Dec 172012

Johann Nikolaus Forkel had a desire to bring Germany’s native son, J.S. Bach, into focus in the early 1800’s. His research of Bach’s life and works were sketchy at times, but he put together the first authoritative work on the life of J.S. Bach. Forkel so desperately wanted his native land to know about the genius of Bach. “One of the best and most effective means of popularizing musical masterpieces is to perform them in public,” he wrote. “In that way works of merit secure a widening audience.”

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is a work of merit and it desires a very wide audience. It is, in my humble opinion, and with my limited knowledge of music, one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard. It so captivates me! Our minister of music, Michael Roderick, played it yesterday (12/16) for the prelude of our service. When I hear the music, I close my eyes and focus on the One who should be the chief Joy of my heart. His name is Jesus! Yes, you heard me right – I close my eyes and focus on Jesus (with the eyes of my heart). Don’t think I’m crazy if I feel a sense of rapture when I listen to the song. Forkel said in 1802, “No one who is familiar with the work of other centuries will contradict or hold my statement exaggerated, that Bach cannot be named except in tones of rapture, and even of devout awe, by those who have learned to know him.” God gifted this man to compose music for the church. That’s right. He was a music director, first in Weimar, then in Leipzig. He composed a new cantata virtually every week! He began composing on Monday, finished it on Thursday, practiced it with the orchestra Friday and Saturday, then it was played at 8 AM at Sunday morning mass. He composed around 550 cantatas, and that is only the beginning!

Forkel, with great regret, said, “Bach’s works unfortunately are rarely heard nowadays; for the number of persons capable of playing them adequately is at best inconsiderable.” I am thankful that God sent RBC a music leader that can more-than-adequately handle Bach! Forkel said, “To awaken a wide appreciation of musical masterpieces depends upon the existence of good teachers.” Michael, not only can you handle Bach, but you play Bach for us and teach him to us! Thank you, indeed!

Generations of Musicians

It is said of Bach’s family that ”in six successive generations scarcely two or three of its members are found whom nature had not endowed with remarkable musical talent, and who did not make music their profession.” They were a close knit family. It is said that they, “exhibited a clannish attachment to each other.” The Bachs often lived in small towns and were not prone to migrate to larger cities. The Bach name was still big in Germany, but not as big as it could have been. Then came Johann Sebastian Bach, born March 21, 1685, in Eisenach. At the age of 10 he became an orphan and was dependent on his oldest brother for care. This brother, Christoph, was amazed by his little brother’s talent. He fed him with as much music as possible to help him grow as a musician.

The Song

Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring comes from cantata number 147. The cantata was named Herz (heart) und Mund (mouth) und Tat (deed) und Leben (life). There are ten songs in the cantata, with Jesu being the final song. Jesu was the second of two choral sing-a-longs in the cantata. The choral arrangement was designed to allow the people to stand and stretch while they sang with the chorus. I have read that the song was first played on July 2, 1723, but I also read that it was performed in Weimar on the 4th Sunday of Advent. I can’t seem to find out which is true, or if a combination of both are true: First played on July 2, then played regularly at Advent.

The text of the song was written by Martin Janus in 1661. The music was actually written by Johann Schop, but was arranged by Bach for his Cantata 147. The song has actually been arranged several times since. The English that we see today does not correspond to the original German. I want to give the translation of the original to right of the German. I do this because many of you I believe will be encouraged from the message of the original hymn. Perhaps you are suffering and you need encouragement to hold on. Well, here it is in the words of this hymn.

Jesus bleibet meine Freude
meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum lass’ ich Jesum nicht
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe,
o wie feste halt’ ich ihn,
dass er mir mein Herze labe,
wenn ich krank und traurig bin.
Jesum hab’ ich, der mich liebet
und sich mir zu eigen giebet,
ach drum lass’ ich Jesum nicht,
wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.
Jesus remains my joy
My hearts’s comfort and essence,
Jesus resists all suffering,
He is my life’s strength.
My eye’s desire and sun,
My soul’s love and joy.
So will I not leave Jesus,
Out of heart and face.Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how strong I hold to Him.
That He might refresh my heart,
When sick and sad am I.
Jesus have I, who loves me,
And gives to me his own.
Ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
When I feel my heart is breaking.

I pray that Jesus would remain your joy this Christmas and forever. That He would be your strength and comfort and that He would refresh your heart. He remains faithful and He holds on to you with His omnipotent hand! He loves you, friend, so don’t lose sight of that. Let Him be the Joy of your desires!

Merry Christmas!

Dec 122012

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

2 Corinthians 9:15 (ESV)

There is no question that Christmas has become a selfish desire for material things. We love our “things”. We love them so much we will even fight for them at a department store. Once again, there were many “Black Friday Brawls” all over the country. When I watch the video clips I am in horror. It is almost like we have become like wild, untamed animals. The corruption of the human heart is so evident. One only needs to watch one Black Friday Brawl video (or brave the crowds in person) to see that humanity has a desperate problem.

The only remedy for sin however, comes from the real meaning of Christmas. I’m not against the purchasing and the giving of gifts. Obviously we have gone way over-board in our culture. But, we have salvation because God gave the greatest gift of all – His Son. The Scriptures reveal to us that it is God who is the great Giver. “Every good gift and every perfect is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Romans 3:24 tells us that we are justified, by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

The Greek word for “gift” in that passage means “present” or “without cost or cause”. We did not cause our own salvation, neither did we buy (that is, work for it). “Of His own will he brought us forth (gave us new birth) by the Word of Truth” (James 1:18). Salvation is not your doing. Just as no one chooses to be born, no one chooses on his own to be born again. This is God’s sovereign work. Ephesians 2 says that by grace God made us alive in Christ. Then in verse 8 Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

God, by grace, has also given gifts to His Church. Ephesians 4:7 says that “Grace was given to each one us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” And the apostle Peter says that, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

God has been giving to you, even this very second. He gave you life, breath, and other material blessing. He has been gracious to you. Most of all, He gave us His Son! Only through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on behalf of sinners can our hearts be made new. Will you trust Him today? Don’t gain the whole world (“things”) and forfeit your soul. How foolish to put our hope and trust in “things”. Will you make Jesus Christ your great treasure?

If you are a Christian, your greatest joy came as a gift. Embrace Him with joy and share the gift with others. Remember, as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” No, you don’t have to go over-board, and you shouldn’t, but that does not mean you cannot be thoughtful and generous. There are many ways to give inexpensive gifts that will not take away from the real meaning of Christmas. In all of your purchasing and giving, just don’t forget the greatest Gift of all. To quote Linus, the great theologian from Peanuts, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Giving thanks for God’s inexpressible gift,

Pastor Bill