Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Lamb of God" (Twila Paris) - “TLH, LW, LSB: The Letters of Worship”

1st Sunday of Advent (Year C - Lutheran Service Book
Saturday, December 2, and Sunday, December 3, 2006

“Lamb of God”
Hymn #550
Lutheran Service Book
Text and tune by Twila Paris
©1985 Straightway Music; Admin. by EMI

Your only Son, no sin to hide,
But You have sent Him, from Your side
To walk upon this guilty sod,
And to become the Lamb of God.

O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God,
I love the holy Lamb of God,
O wash me in His precious blood,
My Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

Stanza 2
Your Gift of Love they crucified,
They laughed and scorned him as he died:
The humble King they named a fraud,
And sacrificed the Lamb of God.

Stanza 3
I was so lost, I should have died,
But You have brought me to Your side
To be led by Your staff and rod,
And to be called a lamb of God.

That was beautifully done—a new hymn from the Lutheran Service Book, our new hymnal, which we will dedicate during today’s service. The accompaniment edition of the Lutheran Service Book includes two options—one for the organ, and one for the piano—and Stephanie chose the piano version today, highlighting the more contemporary feel of this hymn.

And indeed, the hymn is fairly contemporary, written in 1985 by Twila Paris, one of the early stars in the Contemporary Christian Music scene. Take a listen to what it sounded like when she originally recorded it.

(play clip)

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s hymnal committee chose to put “Lamb of God” in the Lutheran Service Book, because the song is faithful to Scripture and to our Lutheran Confessions. The song is Christocentric, meaning that Christ is the center of the song, He is the true actor, the One who brings our salvation. Plus, there is biblical imagery in the song; the song works to develop the picture language of God’s Word.

I want to celebrate our new hymnal today by finding the connections between “Lamb of God” and the rest of our service. This song works wonderfully with our Scripture readings for the first week of Advent, and it picks up on the themes of the hymn we sang earlier, “The Advent of our God”—an old hymn that’s in all three of our hymnals.

“The Advent of our God” is in the red one, The Lutheran Hymnal, from 1941. It’s in the blue one, Lutheran Worship from 1982. And it’s also now in the burgundy one, Lutheran Service Book (a different translation titled “The Advent of our King”). A lot of times, we’ve just referred to our hymnals by acronyms: TLH—The Lutheran Hymnal, LW—Lutheran Worship, and now we have LSB—Lutheran Service Book. TLH, LW, LSB, those are the acronyms of our hymnals. You could say that TLH, LW, LSB are the letters of worship. But all of those letters stand for the same thing: hymns that teach God’s Word. TLH, LW, or LSB, all point to Christ.

As I said, we’re going to look at the connections between “Lamb of God” and God’s Word, and the insert in your bulletin will help us walk through the hymn. While you’re taking out your insert, I’m going to play you a clip of a worship band from Mars Hill Church in Pennsylvania doing “Lamb of God” in a pretty different way.

Click here to see insert.

Click here to listen to Red Letter.

I wanted you to hear that clip, because I want us to see that just because a song is in a hymnal, a formal leather-bound pew book, doesn’t mean that there isn’t more than one way to sing and play a hymn.

Anyway, I want to celebrate our new hymnal by finding connections between “Lamb of God” and the rest of today’s service. Dedicating a new hymnal is a great time to pause, really study a hymn, and see just how it much it has to teach us about God’s Word.

So then, on the left hand side of the insert, A. Today’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah chapter 33 in verse 15 says, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” God’s promise to send a Savior, the Savior who came as a baby at Christmas, Jesus Christ, that promise connects with the first stanza of the hymn where Twila Paris wrote, “Your only Son, no sin to hide,/But You have sent Him, from Your side.” Indeed, God promises to send His righteous Son, His holy, sinless Son, and that’s the gift He sent on Christmas Day.

B. As the song says, Jesus left His heavenly throne “to walk up this guilty sod/and to become the Lamb of God.” That’s what is happening in today’s Gospel reading from Luke 19. Verse 36 talks about Jesus entering Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, coming among the people on this guilty Earth, this sinful planet.

Perhaps this is a good time to mention that the Palm Sunday Gospel is the traditional reading for the First Sunday of Advent. The Palm Sunday Gospel shows Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey while people wave palm branches; it’s the Sunday before He is crucified. We can see His humility as the King of all Creation rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. And Advent is about preparing to celebrate that same humility, how Christ humbled Himself and was born as a child on Christmas. That’s the amazing part of Christmas and Palm Sunday: Jesus is a humble King—no one would even think He is a King—and yet, through faith, we celebrate Him as the Savior of the world.

C. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the crowds shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” They celebrated Jesus with those wonderful words that compare to the refrain of “Lamb of God”: “O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God,/I love the holy Lamb of God.” Those are words of praise, words that come from faith seeing that Jesus is truly the Son of God.

D. The refrain continues, “O wash me in His precious blood,/My Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God”; it’s a celebration of what the Son of God does for us. He forgives us, takes away our sin, and does just what today’s Epistle reading from 1 Thessalonians chapter 3 verse 13 says: “So that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” We have been washed in the blood of Jesus; we have been made blameless in God’s eyes.

E. Knowing that we’ve been forgiven, stanza 2 of “Lamb of God” reminds us of what Christ had to go through in order to forgive us. “Your Gift of Love they crucified,/They laughed and scorned him as he died.” Jesus died after being mocked, threatened, beaten, and falsely accused of crimes. Even in the middle of the celebration as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “[S]ome of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’” In other words, “Jesus, make your disciples stop celebrating you as King, because you’re not a king.” They didn’t believe in Him, and they made His life difficult, and they killed Him. Jesus went through all of that, so that our sins could be forgiven.

F. Here’s another reminder that humility is the connection between Palm Sunday and Advent. The song calls Jesus “the humble King,” and indeed, while Luke says, “Throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it,” while it looks like the disciples were giving Jesus a royal treatment, really, it was a borrowed donkey with some ratty cloaks for a saddle. And from there, He rode on to die; they “sacrificed the Lamb of God.”

G. The last connection on the left side of the insert shows that a couple of the other verses from Jeremiah line up with stanza 3. God says, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The Lord is our righteousness.'” Judah and Jerusalem were lost, but God saved them from their sin and their rebellion. Twila Paris writes that same promise into her lyrics: “I was so lost, I should have died,/But You have brought me to Your side.”

In these verses from Jeremiah, God promises to save His people. In another passage in Jeremiah, God makes the same promise, saying that He will come as the Shepherd of His people. God did this through Jesus, and the song makes a fine connection with that image: “To be led by Your staff and rod, And to be called a lamb of God,” helping us to see that while Jesus is the Lamb of God, we are also His lambs and He is our Shepherd.

So there are many biblical connections in “Lamb of God, ” but we can also see that “Lamb of God” picks up on the tradition of our hymns, having a lot of similarities with “The Advent of our God”.

“The Advent of our God” was written in 1736 by a Frenchman named Charles Coffin. Perhaps an unfortunate last name, but Coffin wrote many hymns in French that have been since translated into English. “Lamb of God” was written 249 years after Coffin’s hymn, but there’s no doubt that both songs are working with the same truths of God.

Point H. on the right hand side, the first stanza, “The advent of our God/Shall be our theme for prayer;/Come, let us meet him on the road/And place for him prepare.” Advent means “to come, approach, arrive,” and so this stanza is talking about Jesus coming into the world. That’s what we’ve already seen in stanza 1 of “Lamb of God.” Jesus left His Father’s side to enter our world, and He came and walked among us. “The Advent of our God” uses the imagery of Palm Sunday, the crowds lining the road as Jesus entered Jerusalem, but that is symbolically what happens in our heart’s through the Holy Spirit. Through faith, we meet Jesus on the road.

I. Stanza 3 of “The Advent of our God” continues the imagery of Palm Sunday, a picture of the crowds celebrating Jesus as He enters Jerusalem: “Come, Zion's daughter, rise/To meet your lowly king,/Nor let your faithless heart despise/The peace he comes to bring.” The stanza makes you picture the crowds lining the roads, shouting, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” It’s the celebration that we sang each time in the refrain of “Lamb of God,” “O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God,/I love the holy Lamb of God.” Where Coffin wrote “the peace he comes to bring” in his hymn, Twila Paris wrote, “O wash me in His precious blood”; both pointing to the forgiveness that Jesus came to bring. More than just on that one Sunday 2000 years ago, though, the imagery helps us to celebrate Jesus entering into our hearts through faith.

J. With stanza 2 of “The Advent of our God,” we have the theme of humility: “The everlasting Son/Incarnate stoops to be,/Himself the servant's form puts on/To set his people free.” Jesus, the eternal Son of God, humbles Himself, comes down to our level and takes flesh, becomes a human, so that He can be the servant and redeem us from sin, get us out of slavery to sin and Satan. It’s the humility that we also sang in “Lamb of God”’s second stanza, “Your Gift of Love they crucified,/They laughed and scorned him as he died:/The humble King they named a fraud,/And sacrificed the Lamb of God.” God sent Jesus as this wonderful gift of love and mercy, but He was crucified—by the sinners in His day and by our sin which made it necessary for Him to die in our place. Where Twila Paris uses the imagery of sacrifice in stanza 2 to talk about how Jesus forgives our sins, Coffin in his stanza 2 uses the image of slavery, that Jesus came “to set his people free.” Both are talking about this incredible act of humility that allows us the hope of eternal life.

K. When we first look at “Lamb of God”’s stanza 3, it might just seem to be about our experience of Jesus working faith in our hearts: “I was so lost, I should have died,/But You have brought me to Your side/To be led by Your staff and rod,/And to be called a lamb of God.” But when we lay it side-by-side with stanza 4 of “The Advent of our God,” we realize that both work with the Advent theme of being prepared for Jesus to come again, waiting in faith for Jesus to return and bring this world to an end. Coffin’s hymn says, “As judge, on clouds of light,/He soon will come again/And all his scattered saints unite/With him on high to reign.” Where Twila Paris talks about us being “lost” and deserving death, Coffin talks about being scattered. Where Twila Paris talks about Jesus coming to be our Shepherd to lead us, Coffin talks about Jesus coming as the Judge to take us to be with Him forever.

Stanza 3 of “Lamb of God” seems like words we might sing on that Last Day, standing staring into the sky, celebrating Christ returning, overwhelmed with awe and fear, saying, “I was so lost, I should have died,/But You have brought me to Your side/To be led by Your staff and rod,/And to be called a lamb of God.”

So, then, the letters of worship, TLH, LW, and LSB, plus A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K, all of these letters of worship lead us right through the themes of Advent—the entrance of Jesus into the world, humbling Himself in order to save us, forgiving us of our sins, preparing us to be with Him forever when He comes again. These letters of worship lead us to stand here waiting. . . . .stand here waiting for Jesus to return and take us to be with Him forever. . .stand here waiting for that day when we will stare up into the sky and see our Lord coming in all of His glory. . .and as we stand here waiting we will sing His praises.