Welcome to Our World

Throughout my faith journey, music has been one of the ways that God has led me into deep places of connection with Jesus and abandonment in worship.

The choir of the church where I was baptized and confirmed offered Mozart’s Requiem, the entire mass, every year as part of our worship on Good Friday.  Though I didn’t understand the words, there was something so profound about the music – tied into the story in which we were walking, and I felt a deep sense of connection to Christ’s suffering.

Often times, when I am walking in the early morning, I will listen to worship music, and my soul will be transported into the throne room of grace, as I am overwhelmed by the goodness and majesty of God, and the love with which I am held.

And even with the tendency toward sentimentality that we can all fall prey to during the season of Advent and into Christmas (and though everybody has incredibly strong opinions on when it’s appropriate to sing what songs during this time of year), I have also found that my own experience of Advent and Christmas would be terribly lacking without music to provide the soundtrack for my journey to Bethlehem.

Whether it’s the minor key of O Come, O Come Emmanuel that echoes the longing of a people waiting in darkness for the light of messiah to come, or the invitation to worship offered by O Come, All Ye Faithful, or the exuberance of singing Joy, Unspeakable Joy as the promises of God are born as a Yes in Jesus, music has become more than a backdrop to my own times of worship during this season.  For me, one of those songs is “Welcome to Our World,” written and originally recorded by Chris Rice.welcome to our world

When Chris Rice wrote and recorded the song, “Welcome to Our World,” he didn’t originally intend for it to be a Christmas song.  In an interview with CCM magazine, quoted on http://www.umdiscipleship.org, Rice says that the song, “deals with the reality that God invaded our planet and became one of us, which is just astounding to me.  I wrote about God coming to our world in a naive way, knowing that it’s not ours anyways, it’s [God’s]…I thought…about the face that [Jesus] took on what He did so that we would be able to find God and be found by God.”

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking, how we need to hear from God.

You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting, Welcome, holy child.

The Advent season is a season of waiting.  It’s a season of longing, as we not only prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but join in creations looking forward to His return.  God’s people had been longing for the One who would come and set the world aright, according to the promises and prophets we have recorded in the Hebrew scriptures.

But we know that the longing of God’s people for the promised Messiah is not an unknown yearning for those of us who live on the other side of the incarnation.  We recognize that, even on this side of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, we still live in the now and not yet of God’s kingdom.  Yet, though we know that our longing will never be fully relieved until the day when Christ returns to wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death and pain and mourning and loss will be no more, we hold onto that promise, because we serve a promise-keeping God.

Hope that you don’t mind our manger – how I wish we would have known.

But long-awaited Holy Stranger, make yourself at home. Please make yourself at home.

John the Baptist invoked the spirit of the prophet Isaiah, as he became that voice of one calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord.  Rice’s second verse reminds me of an anxious grandmother, longing and planning for company to arrive, only to feel completely unprepared when the moment comes.

Though the people of God had been longing for the arrival of a messiah for centuries, when it happened, they seem to have been caught off-guard – leaving Jesus to be born in less than ideal circumstances in less than princely accommodations.  And yet, this has always seemed to bother us way more than it bothers God.

The reality is, our lives are a mess, and yet Christ chooses to be born there, if they are open to Him making our hearts His home.  No amount of camel-hair wearing warning can fully make our paths straight enough for the very king of the universe to travel to where we are.  And yet, Christ still comes, and we say, make yourself at home.

Bring your peace into our violence, bid our hungry souls be filled.

Word now breaking heaven’s silence, Welcome to our world.

Part of the waiting in 1st century Palestine and 21st century everywhere is the recognition that our world is not as it should be.  There is this overwhelming sense that we need a fresh word from God to break through what seems like a too-long silence.  Those words, bring your peace into our violence and bid our hungry souls be filled, encapsulate for me the fulness of the gospel that has broken into the world on Christmas night.  Christ comes, to be sure, to fill up the empty places and broken spaces in our souls.  And yet, He also comes to bring peace into violence, and shake the systems of oppression that keep people from experiencing the freedom for which all of humanity was created.  I believe that we miss who Jesus is if we ever forget either one of those pieces of his mission.

Fragile finger sent to heal us, Tender brow prepared for thorn.

Tiny heart whose blood will save us, Unto us is born.

Early on in Jesus’ life, when others were bowing down in worship, singing songs of praise and going to tell it on the mountain, we know that Mary was pondering and treasuring things up in her heart.  Even as the time came for the family’s visit to the Temple, Simeon, in the midst of his celebration, alludes to the future in store for Jesus, and because of that, our future as well.  And that truth was that the very piercing of Jesus’ hands, feet and side would one day pierce Mary’s soul.

We can never fully separate the Christmas story from the passion and Easter stories.  We can’t extricate the incarnation of God from the mission of God to redeem the world, and Jesus’ role in that unfolding rescue plan.  On Christmas, as the angels would soon sing, one is born who is the Savior, Christ the King – whose crown would be fashioned from thorns, and whose saving would come through his own sacrifice.

So wrap our injured flesh around You, breathe our air and walk our sod.

Rob our sin and make us holy, Perfect Son of God.  Welcome to our world.

Finally, the song closes with what has become my Advent (and year-round) prayer.  Jesus, invade our world, and invade my life again and anew.  Work in me, and in all of creation, to redeem and restore, to make new and to set apart for your purpose in this world that you so loved that you came to save.  Let every heart, including this one, hold onto your promise, and prepare the room for your coming.  Welcome to our world, Jesus.  Amen.

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