On Monday night, January 28, 1985, if you tuned into ABC you would have seen Lionel Richie host the American Music Awards. Lionel himself won 6 awards that night. The show ended and the cameras were turned off. If you were watching you probably turned off your TV and started to get ready for bed.
For almost 50 of the musicians at the awards show that night the night was just beginning. They made their way to the A&M Recording Studio to record what would itself win an American Music Award, as well as 3 Grammy awards, and a People’s Choice Award in 1986. At 10:30pm all of the musicians were in place and for the next nine and a half hours they would be together in that studio recording: “We are the World”.
The song was written to raise money for USA for Africa an organization that would work to help provide food for people in Ethiopia who were in the midst of a Famine that had lasted for two years. The song raised over $140mm in today’s money and went on to be a number one hit in countries around the world.
The famine in Africa was just the tip of the iceberg for 1985. (Who can forget “New Coke”?)
There were numerous train and plane accidents throughout the year around the world, many in the United States. The IRA bombed aa police station in Northern Ireland. An earthquake in Chile left over 1mm people homeless. A car bomb in Beruit killed 80 people. A reporter is taken hostage in Lebanon later that same month.
Another terrorist bombing happens in Spain. A fire at a soccer match in England kills 56 people. The AIDS Pandemic is still growing. A riot at another soccer match kills 38 people. 44 different tornadoes hit 4 states and kill 90 people. More terrorist bombings, this time an airplane with 329 people on board. Ronald Reagan is diagnosed with Colon Cancer and has surgery.
Another earthquake in Mexico killing up to 45,000 people. A guerrilla group kills half of the Supreme Court of Colombia. A volcano erupts, also in Colombia, killing over 20,000 people. The Unibomber kills his first victim in California. Two mafia bosses are killed in New York City in front of Spark’s Steak House.
The musicians gathering on January 28 could not have imagined all of the additional tragedy that would come in 1985. As the world entered advent season on December 1, 1985 I imagine it felt like there wasn’t a lot to celebrate. The world was hurting.
Read – Hebrews 4:14-16
The Hebrews were being persecuted for the new belief in Jesus and for rejecting the religious law. Their lives were in turmoil. The author of Hebrews (unknown but historically attributed to Paul) reminds them in this short paragraph that no matter the circumstances of their lives they have access to Jesus.
He is described here as a “High Priest”. In Jesus time the High Priest was the only one allowed to enter the Holy of Holies to offer atonement to God for the sins of all the Jews. He was a “rock star” of his day and we would most likely describe the High Priest, if he existed today, as “out of touch” with the everyday life of the people in Israel.
In describing Jesus this way, the author is explicitly saying, “Jesus is the new High Priest. He atoned for your sin and even more, he was one of you. He lived your life, he walked your streets, he was persecuted just like you. The only difference is that he was without sin. So, have confidence as you ask for mercy in your time of need.”
I always enjoyed singing Mass in Latin when I was in college. It was fascinating for me to find myself connected to Christians around the world through the words we sang and even more fascinating as I realized these were the same words that had been sung for hundreds of years.
The liturgical calendar has a special Latin name for the third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday, which is translated to “Rejoice Sunday”. It is named this because the first sentence of mass on Gaudete Sunday is:
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. (Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.)
December 15 was Gaudete Sunday in 1985. It was not a year that many people would find a lot to be joyful about. Sure some good things happened that year, but with the world wide tragedy of famine, natural disasters, the AIDS Pandemic, airplane crashes, and terrorism, it was probably difficult for people to find the joy.
One Latin mass I always turn to during Advent is Messe de Minuit pour Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The name means “Midnight Mass for Christmas”. It is a beautifully composed piece that weaves traditional tunes from French Christmas Carol into the entire mass.
The very first piece of that mass is called “Kyrie”. It is short for “Kyrie Eleison” which means “Lord have Mercy”. It is an interesting way to begin a mass on Christmas Eve, asking God to have mercy on us. But, isn’t that exactly what God was doing by sending Jesus? Jesus was God’s ultimate act of mercy.
Saturday, December 21, 1985 was the last day of the third week of Advent. Christians around the world were focused joy for one final day. A year that started with a group of superstars releasing a song calling attention to a famine and continued with tragedy after tragedy would end with a different kind of hit song. A band called “Mr. Mister” released a song named “Kyrie” on the last day of the third week of Advent in 1985.
There is one more thing about Gaudete Sunday that you have probably noticed. The color of the candle changes from purple to pink for just this one week. There are liturgical reasons for this change, but I want us to think of this color change differently in light of the Hebrews.
When you light your “Joy Candle” tonight I want you to do so while choosing joy. Respond to the author of Hebrews as he exhorts you to: “Approach the throne of grace with confidence.” This has been a dark year. Disease, racism, terrorism, continued war, natural disasters, and death.
On Christmas Eve we will light the Christ candle, a representation of Jesus coming as the light of the world. But, that small pink candle that calls us to Gaudete offers us a sliver of that light. Lighting a pink candle means choosing to believe in the joy of a savior who is our light in the darkness. Joy hides in mercy and grace. When we light the pink candle and ask for mercy, we also receive joy.
In 1985, the world seemed like a dark place as “Kyrie” was released to radio stations. One of the song’s writers, Richard Page, says that the song is essentially a prayer. He was more right that he may have ever known. Against all odds a rock band offered a prayer in the darkness.
When you light your pink candle tonight remember the Hebrews and the joy that we find in the grace and mercy of Jesus: That he is with us wherever we go, and that he will light our way in the darkness. And remember the most unlikely prayer of Mr. Mister:
Kyrie Eleison through the darkness of the night
Sing – Joy to the World
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.