The end of our alphabet is almost here. Today’s block is the letter W, for word, worship, wreath and Wachet Auf.
The first verse of the Gospel of John is one of the most beautiful in the whole Bible. In Greek it reads Ἐ ν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (hen arche en ho logos), and in English we know it as “In the beginning was the Word. . . ” It’s a mystical sort of introduction to a gospel full of signs and wonders, a hymn that places God before time and in time, revealing himself as the Word and with the Word. That revelation wasn’t enough, it seems. God’s answer was to clothe Godself in human flesh in the persona of Jesus, the Messiah who was to bring about a new creation in the world. The word “word” however, has also come to mean a belief about the Bible itself in its totality, Genesis through Revelation. What was the Word of God has become, to some, the words of God, inerrant scripture that has one meaning and contains God’s literal words to humankind, in short, “What it says is what it means.” Whether one reads the Bible as the Word of God, God’s revelation through the eyes, ears and hearts of those who retold the stories before the written word came to be put down and then translated and recopied many times, or whether one reads it as the literal Words of God protected from errors by God, the word of John puts Jesus before time and the creator of time. Read the first eighteen verses of John 1. Let them sing as a hymn to a mystery revealed.
Worship is defined as a feeling of reverence or adoration for a deity or sacred object. Every culture has had its gods to worship and its ways of expressing that reverence. Some, like the Mayans, were pretty brutal which makes our Christian worship seem rather tame by comparison. We gather in a church, chapel, school gymnasium, office complex or even a family home. We read scripture, we pray, we sing, we listen to words of wisdom and inspiration and, quite often, we celebrate the Eucharist. The purpose is to connect with and show reverence to God and to allow God to feed us through the liturgy, sermon and hymns. The shepherds came to see the Christ child and probably stayed to worship him a bit. The magi came and gave kingly gifts as an offering to the object of their veneration, that same Christ child. Through our participation in corporate worship we praise and thank God. During Advent we have special services (see Day 19) in addition to our regular worship schedule, plus we may spend a little extra time in private prayer and reverential meditation. However and whenever we do it, we come to worship God but we receive from God even more than we put in ourselves.
The Advent wreath is probably the single most identifiable symbol of the season of Advent. We have them in homes and churches, usually circular in shape but of varying composition like pottery, greenery or brass. The commonality comes in the use of four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent, three in either purple or Sarum blue, depending on preference and whether or not the community observes Advent as a penitential season or one that emphasizes more expectation, and the fourth in rose pink, lit on the third Sunday and representing a sort of small break, like a breather, before the final Sunday before Christmas. In the center of the wreath there will be placed a single white candle which will be lit on Christmas. It is the Christ candle, and it reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. This candle is also brought out for each baptism during the year and every Sunday during the Easter season. Whether in family or corporate worship during Advent, the wreath is a reminder of the season and the journey to Bethlehem.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a prolific composer of church music in the late 17th-early 18th centuries. A number of his harmonizations and arrangements appear in our hymnal and pieces such as “Sheep May Safely Graze” are staples as offertories and special music. During Advent we sing a hymn called “Sleepers, Wake!” which has the hymn tune name of Wachet Auf, “Wake up!” The words echo a parable that Jesus told during his ministry about some wise and foolish virgins and the bridegroom who returns home to find only some of them prepared for his arrival (Matthew 25:1-13). Of course, the bridegroom is Jesus himself and each of us becomes either a wise or a foolish maiden depending on whether we prepare adequately so that our lamps are lit and the house ready or we sleep and hope to wake up in time and with enough oil to light his way. It’s a good thought for Advent, continuing the theme of preparation.
Heavenly harmonies, a fragrant and glowing wreath, heartfelt worship, all are signs that point to the earthly coming of the Word. Be ready!