Gold, Myrrh, and Brokenness

By Mitch Stutzman
christmas-1333798_1280
The United States Thanksgiving holiday is behind us. Pumpkins, gourds, and
falldécor are being replaced with holiday wreaths, evergreen trees, and twinkling lights. In addition to the changing of holiday decorations and the increase in holiday specials on television, some radio stations have begun playing Christmas music 24 hours a day.

I have always appreciated Christmas music. Growing up in a Mennonite Church, I enjoyed singing 4-part harmony from the section of the hymnbook dedicated to Christmas music. I was disappointed that we couldn’t spend more time singing from that section of the book. After all, the themes and stories that are told through our songs and hymns are applicable throughout the year.

The Christian hymn “What Child is This,” set to the traditional English melody piano-2706562_1280“Greensleeves,” is familiar to many. The text paints a picture of the traditional nativity that we may have on our mantle at home. A sleeping baby, his mother nearby, angels singing, shepherds gathered around, an assortment of barnyard animals, and gifts being brought to his bedside. It describes almost exactly the assortment of figures that sits in a place of prominence at my house this time of year.

The song and the scene that it presents has become so familiar to me; almost routine. This song was given new life for me in college during my church music class. During that class I was given an unfamiliar songbook with a purple cover. My professor invited the class to turn to #26, “Helpless and Hungry.”

Together we studied the text, written by Scott Soper. This song opened my eyes again to the miraculous birth of Jesus:

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

After reading through the text, our professor led us in singing. The meter and tune of this new hymn can be layered perfectly on top of the familiar “What Child is This.” Our professor invited us to go back and forth between the two songs, singing a verse of one and then a verse of the other. In this way, these hymns worked in tandem; almost as a call and response.

For the third and final verse, the class was divided in half and was invited to sing both hymns simultaneously. While half of the class was singing about bring gifts of incense, gold, and myrrh, the other half of the class was singing about bringing all the thirsty, all who seek peace, and those who have nothing to offer. The juxtaposition that this posed, of bringing treasures along with our brokenness as a gift to our Savior, was a deeply moving experience.christmas-2914850_1280

This Christmas season, let us work to remember that while way may exchange gifts with one another, the gift that we have each already received came in the form of a child. A child to whom we offer our greatest treasures, our brokenness, and our pain.

Helpless and Hungry
Text and music by Scott Soper

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

What Child is This
Text by William C. Dix

What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping,
whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word-made-flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh, come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of Kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high; the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary!

Layered text:

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping,
whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word-made-flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh, come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of Kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high; the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary.

About the Author

Stutzman-Mitch_7580-2CMYKMitch Stutzman is the Stewardship Consultant for Everence, a faith-based financial services company of Mennonite Church USA, which serves all who are interested in integrating their faith with their finances.

Image credits: pixabay.com

O Day Full of Grace

By Timothy Siburg

tower chapel PLU o day full of grace

I grew up in the choir loft of a Lutheran congregation in the Seattle area, where my mom served as music minister and choir director. I am also the descendant of generations of Scandinavian Lutherans.

One thing Lutherans historically have loved to do, is to sing hymns with four-part harmonies. One of my favorites, is “O Day Full of Grace.” Whether it was singing it in worship and knowing of its rich words, or singing it in choir in college in the moving arrangement by composer and arranger F. Melius Christiansen, the song always gets me.

There have been at least 8 different verses written for it. I will only include five of them. But the poetry speaks to- God’s work for us, God’s love and promises given for us; and the response of joy, hope, and praise because of what God has done and has continued to do. It’s a hymn that really gives my understanding of theology and stewardship a melody.

For example, “How blest was that gracious midnight hour, when God in our flesh was given…” God did all the work for us. Our joy is sharing that gift, and living in response to it through our stewardship.

O day full of grace that now we see appearing on earth’s horizon,

bring light from our God that we may be abundant in joy this season.

God, shine for us now in this dark place; your name on our hearts emblazon.

How blest was that gracious midnight hour, when God in our flesh was given;

then brightened the dawn with light and power that spread o’er the darkened heaven;

then rose o’er the world that Sun divine, which gloom from our hearts has driven.

Yea, were every tree endowed with speech, and were every leaflet singing,

they never with praise God’s worth could reach, though earth with their praise were ringing.

Who fully could praise the Light of life who light to our souls is bringing?

bird-2546438_1280
As birds in the morning sing their praise, 
God’s fatherly love we cherish,

for giving to us this day of grace, for life that shall never perish.

The church God has kept two thousand years, and hungering souls did nourish.

When we on that final journey go that Christ is for us preparing,

we’ll gather in song, our hearts aglow, all joy of the heavens sharing,

and there we will join God’s endless praise, with angels and saints adoring.

This hymn gained a new meaning for me ten years ago, when my maternal grandfather, a retired pastor passed away near midnight, the night before Thanksgiving (in the United States). We sang this hymn, a favorite of his, the day of his funeral. And since then, as both of my grandfathers passed away in November shortly before Thanksgiving, this hymn has always been a comfort, and a reminder that my Grandpas are with the other saints, joining in God’s endless praise.

As you celebrate this holiday season, whether it be Thanksgiving this week in the United States, or Advent and Christmas to come in the month ahead, I pray that you take the time to see what God might be up to. My hope is that as you celebrate and give thanks, you remember that which God has done for you and promises to do, like the words of this hymn remind me.

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy attended college at Pacific Lutheran University, and graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University and Luther Seminary. Timothy can also be found on TwitterFacebook, and on his blog.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: Timothy Siburg, pixabay.com

A joyful song

By Matt DeBall

Thank you for joining us on this musical and hopeful journey of “Hymns and Hopes for the Holidays.” Though our theme for November and December may seem natural for this season, you may still be asking, “Why are you doing this?”

worship-singingMusic (and singing) is an important component of faith. Hymns and spiritual songs allow us to remember the nature and promises of God, both in the present and for all of eternity. They lift our spirits and allow us to encourage one another. They lead us to and through prayer with God through all seasons. And overall, they move our minds with the melody of the Holy Spirit and guide our hearts to beat in synchronization with the heart of God. It is for all of these reasons that singing helps nurture an attitude of thankfulness and generosity.

As we continue to share beloved hymns and our hopes, we pray that you will be encouraged.

“I sing because I’m happy, (I’m happy)
I sing because I’m free, (I’m free)
For His eye is on the sparrow
and I know He watches me (He watches me)
And I know He watches me.”

Why do the birds sing and chirp with joy? Because they know that God cares for them. Since the beginning of creation, God has sustained all things. Through times of difficulty or comfort, God has walked lovingly with all that He has made.

sparrowsThe beautiful hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” by Civilla D. Martin reminds us of the words of Jesus on (at least) two separate occasions:
> “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care”(Matthew 10:29, NIV).
> “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV).

God cares about every bird and cares even more for us. This does not downplay the value of birds, but clarifies that God is intimately aware of all our needs and concerns and is able to provide for us.

In remembering that God sustains all things, we are freed to be happy and hopeful. We can think less about ourselves and more about others. We can be generous with all that God have given us because God will continually impart what we need.

As we continue through the holidays, may we be inspired by the birds and sing a joyful song of our own.

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and Chelsea live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

Image credits: pixabay.com

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Hymns and Hopes for the Holidays

By Marcia Shetler

Hello, COMPASS blog readers,

It’s a privilege to kick off two months of blog posts with the theme of Hymns and Hopes for the Holidays. COMPASS Steering Committee members and others will share their choir-305352_1280favorite hymns and hopes for a faith-filled holiday season.

“I’ve met Jesus. This is how I say thank you!”

A friend recently told this story about a man whose life was forever changed by the transforming power of the gospel. He and others like him in a disadvantaged neighborhood were welcomed and nurtured by a loving faith community. On Sundays, they were eager to give from what they had in gratitude for the love they received. The joy at offering time was palpable—and contagious.

During my teenage and young adult years I often worshipped at Mennonite churches. I loved the traditional a capella singing. One of my favorite hymns that I learned from the Mennonites is “Praise to God, Immortal Praise”. The melody, tempo, and many of the verses bring to mind the waving wheat and rural settings we might imagine when thinking about this time of year and this particular fellowship of believers.

Writer Anna Barbauld testifies that God is the “bounteous source of every joy.” But in the final stanzas, she writes that should these blessings disappear, she would still be thankful.

At Christmas we often see or hear the phrase, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But Jesus is the reason for the Thanksgiving season too. Jesus is ready to meet us during all the seasons of our lives: the seasons of plenty, the seasons of want; the seasons of joy, the seasons of sorrow.

My hope for these seasons—for you and for me—is that we remember the source of our blessings, and that we find ways each day to meet Jesus. May generosity always accompany our thanks, and be our joyful response to God’s love and grace.

Praise to God, immortal praise,
For the love that crowns our days;
Bounteous source of every joy,
Let Thy praise our tongues employ.

Flocks that whiten all the plain;grain-2914660_1280
Yellow sheaves of ripened grain;
Clouds that drop their fattening dews,
Suns that temperate warmth diffuse.

All that spring with bounteous hand
Scatters o’er the smiling land;
All that liberal autumn pours
From her rich o’erflowing stores.

These to Thee, my God, we owe,
Source whence all our blessings flow;
And for these my soul shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise.

Yet, should rising whirlwinds tear
From its stem the ripening ear;
Should the fig tree’s blasted shoot
Drop her green untimely fruit,

Should the vine put forth no more,
Nor the olive yield her store;
Though the sickening flocks should fall,
And the herds desert the stall,

Yet to Thee my soul shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise;
And, when every blessing’s flown
Love Thee for Thyself alone.

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com