Monthly Archives: December, 2011

  1. Music Notes : Music for January 1st

    The old year now has passed away. . .

    Believe it or not, the vast repertoire available to organists contains music for nearly every occasion–whether sacred or secular–and the New Year celebration is no exception.  J.S. Bach’s wonderful prelude on the chorale Das Alte Jahr vergangen ist (The old year now has passed away) from his Orgelbüchlein is a sad and expressive farewell to another year gone by.  Filled with wistful yearning, it has all the hallmarks of a Lenten meditation, with no trace of happiness audible.  The chorale text translates as follows: The old year now has passed away; we thank Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, that with great danger ever near, Thou hast kept us safe this year.  I can’t let a New Year’s Day church service pass without playing this somber piece, paired with its jaunty companion, In Dir ist Freude (In Thee is Gladness), which provides much-needed celebratory relief.

    Why the sadness?  Why not joy at the start of a year, when so many of us are determined to make fresh starts, filled as we are with good intentions and New Year’s resolutions?  I think the answer lies in the human conundrum surrounding time’s passage.  We are baffled by it, saddened by it.  We hate to let things go. We most certainly lament the passing of youth, the encroaching infirmities of old age, the regrets that pile up as time passes.   Most of us have–at best–mixed feelings about coming face to face with death.  Put simply, it’s safe to say that most of us don’t want time to end.

    J. S. Bach certainly understood the human vexation on this issue.  One only has to listen to his melancholy organ piece to understand that.  There is something deeply sorrowful, yet bittersweet, about the whole concept.  Where would we be without our memories of times past (both good and bad)?  Where would we be without our hopes for the future, as yet fresh, untried, and unknown?  If God in Christ is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, what does the passage of time mean?  Is time significant only to our human lives on earth?  Will time end?  If so, what happens when it does?

    These are enormously complex questions, obviously.  Though I have no hope of finding definitive answers, I like to contemplate the possibilities.   Music–with its almost limitless expanse of possibilities–helps with such contemplations.  A piece that comes to mind is Olivier Messiaen’s powerful masterpiece, Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), written during World War II while Messiaen (1908-1992) was a prisoner of war.  (No, it will not be played in church this Sunday, but I hope you’ll enjoy the YouTube link.) The quartet was first performed in January, 1941, to an audience of prisoners and prison guards, with the composer playing a poorly maintained upright piano in freezing conditions.  For Messiaen, the enforced introspection and reflection of camp life thus bore fruit in one of the 20th-century’s acknowledged masterpieces of classical music.  The fifth movement, "Praise to the Eternity of Jesus," scored for cello and piano, focuses with love and great intensity on the concept of Jesus as the Word made flesh: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1).  The tempo marking is infiniment lent (infinitely slowly) and the movement is designed to offer a meditation on–or at least a glimpse into–what eternity might sound like.

    As we begin another year, my hope is that great music will help keep our minds and hearts focused on deeply spiritual matters, even as we go about our daily lives in all their mundane glory.  May kindness and love increase. . .may the new year be filled with peace and joy as we set about doing God’s work in the world and as we gratefully explore life’s endless possibilities!


  2. News : Young Adult & Senior High Bible Study

    A Monday night Young Adult & Senior High Bible Study will begin January 23. It will meet from 5:30-6:30pm in Taylor’s office to study the book of Esther on January 23, January 30, February 6, and February 13. In March, we will celebrate Purim, a Jewish holiday during which the book of Esther is reenacted, together with our Jewish neighbors. This study will be a great opportunity to learn and fellowship with one another, so clear your Monday evenings and join us!

    We will celebrate Purim on March 7 at the Judea Reform Congregation. Meet at Westminster at 6:30pm.  

  3. Bulletins & Sunday Announcements : January 1, 2012

    January 1, 2012 Bulletin

  4. Sermons : Christmas Eve Reflection

    Tommy has worked on our families’ cars for as long as I can remember. Won’t start? Call Tommy. Pulled the edge off your bumper in a parking lot? Call Tommy. At least twice in college I drove the pitiful car I was had at the time straight to Tommy’s garage, and my parents came to pick me up later. I wouldn’t say I know Tommy well, but he has been a constant in our lives for the last twenty years. The other thing he is known for in town, besides being a magician with cars, is his Christmas lights. His nice, rather non-descript brick house is ablaze, with lights around the gutters, on the roof, colored and white in various patterns, down the front stairs, around windows, on bushes and the little tree. The yard isn’t big, probably not much bigger than the courtyard out here, but it is filled with lights, stand-up crèche sets AND Santa Claus, candles and wire Christmas trees. It is a marvel.

    But a couple of years ago the lights just weren’t up. Nobody knew why. We didn’t run into him, were kind of nervous to ask. We assumed it became cost prohibitive. You don’t make a stellar living being a mechanic, and the economic crisis was taking its toll on everyone. After a couple of years, we had almost forgotten.

    Until this one. A few weeks ago my dad, along with all of the rest of the staff at the Conference Center, gathered in the lobby of the inn to decorate. They were hanging garland and wreaths, lots of big red bows, as they drank cider and ate cookies together. They needed an extension cord for a row of lights, and dad was walking down one of the halls of the hotel to a maintenance closet. And a woman he recognized, but couldn’t quite remember, stopped him. She worked in housekeeping. Mr. Tuttle, she said. Tommy is my husband, she said. He thinks a lot of your family, and we decided I would tell you our story; we wanted to tell you our story. She wasn’t like every other employee at the Inn, she said. She was on a work-release program from the minimum security correctional facility on the edge of town. She had been there for five years. Eight or so years before she was the controller for a decent-sized manufacturing company. It was a good job. But she had started heading to Cherokee on the weekends, to play the slots there in the casino on the reservation. It was fun for awhile, then she went more and more. And then, as the gambling addiction took root, she started taking money from the company to pay her debts. I justified it all in my head, she said, as wrong as it was. Until someone raised a few suspicions, and then it happened quickly – the arrest, the trial. She had been there for five years, hadn’t been home in five years. And while she still had time to serve, to pay back to society and the company what she owed, this year, for the first time she was coming home for Christmas. For three whole days, she said. And she was so excited. I just wanted to tell you, Mr. Tuttle, she said. Tommy said it would be good to talk with you.

    And the reason I tell you this story, and the reason Tommy has given me his permission to share it with you, was that that night Dad drove down Tommy’s road, wound around the curves, and came to the straightaway just before his house…and there they were. The lights, blazing, every single one of them. And in an instant my dad knew why those lights had not come up, those last four Christmas’s Tommy’s wife Yvonne had been in jail. Tommy couldn’t do it. The hole in their lives was too big. There are seasons in all of our lives, I would imagine, when life presses down and we don’t feel like much more than a mass of broken relationships and broken dreams as we scurry from one thing to another, not doing anything as well as we would like. As we gather, as we get a little testy with family, as we grieve those we dearly miss who won’t be around the table this year. But this Christmas, Tommy’s lights were back up. Not because everything was fixed – Yvonne still has more time to serve. Because in the midst of all of the pain in their lives, and in ours, throughout this broken and beautiful world, his lights shone their proclamation of a broad and deep and persistent hope.

    One of my theology professors, Shirley Guthrie, has written, "Christmas is the story of a radical invasion of God into the real world where we live all year long – a world where there is political unrest and injustice, poverty, hatred, jealousy, and both the fear and the longing that things could be different." That things will be different. As John writes in his gospel that Taylor read a moment ago: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." That Christ has come to earth once again, this sacred night. And that because God has joined us here, this life is blessed. You, us, our relationships. So that we can have hope. So that Tommy’s lights, along with the candles we will hold high in a few moments, might shine, for all the world to see, forever and ever.

    All praise be to God. Merry Christmas. Amen.


  5. Messages from Monica : Chancel Choir Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

    Tonight:  Chancel Choir, join us in the sanctuary at 6:40 p.m. for a brief rehearsal/warm-up before the 8 p.m. service.  Please bring your own folders (though I will have extra music available for those who need it).  We will wear robes with white stoles.

    Christmas morning:  Please join us in the music room at 10 a.m., as we prepare for 11:00 worship.  Bring family & friends with you to join in the fun as we sing The First Nowell (our offertory anthem).  Everyone will enjoy the many beloved Christmas carols featured in Christmas Day worship. 

    I look forward to seeing many of you tonight & tomorrow, & I wish one & all a very Merry Christmas!