Monday, December 9, 2013

Listen in Anticipation This Advent

“And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song, ’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.” The power of song and shared story to communicate and to create community never ceases to amaze me. Several years ago I was blessed to travel to Israel on a mission and study trip. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I was prepared with camera and notepads to capture every moment. I was less prepared for the moments that captivated me. One such moment occurred during a simple Sunday worship service.

We traveled from our hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem to Bethlehem where we were scheduled to worship with a Palestinian Christian congregation. I remember being disappointed by the nondescript building and worship space set for contemporary worship. Compared to all the wondrous sites we had seen, rich with history and religious art, this plain room had as little atmosphere as any school in the States being used for temporary worship space. But our group was warmly welcomed, and we were given headsets for hearing the translator. 

A few of the songs were new to me, and I relied on the voice in my ear to help me tentatively sing English lyrics in unison with the Arabic voices around me. Some of the praise choruses were so familiar that I didn’t need the translator’s prompting, and the two languages blended as one. Then the music started playing one of my favorite hymns, How Great Thou Art.

I was taking off my headphones to sing from memory when I suddenly realized that the translator had misspoken the opening line. Listening carefully, it was soon apparent that he did not have a copy of the English version; he was paraphrasing this song from Arabic. When he reached the third verse and sought to put into words the redemptive act of Christ’s offering for us, his voice broke with emotion. In that moment, all differences and expectations melted away. Christ alone mattered.

During Advent we have an opportunity to retell the continuing story of God’s love and grace.  But there is no mistaking that this old, old story is filled with song from Mary’s Magnificat to the shepherds’ repeating of the angelic chorus. Advent invites us to listen in anticipation for new songs and even for old songs sung in new ways that open us to the constant newness of God’s activity in our midst.

Rev. Teresa Lilja, pastor of Alcovy UMC, North Georgia Annual Conference

God Is Still in Control!

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