“We are in the season of Advent which is a time of longing and of joy. A time when we sing and pray and hope with all the saints, Maranatha or Come Lord Jesus. Our minds are bent in this way knowing He has already come and that He will one day come again. Like many of the promises of Scripture, Advent reminds us that God’s kingdom on earth has come in an “already but not yet” kind of way. Advent keeps us longing whether in joy, in pain, or in the groaning that all of creation experiences for the coming and fulfillment of the kingdom of God. The revealing of the sons and daughters of the King and the redemption of the body. This unraveling of the curse began when the Christ child, as the hymn tells us, the world’s redeemer, first revealed his sacred face.”
Song: From East to West
Text: Isaiah 7: 10-17
Hello everyone and welcome to episode #4 of the Anno Domini Podcast. A podcast dedicated to the supremacy of Christ over all things including our days, weeks, and months.
Join me as we explore how Christ is revealed through the cyclical life of the church calendar year. We’ll discover how this calendar once structured culture and how it can again. We’ll also discuss practical ways to observe and celebrate these holy days in our quest to glorify God and live the good life in the midst of all good He has given us.
We have now reached the beginning of the fourth week of the new church year. Last week was Gaudete Sunday or the Sunday of Rejoicing. This Lord’s Day is the 4th and final Sunday of Advent this year and by this time on Wednesday morning we will have completed the time of Advent and we will begin the joyful 12 days of Christmas also known as Christmastime or Christmastide. If this is your first time with us, my name is Joe Stout and I my wife and I and our 7 (soon to be 8) children decided to spend a year following the liturgical calendar. The following podcasts are produced in real time as a way of documenting the experiences discovered as a result of our attempt to structure our lives as so many of our Christian brothers and sisters have done in the past and are doing today. Our hope is that we will find that the liturgical calendar can give a framework for what we emphasize and when we emphasize it. We are in the season of Advent which is a time of longing and of joy. A time when we sing and pray and hope with all the saints, Maranatha or Come Lord Jesus. Our minds are bent in this way knowing He has already come and that He will one day come again. Like many of the promises of Scripture, Advent reminds us that God’s kingdom on earth has come in an “already but not yet” kind of way. Advent keeps us longing whether in joy, in pain, or in the groaning that all of creation experiences for the coming and fulfillment of the kingdom of God. The revealing of the sons and daughters of the King and the redemption of the body. This unraveling of the curse began when the Christ child, as the hymn tells us, the world’s redeemer, first revealed his sacred face.
I think I will continue, at least for now, the structuring of this podcast into 4 parts, practical, biblical, historical, and musical. It interests me and so far I haven’t run out of things to say about each. My wife might think I won’t ever run out of things to say…about anything and she might be right. The point is, I care deeply about practical Christianity. I don’t want it just in my head as intellectual knowledge. I also don’t want it just in my heart as emotional feelings. I want to be able to live in a way that displays obedience, love, and devotion to the Savior who put on the frailty of human flesh so that I could one day put on the glory of the resurrected body. Examining devotion and obedience to Christ in the real world, a fancy word called orthopraxy, is so critical for Christians to embrace since our culture has long since forsaken anything resembling Christian conduct. This is why I start with the practical and follow it up with the biblical. Here is what we’ve done and this is why it matters. Then we move to the historical as a way of saying, we are not alone in this, others have followed these old paths too. Our feet may be new but the paths are not. We then end with an ancient or not so ancient hymn as a way of tying together and reinforcing in a worshipful manner the practical, biblical, and historic connections we have made.
So let’s get started.
I spoke briefly last week on the paradox surrounding rest. We often have to work very hard to prepare to rest the way God commanded. Rest is not the same as relaxation and should be seen as a spiritual act of service, obedience, and done in joy. With that in mind I found it interesting that my wife and I found ourselves talking this week over morning coffee about the story of Mary and Martha as described in Luke 10:38-42. As you may recall, Martha invited Jesus to come to her house for supper. Mary, her sister, was so enraptured with teaching of Christ that she simply sat at His feet and didn’t even attempt to help her sister prepare for the feast. Luke tells us that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” Martha, exasperated I’m sure because she lived in a day and age without Costcos, electric ovens, or freezer meals, was frustrated by her sisters lack of help and complained to Jesus about Mary. Jesus’ response is startling, He tells Martha that she is worried about many things but only one thing is needed and Mary choose rightly. As Elizabeth and I discussed this, we both agreed that Mary choose rightly and at the same time people still needed to eat dinner. In other words, someone had to prepare the meal and serve the guest… I suppose if Jesus is your dinner guest and you’ve seen Him feed the 5000 you could take your chances and see what happens but the point is that sitting at the feet of Jesus and serving him dinner are not mutually exclusive. Martha could have been hard at work with her preparations and cheerfully acknowledge her sister sitting at the feet of her Lord. She could have even joined her sister at the feet of Jesus know that dinner would as dinners do, eventually happen and work itself out. What she did instead was complain in the midst of her preparations and this, I believe, is what Jesus gently admonishes her against. Jesus was telling Martha that she could rest even in her work because He was with her. I think this is really important as we enter the final stretch of Christmas preparations. The work is good, and the one to whom your work is given is even better so do all things without grumbling or complaining and you will shine as lights to the world.
Each week we examine a passage from the 3 year Lectionary. We are on series A this year and so since, during Advent, we’ve been examining the passages from Isaiah we will do that again. This weeks four readings are Isaiah 7: 10-17, Psalm 24, Romans 1:1-7, and Mathew 1:18-25
Let’s read the Word of God and then discuss.
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”
Ahaz was the king of Judah during this prophecy. Judah and Israel, as you may recall, were two divided kingdoms and often at war with one another. At the beginning of Chapter 7 Israel has banded together with Syria and has marched on Ahaz of Judah in an attempt to force Judah into an alliance against yet another kingdom, that of Assyria. Confused yet? When Ahaz hears that Israel has joined forces with Israel and is going to march on Judah, his heart, and the heart of all of his people ”shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind. In other words he was terrified. In his terror, God tells him to ask for a sign. As high or as low as Ahaz wishes. Ahaz, who does not fear God, refuses to “test God” by asking for a sign. God gives him a sign anyway and the sign is a baby. A child, born of a virgin, who will be a king and will deliver the people from the terror before them. This prophecy was fulfilled in two ways. First it was fulfilled during the day of Isaiah with the birth of a king or deliverer. It could have been Hezekiah or another child of Ahaz. It could have been a son of Isaiah but in some way, the two kings that Ahaz dreaded would no longer be a dread to him. It was fulfilled in a perfectly complete way though with the birth of Christ. The gospel reading from the lectionary this week comes from Matthew 1:18-25. In this passage we read that the birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy spoken in Isaiah 7 because here was literally had God with us. We had and will forever have Immanuel. It is also important to notice what this child was destined to do, He would save His people from their sins. This, I believe is what Jesus meant when he promised in John 6:37 that All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out Jesus came to save sinners and there isn’t a sinner, given to Him by His Father, that he won’t save. This is the good news that Christmas is all about.
As we move into the historical section I thought it would be helpful to give a broad overview of the entire church calendar along with a handy printable guide that marks it out from start to repeat. Now I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. I come from a protestant, reformed, and evangelical background. I have been extremely blessed with faithful, God-fearing parents, grand-parents, and even great-grandparents. However, the church calendar was never a major emphasis within our family traditions and so therefore I have very little experience or tradition to fall back on in what it looks like to follow the cyclical life that church calendar provides. That cyclical nature of the calendar has lent itself to many written outlines in the form of circular / pie chart type visual aids that I have found helpful. I am going to describe one that I really like and I will have it in the show notes as a download if you’re interested in seeing it yourself.
But in the broadest terms, the liturgical calendar is how the universal Church has reckoned time in spite of how the culture around them did. The calendar starts with the first Sunday of Advent and follows two main halves. The first half is where we celebrate the acts of Jesus. In other words this is the time to celebrate what Jesus did. This would be things like His advent, His birth, his revealing to the world (Epiphany), His baptism, transfiguration, His 40 days of fasting, His triumphal entry, Last supper, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. This half of the church year is sometimes called the festival half. Jesus is with us, because we are celebrating His acts and therefore we feast. If the first half of the year celebrates what Jesus did then the second half of the year celebrates what Jesus taught. This time is also called ordinary time because the weeks are arranged using ordinal numbers based on how many weeks past Pentecost we find ourselves. This season starts after Pentecost because as the Spirit comes to us, He enables us to learn, understand, and be changed by the teachings of Christ in a way we could never be changed without the Spirits work. While Jesus was here he promised that if He left He would send someone who would enable us to do even greater things then He did. He was speaking of sending the Spirit and how believing and obeying His words was greater than even raising the dead. So the first half of the year is divided into 4 sections. The first is the Advent or coming of Christ which would include all 12 days of Christmas. That is the time we are in now. The second season of the first half of the year is Epiphany which means manifestation or Christ showing Himself. He is revealed to the wise men, He is revealed at His baptism, He is revealed to Simeon, He is revealed during His transfiguration. We then enter into the season of Lent with the start of Ash Wednesday. Lent means “spring” and also “to lengthen” referring to the lengthening light of spring. This is the time we prepare ourselves for the great events that will take place during Holy Week which begins 6 weeks after the beginning of Lent. As Jeff Meyers puts it “During Lent we are encouraged to examine ourselves anew in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We follow his example and seek for forty days to wage a more earnest struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our desire in this is increased sanctification and growth in Christian maturity and obedience.” This period leads into Holy Week which is Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally Easter itself where death itself was conquered by our Lord.
After Easter there is what is often called the 40 days of Joy which are the weeks following Easter but preceding the Ascension of Christ into heaven. The first half of the church year culminates with arguably the most important event in human history, Pentecost. Pentecost marked an enormous shift in human history, the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell the chosen of the Lord and provide a way in which we could be, as Jesus promised, born again. Only when Pentecost has come, and we have been filled with the Spirit, can we now carry out the teaching of Christ in obedience and love. This is why the calendar is structure this way. The second half of the year as I said earlier is structured as so many days after Pentecost until we get back to Advent and start the process again. One interesting thing to note is that even though times such as Lent often involve fasting, there is no mourning or fasting allowed on the Lord’s day. The Lord’s day is when God expects us to show up and celebrate.
This weeks musical numbers jumps back to the 4th century to a song originally written in Latin by Coelius Sedulius which when translated in 1826 by John Ellerton was given the name, From East to West. Let’s take a look at the words:
1 From east to west, from shore to shore
Let ev’ry heart awake and sing
The holy child whom Mary bore,
The Christ, the everlasting king.
2 Behold, the world’s creator wears
The form and fashion of a slave;
Our very flesh our maker shares,
His fallen creature man to save.
3 For this how wondrously He wrought!
A maiden, in her lowly place,
Became, in ways beyond all thought,
The chosen vessel of His grace.
4 And while the angels in the sky
Sang praise above the silent field,
To shepherds poor the Lord Most High,
the one great Shepherd, was revealed.
5 All glory for this blessed morn
To God the Father ever be;
All praise to Thee, O Virgin-born,
All praise O Holy Ghost to Thee
The song begins by urging all beating hearts in the world no matter where to awake and sing of the holy child, born of Mary, the Christ, the king of Kings.
Verse 2 gives a devastating description of Christ putting on the form and fashion of a slave. Although Jesus was never a slave to sin He did put on our frail humanity and weakness so that he could save His people from their sins.
Verse 3 puts the focus on the amazing story of Mary and how God indwelling a poor but virtuous peasant girl became the vessel of Grace itself in a way that is beyond our ability to reason.
Verse 4 tells the story of the poor humble shepherds being the first to hear the good tidings of great joy about the one Great Shepherd who was now revealed and they could see with their own eyes.
Verse 5 culminates in a doxology of praise to the triune God and a praise for the actual, real, physical morning on which the Christ came into the world. This was a real event in real history and history has never been the same again it was now Anno Domini, the year of our Lord.
So I am planning on having a Christmas Eve podcast and a Christmas Day podcast. They will both be very short but I have another couple of songs from the album Advent I would like to share via the podcast format. If you would rather not wait to hear those songs, you can check out the new album which is now on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, and iHeartRadio. I will have a link in the show notes but simply searching in any of those sites should bring it up. The title of the album is Advent and the artist is Joe Stout…me. That is enough for this week everyone. Happy 4th Sunday of Advent and I will see you all in two days for a short podcast on the Christmas Eve Night and then another one on Christmas Morning. Until then, enjoy this new version of the hymn From East to West.