Hark How All the Welkin Rings

First in a series on the gospel in Charles Wesley’s famous carol, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”

Luke 2:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Christmas CarolOne of the dilemmas that preachers run into during Advent is which hymns to plan for the congregation to sing during the season. Liturgically speaking, Christmas hymns should be reserved for Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, while Advent is all about preparation. There are a couple of problems with this approach, however. One is that there just aren’t many Advent hymns to begin with—in fact, we’re pretty much singing them all today on the first Sunday of Advent (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”). A good songwriter could make some money writing some more decent Advent hymns, but nobody seems to want to do that because, as we all know, Christmas music is what people actually want to sing, even if it’s still November or even October. After all, no other holiday gets the airplay that Christmas does. You don’t see, for example, radio stations dedicating their full program schedule to Easter or Thanksgiving music.

So, even those of us who are liturgical legalists have to give in a bit during this season, but I also like to think that the preponderance of Christmas music also gives us an opportunity to think about the message that music conveys. Some Christmas music is just for fun (Frosty and Jingle Bells, for example, which really have nothing to do with Christmas); some of it is very sentimental (White Christmas, I’ll Be Home for Christmas); and some of it is religious in tone, if not fact. Take “We Three Kings,” for example. That song, and not the Scripture, is why there are always three wise men (not kings) in every manger scene. I mean, biblically speaking, we don’t know how many magi there were, and they showed up two years later and in a different Gospel than the shepherds. When we have the kids put the figures in the manger scene each week during Advent, I always think they should put the wise men over in the closet and bring them out two months after Christmas. Then again, I’m a bit of a historical Grinch.

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Thoughts on Turning 50

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age, I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Isaiah 46:4

Today is my birthday, and while most birthdays in the Kaylor household involve a trip to Chipotle for burritos and a couple of small presents, this is a fairly big one for me. Fifty is a big number, but I’m happy to say that I don’t feel 50 today (as if one would know what it feels like). Yes, the AARP card will surely arrive soon. Yes, retirement is on the distant horizon (and yes, I’m paying more attention to my pension!). And, yes, the hair (what’s left of it) is gray-er. But rather than feeling “old,” today, I’m feeling grateful. The journey of life for me (so far) has been a real testimony to the verse above that God gave through Isaiah to the exiles of Judah–“I will carry and will save.” That’s been true for me since the beginning.

See, I was born as a mistake.  I emerged into the world on December 1, 1963 at Booth Memorial Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA, a Salvation Army hospital for unwed mothers (long since closed). From what I could piece together through research and the help of a case worker at the adoption agency in Indiana County, PA, my birth mother was a 24 year old student and my birth father an officer in the Salvation Army–that’s right, a clergyman. They weren’t married, which means that I was the result of clergy misconduct. Since I found that out a few years ago, the irony has never failed to astonish me. God used a mistake to put me where I am today–a clergyman who carries his Word, but who also recognizes the frailty of human sin, perhaps more than most. I carry all those genes within me.

But I’m happy to say on this half century birthday that my life has not been a mistake. Oh, it hasn’t been easy. I lost my adoptive mother when I was only 14, an event that radically shaped my life and our family. I got adopted again by a friend’s family when my own family fell apart. If you’re counting, that’s three different families that have been part of my life. My family tree looks like a forest. Through all that joy and heartache, however, God was always present, even when in my anger I pushed him to the background. God didn’t leave me when I joined the Army and put my anger to Uncle Sam’s use. He didn’t leave me when I went to college and stopped really going to church. He was there when Jennifer and I got married, and brought us back to church together several years later. He used that as an occasion to call me out of the Army life and into ministry, where I’ve been ever since–a place where today I feel like I was destined to be all along. It was no mistake.

My life is evidence that God can take a mistake and bless it. When I look at my wonderful, patient, and fabulous wife, and my fantastic, talented, and hilarious children, I am thankful beyond measure. For all my teachers and professors, mentors and friends–I know I have been blessed to God to have them in my life. When I think about all the people I’ve worked with and had the privilege of pastoring over the past 20+ years, I pray that God has used what was once a great mistake to work all things better for God’s good in their lives.

Isaiah wrote the above verse to a people in exile, people whose situation in life was the result of a mistake. And yet, even when they were far from home, God declared that he was still there, as he had been from their birth as a people. I want to tell you today that the last fifty years for me is evidence that when God promises something, he always follows through. And now, as I turn a little grayer, I know he will still be carrying me into the future. After all, God never makes mistakes!

That’s what I’m celebrating today–AARP card or no!





Hark! A Sermon Series for Advent

A look at the meaning of Christmas through the lens of Charles Wesley’s famous carol…

Hark Series LogoOne of the great parts about the Christmas season is the music of the carols. Some of those carols are old favorites (Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful) and some are just for fun (Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas). While most of us will never crave the “figgy pudding” we sing about this time of year, we do crave the message of hope and love that Christmas brings. We love all of those familiar carols, but one of them captures this powerful reality of God coming in the person of Jesus better than most—Charles Wesley’s famous “Hymn for a Christmas Day” or, as we know it, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The story of this carol and its message offer us all of the rich biblical themes that give us the true meaning of Christmas in the gift of Christ: Glory, Incarnation, Resurrection, and the Image of God. When we learn what Christmas really all about, then we have even more reasons to sing!

Join us during the four Sundays of Advent, beginning December 1, as we look at the meaning of the manger through the outline of this great hymn. Each of the sermons corresponds to one of the verses (including one verse that isn’t published in our hymnal):

Dec. 1 – “How All the Welkin Rings:” The Birth of the World’s True King

Dec. 8 – “Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See:” The Incarnation

Dec. 15 – “That We No More May Die:” Christmas and Easter Together

Dec. 22 – “Adam’s Likeness, Lord Efface:” Living the Life of Christ

Bring a friend and join us during this season of preparation for Christmas! If you’re living outside the Monument/Colorado Springs area and aren’t able to join us in person, you can read the sermon texts here on the blog or listen to them here.

Finishing Well

2 Timothy 4:1-8

New_York_marathon_Verrazano_bridgeThe starting gun for the New York City Marathon fired on Sunday of this week as runners from around the world began the 26.2-mile race through the streets of the five boroughs. Some of the runners left the starting line in search of the prize while others will consider a respectable finish (or any finish) to be a great accomplishment.

But while running a marathon is still a popular bucket list item for many people, other regular marathoners believe that running such a long horizontal distance again and again over time can really beat up the body, not to mention the fact that logging mile after mile on the course can get kind of monotonous. An increasing number of those runners, in fact, are becoming less interested in hoofing it through the streets and more interested in the buildings that tower over them — buildings that contain miles of stairs within their dizzying heights.

Welcome to the sport of professional stair climbing.

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Grave Matters – A Meditation for All Saints Day

all-saints-day-2Last night was Halloween, which is a “holiday” that just about everyone celebrates in one form or another. Our subdivision was filled last night with little (and, disturbingly, not-so-little) ghouls and goblins trooping from door to door in search of this year’s cache of sugary loot. But while you may be waking up this morning still a little loopy from sampling the kids’ candy stash, I want to introduce you to another really “holy day”—All Saints Day.

Traditionally, All Saints Day has had a couple of meanings. In the old days there was All Saints Day, which celebrated those Christians who had been singled out as exceptionally “saints” of the church—your Mother Theresa types, that sort of thing—followed the next day by “All Souls Day” when the rest of the departed hoi polloi of the church was honored—your regular Christians.

But, biblically speaking, “saint” is a word that is most often used to connote a regular, faithful Christian. There was no celebrity saint distinction in the early church, so a lot of traditions have dropped All Souls while still others have dropped the whole concept of honoring the righteous dead altogether. That’s a grave mistake, in my opinion (pun absolutely intended).

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