The first time I heard the hymn “Thy Strong Word” (LSB 578), I was at a friend’s church choir concert. The beautiful architecture and stained glass windows combined with the multiple choral voices almost had me in tears. I heard the words “Give us lips to sing Thy glory, Tongues Thy mercy to proclaim, Throats that shout the hope that fills us, Mouths to speak Thy holy name” in a whole new way. I felt this same newness to familiar lyrics when I was visiting a church and watching a newborn get baptized while her uncles played their instruments and sang.
I was surprised when a non-Christian family member said a unique musical sound in worship at a church she was visiting piqued their interest. They didn’t know worship could be like that and asked for the names of the songs so they could listen to them later.
A friend told me about a church they visited during a band trip in New York City. That visit broke down their assumptions of Lutheran worship. The pastor’s personality came through the “high church” liturgy, and the makeup of the church was quite different from what they were used to. The service was almost two hours and most of the congregation stayed after to hear the musicians play. They looked at the liturgy in a whole new light after their experience.
These examples about new experiences in worship or experiencing familiar worship in a new way show us the impact that context can have on how we process language and theology. It’s not that we come out of new worship experiences with completely different beliefs, but the things we normally pass over are highlighted in a different way. Currently, I am experiencing Advent in a brand-new way. The Rock, Jesus, remains the same. But after twenty-four years of thinking of the season of Advent as cold, dark, and snow-filled, a sunny and warm Advent in Florida has me reflecting on different aspects of the season.
A Cold Advent
Being in a warm climate during this season of the Church Year has made me realize what aspects of the Advent season I normally focus on. It’s easy to be reminded of the light that Jesus brings to our world when the air is cold and the night is dark. As I wait for spring and the newness of warmth while the cold December wind blows, I’m reminded of waiting for Christ (both then and now). But in Florida, I can’t say that I feel the same spirit of the season. Instead, I’m remembering how the promise of a Savior was fulfilled.
The Fulfillment of Advent
This Advent, I am in a different climate, at a new church, and waiting for my next season of life to begin. My husband and I are becoming parents, and we are painfully aware of how much we fall short in this category. We know just how much we need the grace and mercy Jesus gives us as we prepare for our baby to arrive in the spring. Although Advent is a season that can remind us of the waiting that has occurred throughout the Church’s history, my experience this year has been thankfulness for Christ and His promises. I’ve found myself so thankful that the promises of God are trustworthy.
In this weather and season of life, the many ways Jesus is described in a classic Advent verse are at the front of my mind. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These qualities of Jesus are what I need now and forever.
God keeps His promises—we see this throughout Scripture. When His Word says that Jesus is our Savior, that He is mighty and will make all things new, we can trust in the peace that surpasses all understanding. This Advent season, these titles are sticking out in my mind as I trust in and prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and second coming. This new context has me focusing on different aspects of Advent that I haven’t really meditated on or celebrated during this time before.
Experience a New Worship Context
This Advent, I hope you notice what aspects of the season you tend to focus on. Lean into your traditions and remember the words of the hymns you sing. Look at the story of how Jesus came to us. Study how we know that God keeps His promises.
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Next time you are on vacation, and it’s Sunday, visit a local church and experience their context of worship. You never know how it will show you Jesus.
Quotation marked LSB is from Lutheran Service Book, copyright © 2006 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Experience Advent at home with Symbols of Salvation, which includes daily devotions, a children’s book, music and more.