This past Sunday I began a new, four-part sermon series for the season of Advent. Until December 23 we will focus on African-American Christmas spirituals and we began with “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow!” The song is based on the passage in St. Luke chapter two when the shepherds, upon hearing the angelic message of a babe born in Bethlehem, hurry off to see this great thing that came to pass! I must say that the Chancel Choir’s rendition was superb and I feel that we initiated Advent with all the honor and adoration it deserves.
But I have been thinking some more about those shepherds. The biblical story also says that they returned from the manger, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. I wonder what I would have heard and seen had I been there that night. Don’t you? Would I have heard the choirs of angels singing or simply the sounds of sheep shifting around? Would I have seen the star in the sky that night or simply two poor and very anxious parents? Would I have understood the hushed silence of the divine presence, or simply the chill of a cold east wind? Would I have understood the message of Emmanuel, God with us, or would the cosmic implications of that evening have completely passed me by?
Certainly, the majority of people in what is now Palestine never saw and heard what took place that night so long ago. The choirs of angels singing were drowned out by the haggling and trading going on in the Jerusalem bazaar. Everyone was tense about the census that had been ordered by the Emperor to care much about anything else. If anyone did see Mary and Joseph on that most fateful night, they were too preoccupied with their own problems to offer any assistance. After all, they couldn’t even get a motel room and spent the evening alone with only animals for company in the innkeeper’s barn.
My prayer this Advent is that God will give me fresh eyes and listening ears that the old story might become new again in my heart! It is for this reason that I felt led to consider the alternative voice of African Christmas spirituals this season. They have a way of enunciating the message of the birth of Christ in a way that is often lost on us.
This Sunday we will consider the classic “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” and I must say that I witnessed a special ensemble practicing this song this past Sunday between worship services and it is not something you will want to miss!
“Children, Go Where I Send Thee” is a Christmas spiritual that covers the panorama of the Christian story, but does it in coded language. There have been several versions of this piece of music, but let me share with you one of the most popular. See if you can interpret some of the song’s symbolic meaning:
Children, go where I send thee. How shall I send thee?
I’m gonna send thee one by one, one for the little bitty baby, born, born in Bethlehem.
Two for Paul and Silas.
Three for the Hebrew children.
Four for the gospel writers.
Five for the bread they did divide.
Six for days when the world was fixed.
Seven for the day God laid down his head.
Eight for the eight the flood couldn’t take.
Nine for the angel choirs divine.
Ten for the Ten Commandments.
Eleven for the eleven singin’ in heaven.
Twelve for the Twelve Disciples.
So what does it all point to? Where does this African Spiritual call the children of God to go? If we are going to go where God sends us, then we will need our eyes opened to see the way, and our ears attentive to God’s call! All this and more I will disclose this coming Sunday. I hope to see you in worship this week as we celebrate the Second Sunday in Advent!
May God grant you grace this blessed season!
P.S. Don’t forget to go to asburyonline.org/Christmas2018 to be reminded of all the special Advent events happening from now until Christmas. This Sunday you’re invited to go Christmas caroling at Somerby St. Vincent’s One Nineteen with Kids Town. The children will make crafts for the residents in the gym and Miss Angie tells me the caroling will begin around 6:30 p.m. Then next Sunday, Dec. 16, the Chancel Choir, Handbell Choir and Orchestra will present A Christmas Cantata during worship at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. And finally, Christmas Eve approacheth! There are four service opportunities at Asbury: Traditions at 4:00, 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. and The Bridge at 6:00 p.m. The miracle of Christmas must be shared—invite a friend or family member to Asbury over the next few weeks!