Monday, December 31, 2012

A Joyful Noise: Sermon and Music

I did not preach yesterday.  The Sunday after Christmas is the day when many Interns, Assistant Pastors, and Associate Pastors preach while the Senior Pastors take a break.  My very capable Associate Matt Carriker did the honors.  I am recovering from a run of sermons that began before Thanksgiving and ended on Christmas Eve.  Good stuff, but I am glad for the rest!

Here is my sermon from December 23rd.  It reads as a little grumpy.  If you were there it wouldn't so much.  we had many carols and some of our gifted Middle School and High School guitarists helped me out.  Stephen James our Music Director was there, too.  Anyway, imagine little smiley and winky emoticans every once in a while.  I also took the liberty of putting in the rather shakey video of the songs we played.  The first and last are hymns (you should recognize them).  The middle one is a cover of "Journey of the Magi" by Frank Turner.

"A Joyful Noise"
Rev. Dr. Adam Tierney-Eliot

First let's thank the kids for playing today.  It isn't the easiest thing to take time out of your weekend to play at church and I, at least, enjoyed it very much.  I like playing with them.  I am glad they don't mind appearing in public with me.

The music also created something of a festive atmosphere, didn't it?  Which is just what we need today... 

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

The title of my reflection today is “A Joyful Noise” as in “make a joyful noise”.  It is the request, order, demand, that we see appear from time to time in the Bible in places like the psalms.  It also appears in sermons (though not always mine) and hymns.  It also shows up in prayers.  “Make a Joyful Noise”. Celebrate the certainty of our faith and the happiness in our hearts.

Now, certainly this time of year there is plenty of noise to go around. There are carols on CD players and ipods...and in the stores.  There are Christmas specials and Christmas commercials. There is even a tendency among friends and acquaintances to wish each other Happy Holidays and remain upbeat in conversation no matter how we might really be feeling...

In fact, the joyful noise this year hasn't quite cut it for some folks.  It sounds joyful but it doesn't reflect our own experience.  Outside we are presented with all the bright lights and holiday spirit but inside, for many, the joy has turned to exhaustion...even desperation.  We talked about this last week a bit, too.  In the season of the fiscal cliff, and Newtown just over a week ago and numerous real and difficult personal is hard, very hard, to make that joyful noise.   Or at least to make it as often as we are expected to make it.  So in the midst of our haste and pressure the sounds we hear turn to static instead.

But, really--as hard as things are today--even in a good year, we are all a bit ragged by this time.  Yes, it is only the fourth Sunday in Advent but it is also the 23rd.  It is Christmas Eve...Eve!  We are normally feeling stretched a bit thin.  We have every right to be.

Perhaps that is why we are given to nostalgia, of thinking of, and hoping for a simpler time like the one described by Charles Dickens.

When the clock struck eleven this domestic ball broke up.  Mr and Mrs. Fezziwig, took their stations, one on either side the door, and, shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a merry Christmas.

I love the Fezziwigs.  I love that fiddler dunking his face in the bowl of porter.  I love this party and Scrooge loves it too.  I love it partly for the same reason that I love Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.  These are no-nonsense people.  They work hard and they know how to throw a party.  They care for the people who care for them and we know from Scrooge that they are forgiving and patient not just on this one day but everyday.

I think we all like them very much and we want to be like them.  But--I think, if we were to be honest--while we like to think of ourselves in that way, we really have a bit more of the Scrooge in us than makes us comfortable. 

Now last year I preached a sermon in which I stuck up for the Grinch (do any of you remember it?).  The Grinch was someone who just wanted to be left alone.  He was someone who didn't want to be told what to think or how to act around his vacuous neighbors.  Scrooge, on the other hand, is nasty.  He is greedy and territorial.  He likes to get his own way and when he does not, people are punished.
Dickens knew folks like this well.  Even for him the Fezziwigs were from a different idealized era.  Scrooges ruled Industrialized London.   He--Scrooge--is a tragic figure.  Blinded by his own needs, his own pain and, yes, his own wealth.  He is tired of the joyful noise but also unable to make his peace and unwilling for others to make theirs.

And so inside us (at least for Dickens) we struggle.  The angels (that we aren't so sure we believe in) tell us to sing in praise of a story we aren't so sure we believe either. Besides, we aren't sure we are up to all that celebrating in the mess of our lives anyway.

And so Fezziwig and Scrooge do battle inside us.  Sometimes one and then other steps forward.  One keeping us grounded in our better natures and the other challenging us with our longings and our regrets.  In the midst of this battle we seek solutions.  We try to find ways and traditions, best practices to improve our souls and spirits to keep Scrooge at bay.

Now. how we do this varies, of course.  We each have different needs and personalities.  We come with different stories and perspectives.  However, we all try to find some middle path, seeking the joyful in the midst of the static...finding peace in the midst of the chaos...and hope in the midst of the pain.

For me music helps shut out the less-joyful noise.  Services like today and like the ones tomorrow help in this way.  The performances of the boys and Stephen today...the congregation singing both now during the holiday season and at other times, too.  This helps me to focus and to celebrate.
Perhaps paradoxically, silence helps, too.  On Friday I enjoyed the time I could take out of my holiday planning to sit in silence during Jacqueline Brodnitzki's Solstice meditation.
Now, some of you might enjoy the same things.  They may turn the tide.  Since you hang out around here it wouldn't be a surprise!  Others may read books, or decorate the house, or garden when it isn't winter and plan next year's when it is.

Or perhaps you just need to spend time in the community of family and the community of the church.  The options, after all, are endless...

Whatever it is that brings us joy and enables us to spread it, we need to make use of it now and every day.  To lift up our voices...To celebrate...To sing.

So let us take a moment now in silence
To think about what brings us to the joyful noise

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