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“Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”
It is the 200th anniversary of the Christmas carol. The Silent Night Festival near Munich, Germany, during the first week of December, will celebrate the first performance of the world’s most beloved carol. “One thousand voices and two hundred guitars, performing in concert with outstanding orchestras, will create an occasion fitting of such an historic event.” Get your passports ready!
From the festival literature “’Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ was first composed in 1818 by Franz Gruber to lyrics written by Joseph Mohr. This occured in the small Austrian village of Oberndorf. The song was first performed at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria on Christmas Eve of 1818. Joseph Mohr, who was a young priest, had written the words to the song in his hometown near Salzburg. Franz Xaver Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist, was invited by Mohr to compose the melody. Their performance was first accompanied not by an organ but with a guitar. Mohr and Gruber performed together for the Mass on Christmas Eve 1818. Today, Silent Night has been performed more than any other carol.”
If you have attended church on Christmas Eve, more than likely you have sung this beloved carol. For millions of Christians, the verses transport us to a quieter, simpler location alongside a newborn sleeping soundly while his mother waits for his next feeding and his father keeps the family safe. Angels fly overhead and shepherds are made to give praise for the promise of God come true. It is a song. It is a story. It is symbol of what is treasured most about Christmas – the prospect of peace for all humankind in our time.
In an article entitled “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914,” written for Time Magazine by Naina Bajekal, “the temporary cessation of WWI hostilities known as the Christmas Truce [was] experienced by troops who turned from fighting to celebrate Christmas together. On a crisp, clear morning 100 years ago, thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with their German enemies along the Western front. In the hundred years since, the event has been seen as a kind of miracle, a rare moment of peace just a few months into a war that would eventually claim over 15 million lives.
“To this day historians continue to disagree over the specifics: no one knows where it began or how it spread, or if, by some curious festive magic, it broke out simultaneously across the trenches. Nevertheless, some two-thirds of troops — about 100,000 people — are believed to have participated in the legendary truce. Most accounts suggest the truce began with carol singing from the trenches on Christmas Eve, ‘a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere.’”
“The next morning, in some places, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out ‘Merry Christmas’ in English. Allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. In others, Germans held up signs reading ‘You no shoot, we no shoot.’ Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades. Indeed, one British soldier, Murdoch M. Wood, speaking in 1930, said: “I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.”
“Still, a century later, the truce has been remembered as a testament to the power of hope and humanity in a truly dark hour of history. And though the Christmas Truce may have been a one-off in the conflict, the fact that it remains so widely commemorated speaks to the fact that at its heart it symbolizes a very human desire for peace, no matter how fleeting.”
We will sing the carol on Christmas Eve. The version we sing at FUMC includes a verse by Bob Kellberg giving praise to God’s care for all the families of the earth. The verses from our hymnal are below. I invite you to use the words and familiar melody in this Advent Season from December 2 to December 23 in your daily devotional life and times of prayer. May the hope associated with the carol as well as the hope for peace 100 years after the armistice ending WWI inspire us as humankind today to end our violent ways and pursue the cause of peace – in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Yemen, in Chicago, in Park Ridge and in all places in between.
Let us begin a Holy Advent.
“The radical practice of gratitude…”
What might curb the meanness, the political crudeness, the pervasive angst of our American society? Diana Butler Bass suggests practicing gratitude.
From Harper Collins… “In her latest book Gratitude: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, Bass explores why gratitude is missing as a modern spiritual practice, offers practical suggestions for reclaiming it, and illuminates how the shared practice of gratitude can lead to greater connection with God, our world, and our own souls. More and more people are finding God beyond the walls of traditional religious institutions, but these seekers often miss the church community itself, including its shared spiritual practices such as gratitude.
While four out of five Americans have told pollsters they feel gratitude in their daily lives, Bass finds that claim to be at odds with the discontent that permeates modern society. There is a gap, she argues, between our desire to be grateful and our ability to behave gratefully—a divide that influences our understanding of morality, worship, and institutional religion itself. In Grateful, Bass challenges readers to think about the impact gratitude has in our spiritual lives, and encourages them to make gratitude a “difficult and much-needed spiritual practice for our personal lives and to make a better world.”
Do you need such a radical practice that as Bass suggests “can take down the oppressive structure of politics and replace it with a table – as always Jesus intended it?” In the Christian tradition, the table is place of meeting, eating and fellowship with God in Jesus Christ and with one another. It is a place of grace, celebration, forgiveness, freedom and welcome. It is a blessed place and radical even in its meaning and intent. I think that is why the table for communion figures so prominently in our sanctuary and chapel. When we practice communion we practice a great thanksgiving. Are there other practices of gratitude?
I’ll be using Bass’ book for personal growth and ministering within the church (worship, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and more) through our stewardship season “The Blessings of Gratitude” which begins October 28. Are there habits and practices of gratitude that you can share with me? I would be immensely grateful to learn from you and to share them together – within the institution and community known as church.
How might our habits and intentional practices of giving thanks, expressing appreciation, praising God, supporting goodness in the context of our families, households, network of friends, workplaces, schools and church help to transform our country and world? Let’s begin with saying “Thank you” and see what God can do with our hearts.
See you in church!
By North American, Midwestern standards, I come from a relatively large family: two parents and six kids. I’m second oldest of five boys and one girl. My older brother Russ, younger brother Travis and youngest brother Eric and sister Anna are blessed parts of my life today. My brother John died a few days after being born into very difficult circumstances. In high school, my parents divorced and my family structure changed to include two households. (Photo: Aslesen Family, Christmas 1981)
Currently, three of my siblings are married, one is single, one has been married twice, one lives in a blended family (two his + two hers + one theirs), two siblings have been married to each one’s spouse for twenty + years with one child and three children within their respective households. I am single and live alone as does one of my siblings. One parent has been remarried for twenty-five years and has four stepchildren and one parent is single but with grandmother responsibilities. Different structures of family with a common denominator = love.
Family. What is your configuration? How do you honor the uniqueness of your family, its history, structure, members, diversity, blessedness, evolution, shared love? In September 2018, First United Methodist Church’s worship and Faith Formation program (which includes Sunday school) will focus on the theme “All in God’s Family – We are Families!” I can’t wait for this month of services celebrating the wondrous nature of God’s family here on earth and the diverse families found within our congregation & community. Our September series will kick off a year of exploring the ministry of the church and its relationship with families of all kinds.
Some of the questions we will be asking in our September worship series include:
- What is the size of God’s family?
- Is everyone included in God’s family?
- Does it matter that my family isn’t perfect?
- How should God’s family act?
- Does God’s family get along all the time or some of the time?
- What is the role of God’s family on earth?
I hope FUMC can be an active part of celebrating your family – in all its incarnations and needs. I pray God is blessing you and your family whether it is blood or chosen, gathered in tight household or scattered across the miles, in need of healing and reconciliation.
Todd Parr’s “The Family Book” may be familiar to families with young children. His books are colorful, engaging and appropriate for all ages. But beyond those awesome qualities, Todd Parr is unique in that he approaches each topic with genuine love and makes his readers, young and old, feel special. “The Family Book” honors all families by reminding us that they come in all shapes and sizes, configurations and complexities. As Todd reminds us, “Your family is special no matter what kind it is.” A copy of “The Family Book” is being made available to all FUMC with children pre-K to 1st grade.
See you in church,
In Prayer for Our Way Forward
We will soon enter into the season of Pentecost which marks the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Our scripture stories will tell us of its arriving among the followers of Jesus as holy fire. The Spirit will inspire the believers to speak and listen with holy wisdom. The Spirit works to unite the diverse peoples of the Ancient Middle East as the church is given birth with holy passion. The Spirit will fill God’s people with holy love.
Wisdom, passion and love are gifts of the Spirit to the church. The Holy Spirit works to bring forth and enrich the gifts God has given to each of God’s beloved ones including you and me. The gifts are brought together to enable the church – the body of Christ – to be in ministry. No gift is lesser than the other; no talent is greater than someone else’s – all are needed for the body, the church, to function well and to live holy and wholly. Every member is of equal value. All share in serving Christ as we find him in our neighbors and world.
With this in mind, I am deeply concerned about the lgbtq members of our church and their families as I read the article included in this newsletter as well as other reports coming from what is known as the United Methodist Church’s “Commission on the Way Forward.” The denominational commission has been created and charged by the United Methodist Council of Bishops to develop options for maintaining denominational unity. Much of the reason for the commission’s existence is due to the continuing debate within the UMC as to the presence, value and inclusion of lgbtq persons as fully accepted and welcomed lay members, lay leaders, employees, church staff and ordained clergy.
As a Reconciling congregation that celebrates our diversity, we can trust the Holy Spirit will help us discern our way forward. This is a time to pray and to be led by the incredible gift that is the Holy Spirit. This is a time to honor our commitment and share the good news we experience as a welcoming congregation. This is a time to hold precious our lgbtq members, loved ones, kids, parents, friends and church members with unwavering support and love. This is a time for confronting discrimination in and outside the polity of the church as well as society at large.
As additional resources become available, our All Means All Team and I will share them with the congregation. The team is preparing for our Reconciling Sunday on June 10 as well as a number of other activities throughout the month of June that will allow us to gain strength and find joy in our ministries of inclusivity and welcome. I pray for your participation in these events. I welcome you to share with me any concerns or questions in regards to the Commission on the Way Forward, the future of our United Methodist denomination and what this means for our local church.
See you in church,