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Music Notes
7 February, 2016

“’Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here” This is the quintessential Transfiguration hymn, literally retelling the historical event of Matthew 17 in which Jesus, taking His disciples to the mountaintop, is transfigured and stands with Moses and Elijah for whom Peter helpfully suggests he might build a tent! The Father then speaks, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him,” reminiscent of the Father’s revelation only three years early when Jesus is baptised in which He states, “This is my beloved Son; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3: 17b) In a sense, then, God the Father marks both the commencement and the culmination of Jesus’ ministry with His approbation. Only a few weeks ago the Christian Church celebrated Christmas and Epiphany, yet today we begin the Lententide journey which was the reason for Jesus’ incarnation, without which the baby in the manger is mere shallow sentiment. In stanza three we sing, “Fulfiller of the past, and hope of things to be! We hail Your body glorified and our redemption see.” A few chapters earlier Matthew had summarized the prophecies of the Old Testament when he had written of Jesus’ incarnation that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” We continue the narrative of the hymn by singing “Before we taste of death, we see Your kingdom come, we long to hold the vision bright and make this hill our home.” This writer is reminded of the final hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal, “Heaven is my Home,” which perhaps too-sentimentally reminds the Christian that all on earth and in this life is mere ephemera.
The sermon from last week is reiterated in this hymn-- “How good, Lord, to be here! Yet we may not remain; But since You bid us leave the mount, come with us to the plain.” There is something ultimately satisfying about gathering together to worship in Word and Sacrament, to be where God dwells. There is something unique about gathering at church together which is different than sitting at home practicing one’s own pipe organ, or sitting under a tree on a lazy summer’s morning, or fishing in a lake on an autumn day. Sure, we can see God’s presence in music or in nature. Art, science and humanity all testify to the fact that there is a Supreme Being who had something to do with our existence, which only the most ignorant and narcissistic of people would deny. Yet, as rewarding as it may be to read our Portals of Prayer at home or to discuss the latest Christian book in our small groups, nothing can replace corporate worship, centered around Word and Sacrament, under which we gather every seven days (and more frequently during Lent.)
Jesus transfigured and became something foreign to the apostles; He no longer looked like the man with whom they had traveled for almost three years. And Moses and Elijah were certainly no everyday sight! We, too, can encounter Christ in a special way in church. The first table of the law tells us to honour God by having none other beside Him, by honoring His name, and by keeping the Sabbath holy. God calls us together to worship Him because He knows there is nothing that can replace corporate worship. Worship is uniquely focused on the Holy Trinity and Christ’s sacrifice and redemption as outlined in Holy Scriptures. Worship is not like Christian radio or television. The pastor is not a motivational speaker. We don’t assemble to execute a Broadway production. We could get all of that by listening to the radio or television, going to a motivational speech, or paying exorbitant fees to attend a play. None of those things are Christocentric, and when our identity as Christians becomes too absorbed around these things—even in their Christian guises—we run the risk of not recognizing Christ when He comes again. “It is good to be here” this Sunday morning because we receive at corporate worship absolution, the sacrament, and fellowship with others, confessing together the “one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins.” If we lived stranded on a desert island, we’d have to make do without such things, yet still having faith in God’s promises. But most of us are fortunate to be able to gather to worship, being constantly reminded of law and gospel, sins and forgiveness, in order to be able to deal with the realities of life. As we live out the centrality of worship in the words of the writer of Hebrews, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another,” we can joyfully exclaim anytime we are gathered under Word and Sacrament, “’Tis good, Lord, to be here!”


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Season of Epiphany

The Season of Epiphany.  The season of Epiphany encompasses the time from January 6 (the end of Christmas) until Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent.  Most people associate this season with the wise men, or the three kings, but this is only a small aspect of all the season entails (One of the most famous Epiphany hymns is “As with Gladness, Men of Old,” which is a narrative of the visit of the wise men.)  The term “epiphany” means “manifestation,” and refers to the visit of the wise men, Jesus’ presentation and teaching in the temple and His gradual growing in stature in the “eyes of God and man.”  Notice that the paraments have become green once more—this green is symbolic of growth (as in plants and nature) and reflects Christ’s growth from the babe in the manger to the young person who astounds the scholars in the synagogue with His knowledge.   Listen to many of the hymns during the ensuing weeks—many deal with “light” and “brightness,” which obviously refers to this “enlightenment” of humankind through the teachings and works of God’s Son. 

            But it is no coincidence that we associate Epiphany primarily with the three kings.  The Greek (gentile) Church originally related well to the wise men because the wise men were not Hebrews but gentiles, and their reception by Jesus (young as He was) represents God’s embracing of the gentiles as well as the Hebrews.  This was a comforting thought to the Greeks—and to the later Church as well—who certainly did not come from a Hebrew environment and could not claim strictly the promises of God to His “chosen priesthood” in the Old Testament.  Therefore, our Western Church emphasizes (perhaps subconsciously) as well this “revealing of God” even to the Gentiles.  Many of the oldest hymns we have are Greek hymns which deal with Epiphany.

            In the early Church (as the church year was developing during the first couple of centuries), the most important liturgical festival (after Easter) was Epiphany.  Epiphany was so important that a six week period of preparation (Advent) was added to coincide with the six week period of preparation (Lent) for Easter.   When Christmas was added later, this cut off two weeks of Advent, and Advent was then viewed as a preparation for Christmas (which is our current tradition as well.)   Orthodox Christians—Greek, Coptic, Russian, etc.—still celebrate Epiphany as we celebrate Christmas.  To them to this very day, Epiphany is the most important nativity celebration. 



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