. The tune is a 12th century plainsong chant (and I would encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to this hauntingly lovely arrangement of it). However, being a chant originally, it is very fluid and hard to find a consistent beat or rhythm, so we will instead be singing it to the tune of the lovely Christmas hymn “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.”
 Sermon: Luke 1:46-55
Old Testament Reading: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
New Testament Reading: Luke 6:20-26
Hymns: Hymn of Ascent - "O Lord, How Shall I Meet You" (Trinity Hymnal, 156; verses 1, 2, & 3)
              Hymn of Praise - Psalm 107 (vs. 1-4, 8-9, 40-41; tune: "O Little Town of Bethlehem")
              Hymn of Rejoicing - "Of the Father's Love Begotten" (text: Trinity Hymnal 162, vs. 1, 2, & 3; tune: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly")
              Hymn of Preparation - "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing" (Trinity Hymnal, 420)
 Being the first week of the month of December, we will also be celebrating the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, so begin now preparing your heart to receive it. May your week be filled with the Hope of Christ, as we  watch, wait, and prepare ourselves during Advent, even in the midst of the busy season around us.