eNewsletter Feature Story – December 9, 2021

This week’s eNewsletter feature
was written by Jim Teague,
FPCE director of communications.

Dear friends,

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

There are songs from my past that have stuck to my heart, in a good way, like chunky peanut butter sticks to the roof of my mouth when I take the last bite of the sandwich before realizing all the milk is gone.

I’ve mentioned before that I first began exploring what Christianity was all about after Margaret, the cutest girl in the high school choir we both sang in, began talking to me about her church youth group.

Our choir director, Mr. Flynn, was also the director of music at the Presbyterian church in the town I grew up in. He had us sing a wide and wonderful selection of hymns, spirituals, and anthems each Christmas as we toured the greater Pittsburgh area singing in nursing homes, elementary schools and, department stores. (As a side note, it really is amazing how good the acoustics were in the south atrium of our local mall. Seriously. Gave me chills to sing there.)

With very little context for these hymns, I often found myself confused about how they related to the birth of Jesus and, by extension, the tenets of the faith.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

In many ways, that curiosity is what lead me to the first inklings of faith. The great Christmas hymns like Adeste Fideles (O Come, All Ye Faithful), Gloria in excelsis Deo, and Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel), taught me a) a little bit of Latin (perparvus, as they used to say in Rome), and a whole lot about the miracle of God coming to Earth to rescue us from our sins.

These songs also began building a bridge for me between the Old and New Testaments. As a teenager, I was confused about the connection between Jesus as the center of Christianity, and the importance – requirement, actually – that he be born from the line of King David, slayer of Goliath and persecuted lyre player.

Of all the pieces we sang at Christmas during my high school years, the one which seems to have most come to signify and encompass all that the holiday means to me is Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, a traditionally German carol published in 1599 and translated into English in the late 1800s.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

I can’t say it’s the best, or even my favorite Christmas hymn. But it floats to the surface of my mind, usually right around Halloween and then isn’t far from my lips from that point forward each year until around the middle of the following January.

It paints a broad and colorful mural in my mind, stretching from the promise of God to Abraham all the way to the empty tomb and beyond.

“Of Jesse’s lineage coming, As men of old have sung.” There, in the first verse, the root of Jesse springs forth with the deep red color of the rose amid the stark, bleak winter. As the tune echoes in the sometimes cold and often chaotic chambers of my heart, I am drawn back to the essence of my faith.

God is good.
God keeps his promises.
Jesus–born, crucified, resurrected–is the evidence my hope stands on.

This Sunday morning, an amazing array of musicians, readers, teachers, and congregation members will walk us down the road of this miracle in scripture and in song as we take part in our annual Lessons and Carols Worship Service. As one church, we will meet in person in the Sanctuary and, for those unable to join us, online at https://live.firstpresevanston.org, to take in and sing and read along with all that is presented. As you do, I would encourage you to ask God to secure the message, if not one or more of the songs, to the inside of your heart.

Afterwards, our All-Church Advent Adult Education Class, led by David Ivaska, will take place in the Dining Room on the 2nd floor and on Zoom. Meanwhile, all the participants in the December 19 worship service and Christmas Pageant will conduct a dress rehearsal in the Sanctuary.

We look forward to seeing you face to face or online as your circumstances permit.

Praying you see the bloom of God’s rose, Jesus, amid whatever practical, emotional, or spiritual winter you might be experiencing.

Blessings,

Jim Teague
FPCE Director of Communications

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