Christmas and Communion: Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.”


Bethlehem was an unlikely place for a King to be born. But Micah prophesied of this little town ushering in a newborn King:

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
   who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
   one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
   from ancient days.” – Micah 5:2

God himself would come to this little town, inhabit flesh and blood, and then offer it up as a holy sacrifice for us. He was born into “the house of bread” (Bethlehem), so he could become the bread of life for us (John 6:35). Bread conjures up ideas of provision, nourishment, and life. A house of bread seems to connote something plentiful and abundant. Jesus told us that his body would be like bread, broken for us on the cross (Luke 22:19). And now, we use bread as a reminder of his broken offering. The bread of life offered in Jesus’ broken body is plentiful and abundant; it’s a storehouse full. His broken body is our provision, nourishment, and life.

Not only did God come in a body, but he came in blood. He came to earth in flesh and blood to offer up his flesh and blood. It’s no coincidence that Jesus introduced the disciples to their first communion at a Passover meal. The disciples would have been familiar with the story of Moses and their ancestors in Egypt: when God sent the final plague that would take the lives of every firstborn Egyptian male, but the people of Israel would be passed over through the blood of a lamb. They were spared by the death of another. So, when Jesus compares wine to his blood at a Passover meal, he’s initiating a new covenant (Luke 22:20); a covenant bonded by the blood of a better sacrifice – the Lamb of God. No one could fathom the ancient mystery that God would be the one to give “his own self for heavenly food.”

That truth that God himself “came in human vesture” to offer up his body and blood for our eternal provision and life calls for our holy silence.

Habakkuk 2:20 says,
“But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”

We fear and tremble before our God, not only because he is holy and great, but because he is good. We marvel at his grace offered to us through the body and blood of Jesus. He is in his holy temple, high and lifted up as the one true God, and at this we marvel. But because of this we also wonder at his lowliness in Bethlehem. Remembering that silent night should make us silent in awe before a holy God on high descending to us “with blessing in his hand.” We remember this blessing when we partake in communion; when we remember the body and the blood. So, let all mortal flesh keep silence.

This is one of the short devotional meditations found in the free e-book Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

 

 

 

 

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Sorrow and Joy at Christmas Time

Many Christmas songs are solely exalting, rejoicing, and celebrating – full of holly and jolly, fa la la la la’s, and jingle bells. But this Latin hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, doesn’t give us a one-sided view of life; it holds a beautiful tension between sorrowing and rejoicing. The song reminds us that we are in the already, but not yet of God’s redemptive plan. Our Savior has come, but he is coming again, so we wait and long. He has paid the penalty for our sin, but the effects of sin are still active in our hearts and in our world.

The hymn itself is mournful and dark sounding, because of its lower, richer tones. The beat is slow and methodical. The lyrics open with the people of Israel waiting in “lonely exile”. Scripture is clear about their exile in Egypt and then in Babylon, but their physical exile was, and still is, a picture of their spiritual exile. God allowed them to be taken captive, because he was punishing them. The Israelites needed to repent, but they never seemed to learn their lesson. They were like sheep without a Shepherd; wandering and lost. Their physical exile was meant to point them to a deeper need in their hearts; a need to be ransomed from their dark inner captivity.

Today, we are not like the Israelites, in the sense that our Emmanuel (meaning “God with us”) has already come. We already have the hope that the Israelites longed to see. The Son of God has appeared to us. He was with us in bodily form on this earth and crushed his body on a tree to redeem our whole being. Though he cried out, “It is finished!” it’s clearly evident that things still aren’t perfect. So we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Our Emmanuel has come and fully secured our eternal salvation. But we still wait for our final deliverance: for everything to be made right, for our sin and tears to be gone, for the banishment of suffering and pain, for our bodies to be resurrected, for the earth to be made new.

We can still cry out with the Israelites in our own earthly exile, because we still wait for the day when we’ll see him face to face and be with him forever. We wait for “death’s dark shadow to be put to flight” completely and finally. We yearn for the day when “our sad divisions cease” and the King of Peace will complete his full plan of redemption. We have reason to lift up our eyes and rejoice, because he will come. He did it once, and he’ll do it again.

This translation of an anonymous Latin hymn doubles as a prayer for the first and second coming of Christ. It takes us into the mind of old Israel, longing for the first coming of the Messiah. And it goes beyond that longing by voicing the yearning of the church of Christ for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to consummate the history of redemption. – John Piper

This is one of the short devotional meditations found in the free e-book Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

The Deep Desire Beneath Lana Del Rey’s Shallow Lust for Life

On her latest album, Lust for Life, Lana Del Rey stays true to her musical style. She maintains her haunting vocals, which are deep and rich and can take off with soaring clarity. The light, slow beats that accompany her voice are in the background, while her vocals take up the focus. Her sound is pretty and gritty all at the same time. At The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber describes Del Rey’s new release as a return to her first one: “Lust for Life is really Born to Die’s sequel: a rather fabulous return to catchiness, camp, and faint hip-hop influences.”

The album screams nostalgia, from the opening song, “Love”—which resembles a 1950’s rock anthem—to “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems,” a duet with Stevie Nicks, to the retro-looking album cover. Her lyrics, meanwhile, carry timeless pop themes: summer love affairs, love lost, bad relationships, sex, and romance.

Though pop lyrics about relationships are “oh so cliche,” they also serve as a signpost for our cultural obsession with love.

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Lorde’s Melodrama and Living Life as a Supercut

No longer the outsider peering down on the glitz and glamor of pop music—as she was on her hit single “Royals”—Lorde now critiques from the inside with her latest, Melodrama. The music itself reflects this change. Gone are the days of her raw, hip hop-inspired beats and simple melodies. She’s now finely tuned and produced, while her lyrics have taken on typical pop-music themes of love lost and partying. Overall the album feels complex, robust, and eclectic.

Though she’s converted to a stronger pop vibe, Lorde has retained some of her edge. “Hard Feelings/Loveless” opens with her soft, throaty voice leading to harder electronic screeches. Then there is an almost silent interlude before the song breaks down into a dance beat, as her voice turns brighter and lighter. The new album features people looking for lasting pleasure or happiness in romantic love, one-night stands, partying, and substance abuse. The transitory nature of life is referenced in certain phrases: “summer afternoon,” “overnight rush,” and “the games of the weekend.” Melodrama shows us we tend to look for lasting things in transitory moments. On “Sober,” Lorde tries to see this pop world for what it really is: “It’s time we danced with the truth … we’re sleeping through all the days … I know you’re feeling it too, can we keep up with the ruse? … What will we do when we’re sober?”

King Solomon, the likely author of Ecclesiastes, would have appreciated the restlessness of Melodrama. Like Lorde, he was on the inside of a luxurious life that offered much pleasure, yet he found it “meaningless.” Or, to borrow Lorde’s term, “melodrama.”

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Feeling the Midnight Moonlight Music of Ravyn Lenae

The agony of love lost, the hurt of betrayal, the hopelessness of depression, the despair of loneliness, and the torture of anxiety are transformative emotional experiences. Whenever we come in contact with these emotions, we grow up a little. We are imparted a fuller dimension of the human experience in a broken world. Through God’s grace, such difficult emotions can also become a catalyst for growth. Though we can feel like we’re trapped in a suffocating cocoon, in the hands of our redeemer, such emotional experiences can transform us into free-flying butterflies.

With her latest release, Midnight Moonlight, 18-year-old Ravyn Lenae grows up a little too. In an interview with Rolling Stone, where she was named as one of March’s 10 artists to watch, Lenae used colors to explain the difference between her first EP and this one. “Moon Shoes is very pink and yellow, and maybe orange, very bright, whereas Midnight Moonlight is purple and blue and, I don’t know, gray,” she said. “Not to say those colors are sad, because a lot of times people like to equate those colors with sadness, or [being] blue. But those colors are more emotion-felt, and deep, and sultry.”

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Jesus Wept for Sia Too

“Jesus wept.” This is the shortest verse in the Bible and also the title of a new single from Sia’s deluxe version of the album This is Acting. The verse is a unique portrayal of Christ’s humanity. Sia’s single gives a true depiction of humanity with a hint of hope. Together, the verse and the song show us how light can overcome the darkness…

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Bon Iver and the Sounds of Change

“Skinny Love” and “Re: Stacks” were some of my favorite Bon Iver songs in my early twenties. Back then I prided myself on knowing about a band before they went mainstream, and I hung out with a like-minded group of friends who were mainly interested in music, film, literature, and art. Recently I turned 30 and developed a growing nostalgia for the “cool me.” At home with a preschooler and toddler, art revolves around paper plates and popsicle sticks. And while I’m behind on my music game, I’m on point with Elmo, Daniel Tiger, and PAW Patrol.

My role as a wife and mom has changed me significantly, so I can relate to the significant change in Bon Iver’s sound on the new album, 22, A Million. I was a different person in my single, early twenties. Though parts of that person are still in me, I’ll never be able to completely recreate my old self, because change has progressively moved me forward. As we are entering the fall season, with leaves changing to yellow, red, and brown, I’m reminded that change brings a form of death to us. Christians see an echo of Jesus in the way the leaf must first die and fall before we get to the resurrected buds of spring. With 22, A Million, Bon Iver similarly shows us how change is a necessary progression forward.

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The Avett Brothers and the World’s True Sadness

It was my first time seeing them in concert. The place was a box of a venue, smelling of wood and beer, with dim lighting. The X on the back of my hand, made with a Sharpie, told the bartenders, “Don’t serve this girl alcohol.” It didn’t matter. I wasn’t there for alcohol. I was there for two, stereotypical Jesus lookalikes whose voices cracked as they yelled and yodeled, then settled down into a peaceful croon. The Avett Brothers were raw, grungy folk artists with tender, lyrical rhymes. They could make you dance and make you cry.

The Avett Brothers have come far since they were underground and I was underage. They recently released their ninth album, titled True Sadness. Since gaining popularity, Scott and Seth Avett have polished their raw musical edges while maintaining their folk ballad lyrics. Many of the songs on True Sadness tell stories with similar themes: fear, disappointment, hardship and redemption. Whether it is set to an upbeat twang, like “Divorce Separation Blues,” or to the gentle strums of “No Hard Feelings,” the brokenness of this world is made clear. The lyrics sing truth about a perfect world gone wrong. Once, perfect peace filled our souls. Now we battle with fear and, as the Avett Brothers phrase it, “…this evil inside me. I step out my front door and I feel it surround me.”

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