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Christmas Words of Eternal Life

We brought the cares of the world into the sanctuary with us Sunday morning (December 13). We couldn’t help it. The danger from terrorists is on our mind. The persecution and suffering of Christians around the world is on our hearts. We also were shaken by one of the everyday trials – the cancer diagnosis of one of our longtime church members, and her surgery and subsequent pain. We are surrounded every day by dread and darkness. We feel a loss of control that is unsettling.

Into the sanctuary came the procession of children and youth, singing and saying:

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel.”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

“Of the Father’s love begotten Ere the worlds began to be, He is Alpha and Omega …”

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness.”

“O that birth forever blesséd … When the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face …”

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Their words were piercing the darkness. The true Light was shining.

Throughout this children’s Christmas service, the children and the congregation — who live in a world whose foundations appear to be shaking – were given the words that connect us to Christians of old times, and to our Lord who is eternal.

The catechism students recited the words of John 1:1-14, beginning with “In the beginning was the Word.” All the children learned four verses of the hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,”’ written in the fourth century, just six or so generations removed from the apostles who walked with Jesus. All of the hymns sung by the congregation (the one exception being “Angels We Have Heard on High, on which the congregation joined the children) were ancient, from the 1400s and before:

“A Boy is Born in Bethlehem,” with its haunting Alleluia refrain; the 7th century hymn “A Great and Mighty Wonder,” pondering that “the Word becomes incarnate and yet remains on high”; and, from the 1400s, “Now Sing We, Now Rejoice”: “Cheer my wearied spirit, O pure and holy Child … Thou my Savior art! Draw me unto Thee! May we praise Him there!”

At the end of the Saturday practice I said to the children: “In this service, the adults are singing hymns not from the 2000s, not from the 1900s, not from the 1800s, not from the 1700s, not from the 1600s, not from the 1500s. The most recent hymn they are singing is from the 1400s. You are singing the oldest hymn, from the 300s – six generations after the apostles. The congregation is saying words from the Nicene Creed, which is from the same time period. Christians around the world have been saying and singing these words for hundreds and hundreds of years. This means that you are part of, and connected with, a very large group who together believe in Jesus Christ and praise Him as God.”

When you think of this the darkness recedes. The sense of dread is replaced with the joy of faith. You are not alone with your fears, but the Lord of history has the words of eternal life; to whom else would you go? No, you stay with Him, by staying with His words. These words strengthen and settle you.

“If the foundations are [being] destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) Well, for starters, join in singing with the saints of old the words of eternal life!

Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring,
Evermore and Evermore. (ELH 181 v. 5)

(Hymns mentioned in this article are found in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary: #181, 112, 113, and 135.)

By Pastor Jerry Gernander
Bethany Lutheran Church
Princeton, Minnesota