Let me apologize in advance for the apparent free-wheeling and rambling in this week’s column!
Part of my meditation practice is to let my mind free-associate with words and ideas in the Bible, and I feel led to let you witness that process in action. If there is a point to be made (and there always is) I’m sure I’ll get there eventually!
The culprit and starting point for all this is the ear-worm that is the ubiquitous music of “Jingle Bells”!
Since it is nearing the end of the year, the time of “first Christmas music” in stores is now about a month in the past!
There is still a bit of cognitive dissonance of seeing reindeer and snow-flocked trees available for sale while temperatures are more similar to summer than bleak mid-winter. I know my friends in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have long since learned to cope, but still, it must be jarring for them to celebrate the winter-y traditions of Christmas at mid-summer.
Our church is preparing to hold a Christmas concert at the beginning of December, and we have printed free tickets to invite family, friends and neighbors. The tickets are suitably adorned with trees, trumpets and boughs of holly.
Meanwhile, at Red Kettles all over town our intrepid bell-ringers will be desperately vying for attention with Santa, Rudolph and Christmas Trees.
For some reason my mind has immediately jumped to the beautiful poem by June Collin entitled “The Quiet Heart”:
“ ’Twas in the stillness of the night that Jesus came, No blare of trumpets heralded his birth, Nor broke the vaunted silence of the earth. No clang of bells, no blatant hue and cry Disturbed the calm beneath the Bethlehem sky. When Jesus came ’twas night, And the world was still.”
(I recommend the Kings Singers' beautiful recording on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzANn0SsJmw)
None of the elements in our Christmas Concert tickets were present in the Bethlehem region on that night — except for the presence of God’s son!
“No clang of bells…”, well duh!
So, I went looking for any mention of bells in the Bible and could only find two!
“Make pomegranates out of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and attach them to the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. The gold bells and pomegranates are to alternate all around the hem. Aaron will wear this robe whenever he ministers before the Lord, and the bells will tinkle as he goes in and out of the Lord’s presence in the Holy Place. If he wears it, he will not die.” Exodus 28:33-35 NLT (and identically in Exodus 39:25,26)
“On that day even the harness bells of the horses will be inscribed with these words: Holy to the lord.” Zechariah 14:20 NLT [As an aside, this is a prophecy well worth reading in its entirety!]
And that’s it for bells in the Bible!
It appears those bells were much more like the sleigh-bells of Jingle Bells, rather than the clanging, pealing giant bells we use to illustrate our Christmas decorations. The big bells had not yet been invented — although biblical musicians were certainly acquainted with gongs and cymbals (see Psalm 150 and 1 Corinthians 13).
Jesus would certainly have heard the tinkling of tiny bells attached to the robes of priests, and for him it would be a reminder of the holiness of his Heavenly Father.
In Western culture we tend to associate bells as signaling devices. They can be rung to alert communities of celebrations, community announcements, weddings, funerals, war, or peace, and could be an invitation or summons to worship.
So what signaling devices and attention-getters do we find in the Bible?
We need look no further than the signs and wonders in nature - check out the majestic beauty of creation, the fury of a hurricane, or a beautiful rainbow. Or maybe it is the exquisite beauty of an orchid that grabs your attention and points you to the glory of the Creator.
Then, of course, there are the miracles; not just those performed by Jesus, but by other humans empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. There’s Moses and his amazing snake-stick that divided the Red Sea; Elijah taunting the priests of Baal; Joshua and his prayer for amazing astronomical manipulations:
“On the day the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of all the people of Israel. He said, ‘Let the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.’ So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!” Joshua 10:12-14 NLT
Considering the amount of interest an ordinary eclipse generates these days, that event certainly grabbed attention! I have no scientific knowledge that can explain that one away!
No list of attention-getters would be complete without mentioning the Prophets, from Moses to Malachi, Daniel to Isaiah, Hezekiah to Habakuk, both fore-telling and forth-telling information God wanted humankind to know or learn.
The common thread running through all this is that God uses people and events to draw attention to who He is and His Glory — and he is still doing so today. A friend of mine in his public prayers often implores God to “show up and show off”!
I think this stream-of-consciousness leads me to a new appreciation of our purpose in ringing little bells while declaring “Joy to the world, the Lord has come”, realizing that those bells represent the holiness of our mighty God.
It seems to me that we are being given opportunities to be God’s chosen signaling devices and attention-getters! The “point” is finally revealed!!
However, we need to make sure we’re drawing attention to the correct focus.
Let’s make sure we are doing it in the way Jesus prescribes:
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:14-16 NLT
Let’s get out there, go make waves and grab some major attention, with bells on!
Jingle all the way!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://www.salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/?category=Bible%20Study