Ring the Bells
There are many familiar traditions associated with Christmas that we expect to experience as members of families, churches and communities each Advent season. We expect to see red and green decorations, Christmas trees, evergreen wreathes and Christmas lights and so forth. There are the foods that we look forward to enjoying – Christmas cookies and other baked goods, Christmas candy, delectable party foods, and then there’s Christmas dinner: a goose, or roast beef, a ham or maybe a turkey!
There are also the things we expect to hear – like the story of Mary and Joseph, classic Christmas carols, other popular Christmas music and the familiar clang of the Salvation Army bells, along with the sounds of many kinds of other bells. It is hard to imagine the Christmas season without hearing the sound of bells. Bell ringing is certainly not foreign to Pinnacle worshippers. A substantial number of our children, youth and adults meet each week to prepare bell anthems for various Sunday worship times.
The sound of bell ringing is deeply rooted in British culture. Almost everyone in Britain lives within hearing range of bells. They provide the grand soundtrack to our historic moments, call out for our celebrations and toll sadly in empathy with our grief. The bitter-sweet sound of just one bell or the majesty of a whole peal, has become part of the English heritage and much of the country's history can be traced through the history of its bells. They call us to wake, to pray, to work, to arms, to feast and, in times of crisis, to come together. Above all, bells are the sound of freedom and peace as in World War II they hung silently until the day they could ring in the peace.
Those of you who have participated in my Pipe Organ Encounters at Pinnacle have discovered the star at the top of the organ case. The “cymbelstern” meaning “cymbal-star” is a musical instrument, which rings small bells at random as an accompaniment to organ music. It was common in northern Europe, Germany in particular, throughout the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. After about 1700, the bells were tuned to particular notes.
So what does all of this bell-ringing mean to us as Christians? Churchgoers come from far distances and are not able to hear the bells ringing, calling them to worship. That’s what Twitter and Facebook and email are for. The hymns that are sung at worship are not heard in the rush of traffic or through the sealed air-conditioned cars buzzing past. But church bells can do one thing - they help us think about the church’s relationship to the world around her.
Bells call Christians to abandon the world and assemble for worship. They call out to us to flee our normal routines, our day-to-day activities, and come to where Christ is present in mercy and life and join with angels and archangels in the feast that has no end. We are called out of the world to be the church and receive forgiveness from our crucified Savior. That is what the word “church” means in Greek. “Ecclesia” literally means, “called out.” We abandon the world to be united to Jesus.
As we approach the “big day”, I hope that each of you will find a bell and ring it out with gusto.
Ring the bells, ring the bells,
Let the whole world know
Christ the Savior lives today
As He did so long ago!