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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent Devotional Day 15 - THe Singing Christmas Tree

Day 15: The Singing Christmas Tree

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)

Begin by being still before God.  Read Psalms 9:1-2 and meditate on the words.

Ps 9:1-2 NIV
I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.  I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

1)    Be still and know he is God. 

2)    Praise him with all your heart.

3)    Tell him of his wonders.

4)    Be glad and rejoice in him.

5)    Sing praise to his name.

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Ask God to speak to you during this devotional time.

2)    Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a)    Ask God to send you music this Christmas.
b)    Ask God to help you notice his joyful singing over you. 
c)    Appendix 1: Pray and update.

3)    Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a)    Thank God for music. 
b)    Praise him for the many ways we are able to use music to serve him.
c)    Turn to Appendix 2 and list the ways music has blessed your life.

4)    Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a)    Offer your talents to the Christ Child. 
b)    Sing your own praise to Him. 
c)    Appendix 3: Pray and update.

5)    Ask God for knowledge of his will for you this Christmas and the power to carry it out. 

6)    Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.

Bible Study (10-15 Minutes)

There is music throughout the Bible.  David sings as he watches sheep on a hill.  Angels sing as they announce the birth of Jesus.  The disciples sang in prison.  God sings over us. 

Background Scripture

Read Psalms 149.4.  How does the Lord feel about you?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Read Zephaniah 3:17.  The Lord is always with his children.  He is mighty and saves us.  He takes great delight in us.  Picture the Lord rejoicing over you.  What does the scripture say he does as he rejoices?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Read John 4:23-24.  Our father is seeking worshipers.  How are we supposed to worship him?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read 1 Timothy 3:15.  Many people seek the music of churches during the Christmas season.  They may not realize it but they desperately need what our churches offer.  What does the scripture say about the church?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Matthew 28:19-20.  We call this scripture “The Great Commission.”  At Christmas, how do we use music to make disciples?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read Psalms 100.  We shout for joy and worship the Lord with gladness.  How are we supposed to come before him?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Come Into His Presence With Singing
The 25th Anniversary was finally here.  The choir was excited.  For twenty-five years, Southside Baptist Church has been offering a Singing Christmas Tree to their community.  This year, the choir members picked the music.  Their director, Rev. Eddie Lockamy gave the choir a list of everything they had ever sung.  The choir voted.

The choir is not the only ones that look forward to this event.  The community and the church members are committed to making this event a part of their Christmas worship.  Over the years, the number of nights that Southside Baptist Church performs has grown to five nights.  The sanctuary is full for the entire five nights.  Local restaurants and stores distribute tickets.  The free tickets are gone in the first two weeks of distribution.    Each night begins at 7:00 PM and lasts for about 1.5 hours.  At the end, the audience seems reluctant to leave. 

The first night of the performance is always for the homeless and prison community.  The other nights are for the community at large.  Church members are asked to come on the last night.  While the choir is comprised of mostly church members, others from the community also join the choir.  The tree has around seventy singers, dressed as ornaments.  This year, Julie was the angel at the top of the tree. 

Rehearsals begin with a “Christmas in August” party.  Choir members are introduced to the music.  They wait with anticipation all year to see the unveiling of “this year’s” Singing Christmas Tree selections. 

The selections always have several things in common: 

1. There is a blend of the familiar and the new. 
2. There is a blend of religious and secular. 
3. Many selections contain beautiful solos. 
4. They lend themselves to the use of multimedia, special effects, and multiple entertainment mediums. 
5. They tell the entire Christmas story, “From the Cradle to the Empty Tomb.” 

The performances themselves have several things in common: 

1. There is a blend of serious and light.
2. The use of lights and special effects is beautiful.
3. They use a variety of mediums that include voice, instruments, multimedia, dance, and drama.
4. They are entertaining.
5. They are a worship service.
6. They portray the entire life of Christ.

In many churches, the music department is the war department of the church.  Musicians can be temperamental and often fight for key positions and solos.  Not so in the Southside Baptist Church Choir.  The director, Eddie, has a different vision for his choir.  “Our choir members are worship leaders and servants.  Each choir rehearsal is preparation for our church’s worship service.  I also want our choir rehearsals themselves to be a worship service.” 

His choir rehearsals include prayer and devotions.  He prepares the choir spiritually to be worship leaders.  He lets the choir know what to be in prayer for.  He told me, “I pray over the selections and the soloists.  God often leads me to use unexpected selections and people.”  The choir supports his leadership.  Every year, the choir believes that “this year’s selections are the best ever.” 

Because Eddie is such a talented musician and director, the choir has attracted quality musicians.  Because Eddie is such a spiritual leader, the choir has attracted and developed spiritual leaders.  Choir members grieve when they have to miss a rehearsal. 

In thinking about why the Singing Christmas Tree is so important to the community, I realized that it fulfills God’s greatest commandment, to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as our selves. 

Loving God With Our Soul

God planned us for his pleasure.  He rejoices over us with singing.  We sing to him.  He is constantly seeking worshipers that love him with their entire soul.  The Singing Christmas Tree is a Worship Service.  The choir members worship while preparing it.  The audiences worship while hearing it.  There is a time for everyone to sing Christmas Carols during the service.  Because the worship experience is centered on the Christmas Story, the Singing Christmas Tree congregation “worships in spirit and in truth.”

Loving God With Our Hearts

We are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.  (Ephesians 2:19-22.)  A church is our place to belong in a world where we do not belong.  It is a place where our hearts join and grow stronger.  It is a place where our hearts learn about love.  It is a place where we go to fellowship together.

The entire church pulls together to help the Singing Christmas Tree.  It takes a large team to set up the tree, made of scaffolding from floor to ceiling, in what serves as the choir loft the rest of the year.  People have to handle publicity, parking, and hospitality.  Many work together to feed the homeless a meal and give them a gift.  There are sound, lights, and equipment.  These committees fellowship together as they prepare.  They learn to work and play together.  They learn to love God with their hearts.

Loving God With Our Strength

We are God’s workmen, created for doing good works prepared by God.  (Ephesians 2:10.)  We love God with our strength by ministering to the people around us.  The Singing Christmas ministers to the Jacksonville community by sharing the Spirit of Christmas.   People leaving on the last night said:

“This is part of my Christmas every year.  We look forward to it.” 

“It would not be Christmas for us without the Singing Christmas Tree.” 

“I went last night.  It was so good that I came back tonight with my entire family.” 

“It gets better every year.  It is always different.  They should take it to New York.” 

On woman, cried all the way through the carol, “Mary, Did You Know?”  She sobbed as she watched the video of the crucifixion scene.  “This is wonderful.  I have worshipped,” she said. 

The church ministers to prisoners and the homeless by feeding them, leading them in worship, and sending them home with gifts.  A church member told me, “This year, my calling is to the homeless.  I sat and ate with them and talked about Jesus.  A man said he had ruined his life through drinking.  I shared how Jesus had turned my life around.” 

Many people have their individual ministries for the tree.  Sandy is in charge of hair and makeup.  She is famous for making “big hair.”  Before the tree, there is a room full of hot rollers and makeup called “The Big Hair Room.”  One would not dare light a match for fear the hair spray would ignite. 

Dee and Sadie helped with the “standing chart” for the tree.  It is a complicated task.  Some want to hide on the back of the tree and others want to be “center stage.”  Height and voices are considered. 

Cindy and Barbara help prepare “No Room at the Inn,” a display of nativity scenes on loan from various members of the church.  There are sets of all types and sizes.  The room hosts family heirlooms, sets made and played with by children, and some acquired during distant travels. 

Bill prepares the soloists.  Betty and Gwen are the accompanists.  There are so many others involved in the Singing Christmas Tree.  All of these faithful ministers carefully “complete the work God gave them to do.”  (John 17:4) 

Loving God With Our Mind

We love God with our mind when we study the life of Christ and become disciples.  The Singing Christmas Tree tells the entire story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ.  People learn about the intricacies of this beautiful story as they study and sing the words of the selections.  The audiences listen to the words and learn. 

God calls everyone to specific tasks on earth.  It takes education to perform those tasks to God’s Glory.  The Bible tells us to “study and show ourselves approved.”  (2 Timothy 2:15)  In addition to learning about the life of Christ, the preparation for the tree provides “singing lessons” for many of the choir members.  Professional musicians coach the choir on the individual parts and the solos.  The choir learns how to stand, breath, and sing properly.  The choir members “study and show themselves approved” with their music. 

Loving Our Neighbor As Ourselves

There is no greater love for our neighbor than telling our neighbor about Jesus Christ.  The Singing Christmas Tree tells the world about Christ.  The number of people that attend humbles the church.  This event was so large that the church considered moving it to the Florida Theater, a vintage downtown movie theatre repurposed into a performance hall.  They realized attending this event was the only time that many ever go inside a church.  Southside believes it is part of their mission to host this in the church building.  The performers gladly give their time on multiple nights so that all can hear. 

Many people come to know Christ through the tree.  Counselors are ready to assist with questions and decisions.  Many members in the church say their first exposure to the church was through the Singing Christmas Tree.  Karen is the Chairperson for the evangelism committee.  She sets up a hospitality area where people are encouraged to come for cookies, for coffee, and to ask questions.  She carefully coordinates each night.  “My calling is not necessarily to put out cookies but it is for a higher purpose,” she said.

The Singing Christmas Tree is dedicated to God and offered to the community.  The Wise Men bowed down to worship the Christ Child.  Then they opened their treasures to present their gifts to him.  (Matthew 2:11)  Because the Singing Christmas is a gift to the community, it is a gift to the Christ Child.  First, the choir “falls down and worships him.”  Next, they “open their treasures” and present their gifts. 

The individuals that sing on the tree are a treasure.  Millie has sung on the tree every one of the twenty-five years.  “I would not miss it.”

Tina tells me, “I love singing in the tree.  The weekend before the tree, other church members and I help with a migrant worker children’s camp.  Then I get to be on the tree.  I consider those two weekends my entire Christmas Season.  My favorite night is the night the choir sings to the homeless.” 

Claude remarked, “The tree has two purposes for me.  The first is my personal Christmas worship.  Preparing for the tree helps me during the season.  The second is that I get to help others worship.” 

As she grinned, JoAnn remarked, “I love music.  I feel blessed to be part of a musical production.  I have been a Christian for only five years and am “on fire” to share Jesus’ love.  The Singing Christmas Tree shares the love of Jesus.” 

Faye loves singing on homeless night because they are so appreciative.  “They clap, whistle, and cheer.  I also enjoy practicing and fellowshipping with the choir members.” 

Kathy is fun to watch.  She sings with all of her heart.  She knows every word.  “I love to praise God with music.  Music is something that reaches everyone.”

Cindy said, “I love music and Christmas.  The Singing Christmas Tree combines my two favorite things so it is a natural for me.  I love being a part of something that shares the love of Christ with the community.” 

Phil is the Master of Ceremonies, soloist, and choir member.  “I love doing this.  I offered for us to do this for two weeks but no one agreed with me.”  Phil’s main concern is reaching people for Christ.  On the last, he walked over to the hospitality desk.  “Did anyone find Christ tonight?  I can always hope.” 

Application (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Making It Personal
a)    Is music a part of your Christmas Season?  Do you take advantage of the many beautiful Christmas productions available to you? 
b)    If you are a musician, are you using your abilities to tell the Christmas story? 
c)    This season, are you part of something that helps the world love God with their entire heart, soul, mind, and strength and love their neighbors as themselves? 
d)    Are you telling the Christmas Story to the world? 
e)    Write the Great Commission in your journal.
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

f)    Write a letter to God, accepting your commission. 
i)    Promise to tell the world about Jesus and to help make disciples. 
ii)    Commit to teaching others to obey His commandments. 
iii)    Thank him for being with you as you do this. 
iv)    If you have difficulties in any area, confess and ask for His help. 

2)    Praying Continuously  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a)    Ask God to send you at least one person with whom you can share some part of the Christmas Story: 
i)    Trust that God will answer your prayer. 
ii)    Be alert. 
iii)    Watch for the opportunity God will give. 
iv)    Be courageous. 
v)    Grab the opportunity. 
vi)    Share your love. 
b)    Listen:
i)    For music around you. 
ii)    Praise God for it.

3)    Ending The Day
a)    Did you come before God with singing today?
b)    If not, do it now.
c)    Be still and enjoy him singing over you.

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