This year we decided that rather than sit at home and complain about Jools Holland on the TV, we’d celebrate New Year in Vienna, home of the famous New Year’s Day Concert at the Musikverein. Although tickets for that were an impossibility, we watched several events on big screens around the city and in two of the many cafés for which Vienna is so well-known.
But the highlight for me was being able to attend two New Year services at the main Cathedral in Vienna, the Stefansdom. I’d remembered reading that it was in the Stefansdom that Pete Grieg’s 24-7 prayer movement celebrated their 15 year anniversary, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Schönborn.
On New Year’s Eve the cathedral was standing room only for the Gottesdienst zum Jahresschluss (end of year service) led by the same Cardinal Schöborn who projected a real warmth (even though I don’t speak more than two words of German).
The music was led by a choir of perhaps 30 and small orchestra, both of a very high standard, which performed two pieces from Mendelssohn (his Christmas piece, Vom Himmel Hoch, and the final chorus from the Lobgesang, Hymn of Praise), Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and finally Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus (in excellent English).
I couldn’t really follow much of the service, but there was something very moving about joining in with the congregational hymns Now Thank We all our God and O Come all Ye Faithful in German – and it was rather nice to hear the Willcocks’ arrangements given an outing for the latter, almost a thousand miles from the chapel where they were originally performed.
But most special of all for me was the reading from Isaiah (which I could follow courtesy the ESV app on my iPad)
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
Your builders make haste;
your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
Lift up your eyes around and see;
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the Lord,
you shall put them all on as an ornament;
you shall bind them on as a bride does. (Isaiah 49:14-18, ESV)
The remainder of the service was a bit of a mystery to me, although it included a sermon, and prayers for the world, Europe, Austria and our families amongst other things. But that did at least give me space to thank God for the past year and to pray for the new. And the sense of God speaking through his Word to me was tangible and very moving. Feeling sometimes very far from God, this was a wonderful reminder and promise for the New Year.
Feeling very blessed I was determined to return the next day for the New Year’s Day Hochamt (High Mass) and Elizabeth very kindly got up early so we could. A smaller orchestra and (surely professional) choir led the music with Haydn’s Little Organ Mass.
Although as an Evangelical Baptist I am not a fan (I guess that’s an understatement) of the Catholic mass, there are always three readings (plus Psalms on occasions) and since everything else was in German there was time to focus again on Scripture, which we can so easily lose in the busy-ness of a typical Evangelical Sunday morning service.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:22-27, ESV)
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7, ESV)
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:16-21, ESV)
Again I felt that God was saying I should take these passages and treat them as promises from God for 2019.
- God will NEVER forget me. How could He?
- God will bless us in 2019, with all the change that it’s already scheduled to bring (retirement, a first grandchild),
- God has called me His son, however hard that is to accept sometimes,
- He calls us to believe the Word spoken to us, ponder these things, and praise God publicly for them.
It’s hard to understand how God works and speaks sometimes, not least within a service from a denomination where I would have some VERY fundamental doctrinal differences! Nevertheless, He does. And so I can truly say:
Der Herr krönt das Jahr mit seinem Segen
The Lord crowns the year with his blessing