“Make a Joyful Noise”
Psalm 98: 1-6 December 29th, 2013
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Well, here we are, five days after Christmas. Advent, with its themes of hope, peace, love and joy, are done. Christmas Eve, the Christ candle, our candle lighting service, they are all now behind us! Even the Christmas carols are beginning to fade from my consciousness, somewhat. It is truly bitter sweet to have these special times behind us. For me, it has been a glorious celebration, albeit exhausting at times! I suspect our Music Director, who has done a spectacular job for us this season, is ready to catch her breath as well. Thanks Chris! And a hearty thanks to all our members of the Choir and our contemporary musical group, our vocalists and we can’t forget our drummer. Thank you one and all!
Just before Christmas I was talking with a young couple and they were asking me about our traditions as a church; that is our traditions surrounding our celebration of Jesus’ birth. As I told them about our plans for Christmas Eve and also how we would have one Sunday morning, just five days after Christmas, they asked me a simple, yet profound question: “What?” they said. “What do you talk about the Sunday after Christmas?” I explained to them that I had not yet written my sermon but many pastors talk about the Three Wise Men as referenced in the gospel of Matthew, chapter two, verses1-12. I talked about how some believe the custom of gift giving on Christmas starts with their gifts ofgold and frankincense and myrrh. Of course this is not the case, as the gifts given – were given – as was the custom in the East in that era when visiting a king. Thus the accounting of the Wise Men was to lift up the image of the Baby Jesus, as a King, honored by Wise Men from the East. The actual practice of exchanging presents with each other was most likely ‘adopted’ from pagans.
Thus, unlike many others, we shall shift our focus to the Psalmist. My sermon title starts the discussion for us: “Make a joyful noise!” I am certain that most of us thanked people for the gifts we received, as part of our ‘adopted’ traditional Christmas celebration, or are planning to send out a note to those that sent us gifts in the next few days. I try to get that done in the weeks following Christmas. I suspect we all have our own methodologies for accomplishing the goal. Saying thanks by whatever means one uses is definitely a proper response to receiving any gift; surely making a joyful noise as the psalmist suggests is a great way to say thank you! “Make a joyful noise… break forth into joyous song and sing praises.”
To really get to the heart of this ‘thank you’ we need to once again be reminded of what the ultimate gift of Christmas is all about! Christmas is all about the birth of Christ; the birth of Jesus; not gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. We all know the story by now and we know that Jesus’ mother was believed to be a virgin named Mary, married to a man named Joseph, and this all took place in a the little town called Bethlehem. This gift, this whole concept of a God that became willing to come and live among us in human form is so; well it’s just so wonderful. It is the ultimate expression of love! God loves us so much that we received this gift of love at Christmas! Certainly worthy of our lifting our voices in worshipful music to give our thanks and praise!
In the mystical birth of the baby Jesus God gave us love, thus we must love, and we are compelled to give this gift of love to others! “Sing praises to the LORD with stringed musical instruments, thus creating the sounds of melody.” We have sung quite a few pieces of Christmas & holiday music & carols in recent days and we have chosen a few beautiful ones for today. Of course, a few of the local radio stations starting playing them around the clock it seems weeks ago! And in the shopping malls the carols just keep ringing in ones ears. Just how many times can you listen to “Jingle Bells” in one afternoon? You know you shopped too long when you can’t get the lyrics out of your head, as you try to close your eyes for a short nap. “Jingle all the way… Jingle all the way… Jingle all the way!”
All of this conversation about joyful music and singing Christmas carols reminds me of some of the ones we sing just after Christmas. I have my favorites and I am sure you have yours. There are a few that we have not yet sung in worship this Christmas. How about that old Christmas Carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? Have you ever given much thought to it? I mean… where did it come from and what do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and maids a-milking have to do with Christmas?
Someone passed me a plausible answer to this question that I will share with you this morning. I am told it is recorded that: “From around 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.”
Following this line of reasoning we find that: The partridge in a pear tree; of course any game hunter knows this is the ultimate prize, thus the representation of the Baby Jesus, the Christ Child.
The Two turtle doves; emblems of devoted love, point us to the Old and New Testaments.
The Three French hens: the mainstays of any banquet stand for faith, hope and love.
The four calling birds, like any good quartet, are the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
The five golden rings, (rings symbolizing the unending circle of love because they have no beginning nor ending,) are meant to help us recall the Torah or Law, which are the first five books of the Old Testament.
The six geese a-laying sit or ‘stand’ for the six days of creation; of course, you do remember that on the seventh day God set aside a time to rest?
Seven swans a-swimming help us to clear our heads and thus remember the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit:
The gift of prophesy thus possessing a prophetic voice, the gift of servant hood, the gift of teaching, the gift of exhortation such as to incite or offer encouragement, the gift of generosity seen most frequently when someone gives an offering or contribution, the gift of leadership, and last but not least the gift of being able to offer mercy thus being merciful.
The eight maids a-milking are truly a blessing, thus represent the eight beatitudes. I am assuming you all know them? They are in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in the gospel of Matthew chapter 5.
Nine ladies dancing, cause us to lift our hearts to a time of celebration and joy, helping us to remember the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
The ten Lords a-leaping, Lords of course represent authority thus demand respect thereby lead us to the Ten Commandments.
The eleven pipers piping simply symbolize the eleven faithful disciples; what more can be said.
The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed. If you can recite this creed you certainly identify with the ‘drumming’ beat of the twelve statements of the creed beginning with ‘I believe’.
I can see from the blank looks on your faces we may need to go back and re-acquaint ourselves with a few of these well know items such as the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandment and the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit… but we will hold these for another day.
Perhaps we need to start cracking the codes, or hidden meanings contained in a few more pieces of music we sing during worship. Folks might be surprised how rich some of these pieces are and how instrumental they are in passing on the ancient teachings of the Bible and how strongly they lift up the traditions of our church.
Understanding the meaning of Christmas causes me, compels me to want to say: ‘Thank You’ to my God. Just saying the words is a good start. Yet, when I give someone a gift… I expect them to make use of it. It stands to reason that God expects the same from me and you as well. When you or I receive a gift from God we are expected to put it to good use. Now, a gift given in love ought to be used in love. Thus, a gift… such as the gift of Christmas love… ought to be used to do things in the same spirit of love as that which God has given us. “With trumpets and the sound of the horn; make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!”
Christmas is such a joyful time and in that spirit we ought to take time to look at some of the more wondrous gifts such as our sense of adventure, imagination and curiosity! It is almost mystical if not magical in a sense what we can do with these delightful gifts that our Creator has blessed us with – one and all! “O sing to the LORD a new song, for ‘God’ has done marvelous things!”
Simply allow your mind to wander even as we wonder at what God still has in store for us. Allow your spirit to mix with those around you as you ponder together the fullness of God’s abundant love as it pours out upon us – one and all! “God has remembered us and bestowed upon us a never ending stream of steadfast love and the faithfulness of our God through the baby Jesus lasts forever!”
Yes, today is just five days from the morning of Christmas! Christ’s presence is upon us all! The fullness of God’s love has been poured out for all of humankind to behold, to cherish and to pass on to others! This is the ultimate gift and we can make a joyful joyous noise! The gift of Christmas can and does fulfill our wildest imaginations; taking us on many more great adventures; fueled with our curiosity that has no end! Praise God. Praise God said the psalmist. Yes, praise God from the highest heavens, now and forevermore.
1 A Psalm. O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. 2 The LORD has made known his victory, he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. 4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!