Holy, holy, holy

The three-fold praise of God from Isaiah 6:3 became the substance of a great hymn of the church. “Holy, holy, holy,” Reginald Heber wrote in 1826. Well-known and used in many songbooks, the glorious praise of God that comes in three-fold repetition soars toward the heavens.

Heber wrote that our song should rise to God early in the morning. Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed trinity.

I see the pattern of three in many areas of life, in buildings, barns, windows, and elsewhere. Here, the prophet Isaiah, repeated by John the Revelator, is three-fold “holy, holy, holy.”

In Heber’s hymn, Cherubim and seraphim fell before the throne, expressing God’s past, present, and future holiness. Our response can be to extol the righteousness of God, to say that there is none beside him, perfect in power, love, and purity.

Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing

Charles Wesley wrote some amazing songs of praise and worship. I love the soaring lyrics of his 1739 hymn, “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing.” Wesley wrote these timeless phrases a year after his conversion, and he recognized “my great Redeemer’s praise.”

The arrangement of the tune, by a later composer, makes this one of the great hymns of the church. The tune is stately and the lyrics are worthy of insertion in the hymnbooks of many denominations.

“He speaks,” Wesley penned, and those who hear receive new life, those in mourning can rejoice, and the humble poor can believe. The name that charms our fears, the great Methodist hymnodist wrote, is Jesus. His name bids our sorrows cease, and gives life, health, and peace.

Our response can be “Glory to God and praise and love be ever given, by saints below and saints above, the church in earth and heaven.” In spite of the challenges that the church on earth faces with whatever difficulties that come our way, we still have at least one tongue to sing our great Redeemer’s praise.

What Child is This?

In our Advent music service yesterday, an 1871 hymn asked what kind of child is this? Several answers emerged in a set of two songs that we sang. First, this is Christ the King, a most basic assertion of William C. Dix, the author. Also, we sang that this child is the Word made flesh and the King of kings.

In the next hymn, we sang more answers to the question about what kind of child this is. A child of hope is the way John Morison began his 1781 hymn. His name shall be the Prince of peace, the Wonderful, the Counselor, and the great and mighty Lord.

This child, we read in Revelation 3:20, is the one who stands at the door and knocks. This child is the one who conquers, who sends the Spirit to comfort us in our struggles.

A worship scene in Revelation chapter four reveals the heavenly worship setting for praise to the child, the one born in a manger. It is fantastic imagery of a heavenly host in praise to God. To get to that scene of praise, we begin with an affirmation of Christ the King, an answer to the question, “what child is this?”

Joy to the world

Simeon and Anna were prophets who rejoiced when they learned about the birth of Jesus. Simeon had waited many years to hold the baby that Mary and Joseph brought to him. Simeon praised God for bringing “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Israel” (Luke 2:32).

Last evening I joined a group of carolers from church who visited the elderly and shut-ins in our community. At their doorways, standing in the brisk wind, we sang the traditional songs of Christmas, including “Joy to the world.”

This favorite song of the season could have been Anna’s song when she realized that the redemption of Israel had arrived. A godly woman of prayer, fasting, and worship, Anna had dedicated her life to the temple and holy service.

We sing Joy to the world; let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing. Whether in the first century with Simeon and Anna or on a chilly twenty-first century December evening with carolers going house to house, we offer up to the heavens, Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!

Come and see what God has done

Several years ago, Chris Tomlin wrote a song that updates Mary’s Magnificat for our times today. “Noel,” Tomlin wrote, “Come and see what God has done!”

After her initial perplexity at the angel Gabriel’s visit, Mary acted by visiting Elizabeth. Then she committed herself to bear the Son of God. Finally, Mary worshiped God in what’s known as the Magnificat.

“Come and see what God has done,” Mary’s song seems to invite. “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Tomlin’s soaring chorus line invites all to come and see what God has done, to know the story of amazing love. Finally, Christ is acknowledged as the light of the world, given for us. To me, the swelling Magnificat of Luke 1:46-55 is like Tomlin’s stirring contemporary musical composition of “Noel, come and see what God has done!”

Comfort, Comfort, O My People

Yesterday we sang a powerful Advent hymn with a tune that dates to the Reformation, and lyrics that come from the prophet Isaiah. The hymn inspires hope, comfort, and courage for the days we live in today.

Elizabeth and Zechariah waited for God to break into their world. They lived holy and God-honoring lives, serving while hoping for a child to be born into their home. Finally, after years of waiting, the angel of the Lord visited Zechariah and promised a son.

When John was born, Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoiced in God’s providential care in their lives. We too can rejoice in God’s care and love in our lives today.

I like the phrase in this well-known hymn that “the kingdom now is near.” Whether we wait endlessly like Zechariah and Elizabeth or seek to find common ground for differing voices in our own world today, we can rest assured that God’s kingdom is here and now, and that brings me great comfort.

For the Beauty of the Earth

A highlight of my Thanksgiving season was an instrumental and vocal rendition of the nineteenth-century hymn of praise that acknowledges God’s sustaining grace that comes from the very earth itself. For the beauty of the earth begins with praise to God for sustenance that comes to us through nature.

A trio of stringed musicians began the worship service in a rural church with this lovely song on Thanksgiving morning. The chorus soars with an accolade of praise to God: “Lord of all to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.

For an hour, in spoken word, in a video feed from two speakers and congregational songs, we gave thanks to God for bringing us through the year. The writer of the lyrics, Pierpoint, acknowledges the joy of human love for friends on earth and friends above.

After I spoke briefly of my thankfulness for friends, the service ended with the same song we began with: “For the beauty of the earth.” The last verse praises God for the church that lifts holy hands above, offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love. A fitting end to a glorious Thanksgiving Day morning worship service.

We Will Follow

Yesterday I preached the morning sermon at a Mennonite church in Hartville, Ohio. That’s the town where I grew up. They’ve asked me to write a history book about the congregation.

At the end of the worship service, we sang, “We will follow, we will follow Jesus, we will follow everywhere he goes.” A simple Zimbabwean traditional tune, the song gave congregants the chance to affirm our desire to be followers of Christ.

The message was entitled “Called to Remember,” and I used Exodus 17:14 for my thoughts. Moses had been called to write down Israel’s stories in order to remember them.

I won’t soon forget the simple affirmation and conclusion in song after I preached. With instruments and congregational voices, we affirmed that we want to follow Jesus everywhere he goes.

O Worship the King

The first song we sang in worship yesterday morning was “O Worship the King.” I traveled to a remote town on the western Virginia border, near West Virginia, to a small church to preach the morning sermon for them.

We began with the early nineteenth-century lyrics from Robert H. Grant, used countless times in opening worship. And rightly so. The lyrics soar and invite the singer and those in worship to enter into the very presence of God.

God is our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise. Some twenty folks in that small church yesterday morning lifted their voices in praise, surrounded by the hills of western Virginia, nestled back in a little-traveled region of the state.

In our singing, we told of God’s might, we sang of God’s grace, we celebrated God’s bountiful care. Finally, we proclaimed that in God we do trust, nor find Him to fail; God’s mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend!

Come Let Us All Unite To Sing

An anonymous hymn writer from the early 1800s calls us to unite in the singing of God’s incredible love. Come, let us all unite to sing, the writer begins, and praise the blessings of God’s love.

Yesterday we began our outdoor covid worship service on the church parking lot with this great hymn. We couldn’t hear others much because we were outside and it was cold. Nevertheless, we sang of God’s incredible love, a good place to begin any worship service.

The unknown hymn-writer acknowledges our human condition, our sinful nature, and our dependence on the divine. We are mortals, the song reveals, and we are best to sing in the glory and wonder and strength of God’s good love.

The last verse begins with an affirmation of our good condition here, on this planet. The promises of God our spirits cheer, and we rest in the sun and shield of God’s care. God is our help, our hope, and our stay. Let us sing of God’s love today!