I belong to a clergywomen’s Face Book page and a question was asked recently about planning a Lessons and Carols service for Advent. It caught me a little off guard, as I haven’t even started to think about Thanksgiving dinner yet, but as you know, pastors have to be thinking way ahead. I have always loved Lessons and Carols, as it tells the nativity story in alternating Scripture readings and hymns. It is a full audience participation kind of thing, and when I say it tells the story, it begins in Genesis with a reminder of why we needed Jesus in the first place.

It wasn’t very long ago that we couldn’t even sing in the sanctuary together due to pandemic protocols, and so singing is a blessing that we have learned not to take for granted anymore. After months of online worship and then months of no congregational singing as we cautiously worshipped in masks with an aim of reducing potential viral transmission, we finally arrived at that wonderful Sunday where singing was permitted.

I wept that day.

Singing has always been an important part of worship for me. I grew up in a singing family, and we sang together in perfect harmony on every long car ride. My father sang in a Barbershop Chorus right up until the day he died, and my parents funded six years of private voice lessons for me in order to encourage a singing lifestyle as I grew up.

Today’s psalm encourages us to SING. We are invited to sing a new song and tell of God’s loyal love and faithfulness through every generation.

Psalm 98 (Common English Bible)

Sing to the Lord a new song
    because he has done wonderful things!
His own strong hand and his own holy arm
    have won the victory!
The Lord has made his salvation widely known;
    he has revealed his righteousness
    in the eyes of all the nations.
God has remembered his loyal love
    and faithfulness to the house of Israel;
    every corner of the earth has seen our God’s salvation.

The level of joy in this psalm is off the charts. The psalmist encourages us to shout triumphantly, rejoice, be happy, and praise God.

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
    Be happy!
    Rejoice out loud!
    Sing your praises!
Sing your praises to the Lord with the lyre—
    with the lyre and the sound of music.
With trumpets and a horn blast,
    shout triumphantly before the Lord, the king!

Even the sounds of creation are invited to sing along:

Let the sea and everything in it roar;
    the world and all its inhabitants too.
Let all the rivers clap their hands;
    let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether before the Lord
    because he is coming to establish justice on the earth!
He will establish justice in the world rightly;
    he will establish justice among all people fairly.

The promise that God will establish justice in the world is enough to sing about. What does that mean to you? Are you weary of politics, wars, strife, and disobedience? Are you worn out with everything?

Today’s psalm is the perfect antidote to our ennui. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with life, do one thing: just sing.

Sing a New Song by Michelle Robertson

Let the Seas Roar

One of the absolute joys of living on the Outer Banks is the constant presence of water. Canals, inlets, sounds, bays, creeks, and of course the magnificent ocean surround us with beauty and song. As I was driving to my office last week, I glanced in my rear view mirror and there it was…I could see the dunes, the sea oats, and the ocean itself as I headed west to my church. Sheer glory! Water, water, everywhere.

I remember standing out in the church parking lot after an evening worship service when I first moved here and hearing an unusual sound. It was a kind of dull roar or constant wooooshing sound that I couldn’t quite place. It was the ocean. A storm was coming in and we could hear it from a mile away. I had never heard the ocean at the church before and I was struck by the beauty of the sound that evening. The noisy bypass that lies between the church and the beach usually obliterates the sound of the crashing waves, but not that night.

When all of creation sings of the majesty and the power of God, we need to listen.

Psalm 98 (New King James Version)

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

God is worthy of our songs and shouts of joy! He is the giver of every marvelous thing and has brought salvation by his holy arm. His faithfulness to his people is an opera of his great works on our behalf. We owe him our rejoicing and our praise songs.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.

So bring out the trumpets, the harps, and the horns! The Lord reigns, and his kingdom lasts forever. Even the sea roars in anticipation of his coming. The rivers clap their hands and the hills dance in his presence. Praise the Lord!

Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together
    before the Lord,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity.

Sing joyfully to the Lord, all the earth! Let us praise the Lord.

The Seas Roar by Michelle Robertson

The Unbaptized Heart

Nineteen years ago our world changed forever. In a modern day Pearl Harbor event, America was attacked and we watched with horror as the Twin Towers fell, a plane plowed through Pennsylvania farmland, and the Pentagon, the symbol of our military strength, was partially decimated. We know families who lost loved ones. We all lost our innocence that day. But America rose up from those ashes. People turned to patriotism and prayer.

Today is a good day to let a Psalm calm those memories and visions. It is a good day to remind ourselves that it is God who delivers us. With his right hand and his holy arm, he brought victory. It is a good day to sing to the Lord a NEW song and tell of his marvelous works. It is a good day to study Psalm 98.

There is an old “preacher story” that has made the rounds in churches that tells about Ivan the Great and his baptism into the Greek Orthodox Church. He desired to marry the daughter of the King of Greece, who required that he be baptized. Ivan’s entire army was also to be baptized, but there was a problem: they would have to resign from fighting, as the church did not permit its members to commit bloodshed. This was a huge issue for the 500 soldiers, but a compromise was reached. They would withdraw their swords as they entered the water for their full-immersion baptism and hold that arm above their heads as they were immersed. Thus the arm and its sword were “unbaptized” and could be employed in fighting.

If you are sitting there scratching your head, you are in good company. How can one truly withhold a part of themselves in a baptism? How could one part of a person be reserved for bloodshed while the rest of the body is being cleansed by the blood shed by Christ?

But before we get too judgmental, ask yourself this: are you raising your arm with something clutched in your hand and keeping it from God? Your time, your talent, an inappropriate relationship, your worship, a destructive habit, your resources, your tithe, your energy…can you say that you have given God a full immersion of your heart?

God shows us by his own example that victory can only come when all of us, including our arms and clutching hands, are holy and wholly engaged in his work.

Psalm 98 (New Revised Standard)

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.

You see, when God was fighting for the Israelites, he was ALL IN. He withheld nothing. He raised his right hand and lifted his holy arm in their defense. He remembered his steadfast love for the house of Israel and brought them back to himself.

The Lord has made known his victory;
    he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
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.

Every nation was made aware of God’s complete love for his people. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for them…including sending his only son to die on a cross so that they might have an eternal home with him.

Are you holding back? Are you holding out on God? Is there something you know you should be offering that you have resisted?

History proves that God will always be there for us. Will we be there for him?

When the people gave up their sinful ways and repented, they returned to God and he restored their nation. The breaking forth of joyful praise was heard everywhere.

It is nineteen years since our nation’s horrific day and we remember the cost of freedom and how God was with us. As we dwell on this today, let us remember to make a joyful noise for God’s presence in our lives.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody.

Break Forth by Bonnie Bennett