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!

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

One of my favorite hymns comes from lyrics penned by Robert Robinson in 1758. A British songwriter, Robinson’s “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” became popularized by an American folk tune known as “Nettleton.”

A catchy and much-loved tune, the lyrics have survived for two-and-a-half centuries because they convey vibrant theological and Biblical themes and because they express a heart language of faith toward a merciful God who sustains, keeps, and protects those who trust in Him.

Just as a strong creek or river channels water for centuries and even millennia, so have God’s streams of mercy sustained and nurtured those who put their trust in God.

Joseph Funk included Come Thou Fount in his Mennonite Hymn Book of 1847, an English language songbook created in Singers Glen, Va. In the first edition of Genuine Church Music of 1832, later known as Harmonia Sacra, Funk included the much-loved hymn. Most hymnals today include the favorite gospel song. Our prayer should always be, “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune our hearts to sing thy grace.”

God of Our Strength

Fanny Crosby’s great hymn God of Our Strength expresses the Christian’s confidence in divine inspiration and hope for daily living. God’s strength comes to us as the source of life and the fount of love.

In the assurance of God’s love and infilling Holy Spirit, we can draw strength for the living of our lives. God’s power is enthroned above yet available to humans as the very source of our living.

For this strength, we wait on God, our sure defense in whatever life brings our way. God is our fount of love, and may our devotion’s sacred flame awaken our souls to praise God’s name.

God of our strength, on thee we call, God of our hope, our light our all; thy name we praise, they love adore, our rock, our shield, forevermore. This hope in God’s strength is the Christian’s prayer, hope, inspiration, and bedrock assurance.

Zion Mennonite Church worship singing God is our Strength

We Are One in the Spirit

We are One in the Spirit reminds us that as Christians work together in love, they can change and positively impact the world. Written in the 1960s, I first learned the song in the early 1970s. I chose to lead this wonderful song as a congregational response song following the sermon yesterday.   

The new Voices Together hymnal editors decided to publish this favorite tune, which is not included in many songbooks. The refrain is the strong part of the melody, in which we express that in our love, others will know Christ. 

These are days of continual discernment. At the church where I lead music occasionally, we meet outside for worship during the pandemic. We are deliberating on when and in what ways we can use our sanctuary again for worship. And I noticed that the new hymnal editors used inclusive language in the third verse, an appropriate exercise of updating terminology for a different era than when Peter Scholtes wrote the lyrics in 1966.

Not only in matters of discernment, which are ongoing in every generation for the church, but in our outreach must Christ be known in our love. The verses of this song are in a minor key, but the transition to the refrain flashes a major chord, indicative of the strength in this song’s assertion that the world will know Christ through our love.