The Rhythm of Worship and the Wonder of the Incarnation

On this day before the celebration of God's greatest gift to the world - the gift of his one and only Son - I am so grateful for the rhythm of worship that has been so powerful and formative all throughout my life. I am grateful for the fourfold rhythm of Gathering, Word, Eucharist, and Sending that has been such a regular and transformative power, personally and vocationally.

With a love of both worship and the ocean, I wrote a song more than a decade ago entitled "The Rhythm of Worship." I've included it in this post. It serves as a metaphor for the power of resting, responding, and becoming that characterizes Christian worship.

In my own life I have drawn from a rich tapestry of Christian worship. From Baptist, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Vineyard, and Presbyterian influences, I have grown to appreciate and integrate the various gifts each has brought to the fabric of my faith - musically, theologically, and liturgically.

Soon after my parents divorced it was my 12-year-old sister who would be the guiding voice for our family of three, announcing one day, "I think we should start going to church." From that time on my mom, my sister, and I began to attend Town Creek Baptist Church. There I learned the books of the Bible and was captivated each week by the various stories that Mr. Bragg read to our small Sunday School class. I loved to sing along to the hymns and, as I got older, enjoyed listening and absorbing each morning message.

I am also so grateful to have attended Mead Hall Elementary School from Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. Mead Hall is an outreach ministry of St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church in Aiken, South Carolina. Twice a week, as students, we would attend a chapel service. During these formative years as a young boy I experienced the beauty of the Anglican liturgy and the poetic petitions and readings within the Book of Common Prayer. I loved hearing the powerful, robust sound of the pipe organ that provided the musical accompaniment for the grand and transcendent hymns of the Anglican faith. It was a marked contrast to my Sunday morning experience at Town Creek Baptist Church; however, I loved and appreciated it all.

At least once a year I would attend the Greek Orthodox Church in Augusta, Georgia with my Yai Yai (Greek for "grandmother"). There I would immediately be transported to the mystery of the Orthodox faith through the smell of incense burning and the beautiful, yet lamenting sound of cantors. As I matured in my own personal faith I began to ask my Yai Yai more and more questions about what was going on during church. One day she handed me the Divine Liturgy book. As I followed along I wept in worship at the beauty and rhythm of Scripture and prayer, sight and sound that was finally making sense to my Protestant eyes and ears.

As a graduate student I was introduced to the songs of the Vineyard movement. I was immediately drawn to the guitar-oriented sound and the worship leader/songwriter model that remains such a rich part of this community of churches around the world.

For around twenty years now I have called the Presbyterian faith my home. It's certainly not perfect, but it has been the best "fit" for me and Allison over the years. Independently, Allison and I were each powerfully influenced by the doctrines of grace and came to believe in the tenets of the Reformed and Presbyterian faith while in college. From week to week we have had the privilege of hearing a robust Gospel message; worshipping a sovereign, triune God; and experiencing rich, transparent community in healthy churches throughout our single and married lives.

I share all of this because I am so grateful for this tapestry of faith and worship that God has sustained in my life. The weekly, monthly, and annual rhythm of Gathering, Word, Eucharist, and Sending has shaped my adolescent and my adult faith. It has provided the common thread of Word and Table throughout the many joys and trials of my life journey. I am filled with gratitude and wonder as I anticipate the Christmas Eve service that my family and I will attend later this evening.

While reading the journal Call to Worship yesterday I came across an article entitled "Where Liturgy Meets Life: The Pattern of Gratitude Responding to Grace" by Marney Wasserman. She writes:

"From one week to the next, the hymns all change, the readings change, we have new things to pray abut, and different realities to preach to - but the pattern of worship is a deep and unchanging one: grace and gratitude, Word and Table, flanked by God's gathering and sending. It is this pattern that keeps reminding us relentlessly of who God is and who we are... It is this pattern that gives us a weekly rehearsal in loving each other - through prayers and offering and other actions - so we'll remember how to do that loving when we're out among neighbors in the world."

I am filled with gratitude for the rhythm of worship that invites me to a personal and corporate expression of faith each and every week and throughout the special seasons and festivals of the Christian year. This evening, through the familiar melodies of the Christmas carols, the familiar narrative of the Christmas story, and the familiar sight of candles warmly illuminating a worship space... I will be changed, just a little, once again by the wonder of the Incarnation.


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