ARE YOU A SOLDIER?

We love to take pictures of courthouses as we travel.  It is understandable since I spent 30 years in the practice of law and was in many courthouses throughout the Southeast United States.

On a visit to Vicksburg, Mississippi, we saw the old Warren County Courthouse and decided to look around.  As we were leaving the courthouse, we saw a plaque in honor of the soldiers from Vicksburg and Warren County, Mississippi, who fought in World War II.  The poem at the top of the granite block is entitled SOLDIERS and it reads:

We were that which others did not want to be, we went where others feared to go, and did what others failed to do.  We were … AMERICAN SOLDIERS.

Monument to american soldiers outside vicksburg old courthouse
Monument in Vicksburg, Mississippi 

The word “soldier” brings up many different emotions, memories, experiences to people, but I suspect that for the vast majority of people, the word “soldier” encompasses the concept of one who is willing to deny themselves for the benefit of others.  That is certainly what is within the words on the Warren County monument to  Company B of the 106th Engineer (Combat) Battalion, 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division of the Mississippi National Guard in the 1940s.  

The Apostle Paul was certainly well acquainted with the role that soldiers had in the Roman world.  He, after all, was imprisoned on more than one occasion, and each time there were soldiers who guarded him who undoubtedly heard Paul’s witness for Christ. 

“And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.”

Acts 28:16

Therefore, it is not surprising that Paul used the analogy of being a soldier when referring to serving Christ Jesus in our walk through this life.  Specifically, in 2 Timothy, Paul told the young preacher:

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Being a soldier for Jesus reminds me of a song that I sang as a young child.  It was sung to the tune of The Old Gray Mare and the words went like this: 

I may never march in the infantry;  Ride in the cavalry; .Shoot the artillery.

I may never fly o’er the enemy; But I’m in the Lord’s army! 

Yes Sir!  [with a child’s salute]

The concept of being a soldier is especially strong in my heart today as, this past weekend, one of our congregation’s covenant children and a recent high school graduate left our town and flew to the other side of the world so she could work with a mission organization in Asia. 

She will be in a culture totally foreign to her, away from her family, for a year.  She is, in the truest sense of the term, a soldier for Jesus Christ in a foreign land. 

I pray that the Lord will bless her work and will bring many to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of her witness.  I pray that the Lord will give her peace and comfort as she is away from home for such a long time, and I pray that she will be supported through the prayers of the congregation that she left in our town.  [As a parent, I pray too that the Lord will give grace, comfort and peace to her family who will miss her presence daily.]

But, the fact that she left to do her work in the Lord’s army does not mean that there is no such work for me, or for you, to do.  We are all called to be soldiers for Jesus, no matter if it is in a foreign land or across the street.  To paraphrase the Vicksburg granite monument,

We are called to love those who others would not, we will go where others fear to go, and we will give witness even when others fail to do so.   We are … SOLDIERS OF THE KING. 

Listen to my husband’s favorite hymn as presented by 101 Strings on the album Amazing Grace Songs of Faith and Inspiration, “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

Father, I praise You for giving us the gift of Jesus Christ as our Savior, Redeemer and King.  I pray that I would be a soldier in your army who operates in accordance with your orders, and that I would be fruitful in my witness as I do your work in my world.

JUST WANT TO BE NEAR!

Cuddles and Snickers love to travel with us, at least when we are not going to the Vet’s office!  Then, they are not quite so happy about it.

But, on our recent travels, they enjoyed looking out the windows and, when there were long times between stops, they would fall asleep … something that dogs seem to be able to do with great ease!  But, for their safety as well as ours, we could not take the risk of having to move the vehicle quickly with them loose in the cabin, exposing them to falling down the steps, slamming into furniture, etc.  Also, we did not want them to be able to get under our feet near the accelerator or the brake pedal.  That would have been a recipe for disaster, to be sure!

Cuddles and Snickers near us while moving down highway in RV

The solution was a leash and harness attached to the seat belt on the floor.  We thought we had the leash short enough so they would not get in the way while we were moving along the highway, but at one point I looked down and saw this.  The two of them had wriggled the leash in such a way that they could reach the space between us.  Cuddles had her nose on the engine compartment while Snickers had her back touching it.

It was as if they were saying “We just want to be near you.  We’ll be asleep, but we can sleep better with you right here!”

I believe they were feeling secure.  They didn’t understand that the roadway was going past them beneath their feet, or that the scenery was changing as we were going down the highway, or that towns and cities were passing by them without trouble … they knew they were near us and that is all that mattered to them.

Once again, the canine daughters were teaching me a lesson.  Security in our Lord is available each and every moment of our day and then through the night, even when we are sleeping and unaware of anything. 

The Psalmist wrote:

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.”

Psalm 5:11

David further recognized the love God has for His people when he wrote:

“For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”

Psalm 86:5

Of course, our Lord Jesus talked about rest in Him when He said:

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:29

These verses reinforce the concept that we are to rest in Jesus, God is loving and will protect us from harm, that is, we are secure in Him for eternity.  I doubt that these concepts were in the dogs’ minds when they were reclining on the floor of the RV.  But I do think that they understood that we were there so that they were not frightened, even of all the strange sounds and vibrations that they may have felt.  They were secure in our love.  They just wanted to be near us.

So, how are we near to our Lord Jesus Christ?  We see Him when we read the Scripture.  The Bible is all about God and our Lord, from beginning to end.  We see Him when we meet together to worship Him.  Believers can encourage and enlighten us as we live our lives in Christ.  We see Him when we look at His creation.  While the creation alone cannot provide saving grace, the fallen creation is still evidence of His power, majesty and glory.  Let creation speak to you and raise your voice in worship and thanksgiving to Him.  We see Him when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide our thoughts and actions. 

 “Be still and know that I am God.” 

Psalm 46:10

Be still before God.  Read your Bible and meditate on its words.  Worship and be under the preaching of Bible teachers who live what they preach and who preach about Jesus Christ as seen in scriptures.  Fellowship with believers who can encourage and support your growth in Christ.  Beloved, be near to Him — He is always near to you!

Be secure and rest in the Lord and be thankful for His sacrificial love. 

 

Father, I thank You for sending Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice for my sins.  I pray that I would give honor and glory to you through His blood, and that, through faith alone, I would rest in Him for my salvation.  Grant me peace and security as I travel the road you have placed before me.

WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE?

The City of Chicago lies along the coastline of Lake Michigan, the only one of the five Great Lakes that is entirely within the United States.  The other four Great Lakes are shared by the U.S. and Canada.  Several years ago, I received slide pictures that my father had taken over many decades.  After reviewing the slides, I found this picture taken in 1960 of the coastline of Lake Michigan.

Chicago coastline along Lake Michigan circa 1960

Lake Michigan is a huge lake.  It is 118.1 miles wide and has an area of over 20,000 miles.  It’s maximum depth is 923 feet and it contains bowfin, largemouth bass, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and lake trout, to name a few inhabitants.

Many rivers and streams flow into Lake Michigan, with the major tributaries being the Fox-Wolf, the Grand, and the Kalamazoo Rivers.  Lake Michigan is connected to the Gulf of Mexico via the Illinois River (from Chicago) and by the Mississippi River. 

Scripture does not mention either the Great Lakes or Lake Michigan.  But it does mention at least two other bodies of water. 

A number of years ago I came across the following in a lesson.  

There are two seas in Palestine, which, in their contrast, preach a most eloquent sermon. 

The first speaks of forsakenness and desolation.  There is no splash of fish; there is no song of birds, no fluttering leaves, no laughter of children. Men call it the Dead Sea, also called the Salt Sea.

We read of the Salt Sea in Joshua 3 where we are told about how the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry land:

“So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”

Joshua 3:14-17

The other sea is a delightful place with its emerald bays, its cobalt-blue expanses.  Along its shores little children play.  Its waters teem with fish. Songs of birds fill the air; it gleams like a jewel in a setting of superb natural charm.  Men call it the Sea of Galilee.  It is comparable to Lake Michigan, a thriving coastal area which is beautiful and which also is teeming with fish.

The Sea of Galilee is spoken of often in the New Testament, for example:

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.”

Matthew 4:18

What makes the difference in these two neighbor seas?  Not the River Jordan; it empties the same good water into both. 

The difference is this: the Dead Sea has inlets but no outlets; the Sea of Galilee has an outlet for every inlet.  

There are two seas in Palestine.  What each does with the Jordan determines the difference between them. 

There are two kinds of people in the world.  What each does with Christ and in turn with him or herself determines the difference between them.  The one refusing Christ can only keep his/her worldly goods, remaining stagnant, and then leave the accumulated stuff behind when he/she dies. 

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”” …  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Matthew 19:16, 21-22 

The other takes Christ, shares Christ, lives Christ, and finds abundant living through giving

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” –

John 10:9-10 

There are two seas in Palestine; there are two kinds of people in our world.

Jesus understood that the crowds did not necessarily understand who He was.  Luke 9 describes a dialog that Jesus had with His disciples, asking them who the crowds said that He was.  The answer He received reflected the variety of possibilities that the people surmised – John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets of old.

“Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.””

Luke 9:20

You see, it is one thing for the crowd to speculate on Jesus’ nature, but He wanted the disciples to think about Him: “who do you say that I am?” 

Jesus asks this same question to us today, in 2018.  “Who do you say that [He] is?”  Do you answer that with the fumbling response of the crowd or can you say like Peter: “The Christ of God”.  Is He your Savior or just a name from an historical document?  Is He your Lord or is He a mythical character who does not deserve your love, respect and honor? 

If your answer is the same as the crowd, your life, spiritually speaking, is comparable to the Dead Sea.  The Sea with inlets but no outlet. The Sea without life. Do you keep and hoard, so that ultimately you will lose all?

Or is your answer like that of Peter?  If so, your life is, spiritually speaking, comparable to the Sea of Galilee.  You have inlets: the Word of God, feeding on the Scripture, praying to the Lord and living with the Holy Spirit empowering you.  And you have outlets: service to others, worshiping with fellow believers, loving your neighbors, caring for the believers around you and spreading the message of salvation to those who come into your area of influence.  If you are not exercising your life in Christ so that others can see it, I challenge you to pray to the Lord and let Him energize you so that you will be a strong witness for Him.

There are two seas in Palestine.  There are two kinds of people in the world. 

Who do you say that He is?

Father, I pray that these words would encourage and strengthen the believers who read them.  I pray, too, that these words would be a challenge to non-believers to pray for the Lord’s leading them into a relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

 

BREAD – YUMMY!

I have long had a bread machine, but it went unused for most of my working career – too much to do, overtime, documents to read and cases to research. 

All that changed after retirement.  I have been having a grand time making homemade bread, dinner rolls, and breakfast sweet breads (this latter needs more practice before I serve it to anyone other than my beloved Husband!). 

After making two loaves of light rye and one loaf of white bread, I sat down to eat a slice of the rye and, as I was munching on it, I thought of bread in the scriptures. 

What exactly was bread in the scriptures?  It was as important to the ancient people and cultures as it is to us today.

In the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, we find that Joseph oversaw storing the grain before the severe famine was to hit the area.

“During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it.  And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.”

Genesis 41:47-49

Grain makes bread, and bread sustains the people.   Grain in scriptures included barley, millet, and wheat. The King James Version of scripture uses the word “corn” while the Hebrew definition focuses on wheat, cereal and grain.

For example, we read in the giving of the Law:

“If a man dedicates to the LORD part of the land that is his possession, then the valuation shall be in proportion to its seed. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver.” 

Leviticus 27:16  (By the way, a “homer” is about 6 bushels.)

The beautiful book of Ruth speaks of barley as well:

“So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”

Ruth 2:23

Exodus 9:32 (KJV) speaks of “rie” as being in the field, but it is believed that this was not something that we would use today to make “rye” bread; rather, scholars think this more likely to be spelt or emmer which is another type of wheat. 

God called Gideon in Judges Chapter 6 while Gideon was beating out the wheat in the winepress in an effort to hide the grain from invading Midianites.  And, in Judges Chapter 15 we read that Samson went to visit his wife during the wheat harvest.  Indeed, wheat is often referenced in the Old Testament.

This is a picture of a bread pan that was from Lachish (ca, fifteenth century B.C.). 

Lachish bread pan
Picture from Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums as found in Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts, J. I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney and William White, Jr., © 1995 Thomas Nelson Publishers, page 471.

This pan may have been used for forming cakes of bread or it could actually have been used for baking the bread.  Leviticus 2:5 says:

“And if your offering is a grain offering baked on a griddle, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mixed with oil.”

Leviticus 2:5. This is the ESV translation; the KJV translation uses the word “pan” instead of “griddle”.  Whether we would consider this a pan or a griddle, the picture gives evidence of what the ancient people making bread actually used. We certainly can relate to this activity even though several millennia have passed since this pan was used.

Jesus used wheat in his discourses with the disciples such as we find in Matthew 13.  One of the parables taught by Jesus referenced the man who sowed good seed in his field, only to have his enemies plant weeds among the seeds.  The owner left the field alone and all the plants grew until harvest when it was easy to identify the good wheat from the bad weeds.  Later in the chapter, Jesus explained the parable to the disciples, saying that the weeds were the evil ones, but the wheat represented those in the kingdom of God.

We also read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:11 where He is teaching the disciples to pray when He said:

“Give us this day our daily bread, …”

The hearers would have understood that bread was a staple of the Hebrew diet.  They milled and sifted grain, usually wheat but also barley. They made it into dough, kneading it and forming the dough into thin cakes which were then baked.  They also would have understood Jesus’ prayer for bread with the broadened meaning of food in general. 

For me, the primary reference that comes to my mind when I think of scripture and bread is Jesus’ I AM teaching:

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” 

John 6:35

People understand that bread is life-giving; it is life-saving; it is food; and it represents the fact that food is fundamental to our well-being.  We must have physical food or we will die, it is “as simple as that!”

In like manner, we cannot spiritually be alive without the food of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the Bread of life, both here and for eternity.  He handles our longing for spiritual food and gives us the Holy Spirit as our comforter and guide.  We must feast on the Word of God or we will die, this too is “as simple as that!”

Next time you pick up a slice of bread, stop and thank Him for being your Bread of Life! 

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

Psalm 34:8

Father, thank You for providing Your Son for our salvation and for an abundant life now and evermore.  May I always look to my Savior and rely on His direction and guidance so that I will bring glory to Your Holy Name.

THE VINEYARD AND THE CHURCH

The vineyard and the church
Jefferson’s Vineyards outside Charlottesville, Virginia

As we were going through the vineyards outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, we stopped to take a picture of just part of the vines in the Jefferson vineyard with a red-roofed church just beyond them.

The juxtaposition of the vines and the church building prompted my mind to go to John 15.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1, 4-5

Jesus was speaking to His disciples in this discourse and He was advising them that they had no power in and of themselves to accomplish anything eternal for the Kingdom of God.  Indeed, He said “apart from me you can do nothing”! 

We think that we can do a lot of things without God’s assistance; but, without Jesus, none of them are of any merit.  But, separate us from God and all our works, even the very best ones, are essentially garbage in God’s sight.

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

Isaiah 64:6 

Our righteous deeds, the ones that we hold up to God as evidence that we should be rewarded, all those nice things we did and said, all of them are considered to be like a polluted garment, filthy rags. 

According to Strong’s concordance information, the Hebrew word translated as “filthy rags” relates to menstruation and the soiled garments therefrom. It is profound that Isaiah used this term to describe God’s attitude toward man’s good works. 

It is easy to read “filthy rags” as being merely soiled cleaning cloths.  But for me, this Hebrew definition puts the “filthy rags” reference into a new light – our good deeds, no matter how costly or how worthy they are in man’s eyes, are worth only to be dumped into the refuse can. 

So, what do filthy rags have to do with the Vine?   

NOTHING!

When we are in Christ Jesus, when we are connected to the Vine, our acts of righteousness avail much. When we are abiding in the Vine, we have the power of the Vine flowing through us and we can accomplish that which He has ordained for us to do for the Kingdom of God.  Then, instead of “filthy rags,” God sees the righteousness of Christ that has become imputed to us through our faith in Him.  In short, we abide in the Vine and He enables us to do righteous deeds that are a fragrant aroma to God, not filthy rags.

The church, the bodily manifestation of Jesus Christ after His resurrection, is to do His work. 

“And [God] put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Ephesians 1:22-23 

Each of His children are part of the church, the body of Christ, and we each have a role to play as we live out our lives to the glory and honor of our Savior.  Paul talks of the body of Christ like this in First Corinthians 12:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. …  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 

In this new year, praise the Lord for the gift of eternal life through His death and resurrection and also for the gift of an abundant life in the here and now.  And thank Him that He has grafted us into the Vine so that as His Church we will have the power that comes to those who abide in Him.

The vineyard and the church.  The very symbols of the Source of our strength and of the Body which carries the message of our Lord to those with whom its members interact.

Father, Your ways are inscrutable and unknowable to us.  We praise You for giving us Your Son as our Savior and we thank You for enabling us to witness to Your incredible love and mercy through Jesus Christ.  Thank You, too, for giving us symbols that we can use to remind us of Your grace, providence and goodness.  May we glorify You in all that we do, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

NOW THAT I HAVE HELD HIM.

We know the Christmas story; we see it reenacted in the children’s Christmas pageant every year.  Mary and Joseph travel from their home to Bethlehem where there is no room in any inn and Mary’s baby, the Son of God, is born in a manger.

Angels in Epiphany Pageant
The angels brought the news to the shepherds.

The angels announced the Baby’s birth to the shepherds in the fields.  Then the shepherds went to where the Babe was and they saw Him.  Their response was to tell everyone what they had heard and seen. 

Shepherds in pageant

While the magi usually are included in the children’s Christmas pageant, because children love to dress up like kings, Scripture does not support seeing them at the manger.  They came to see the King some time later, but that time discrepancy is alright for our pageant purposes.

When the pageant is over, we praise God that the “story” is true and that our Savior was, indeed, born of a virgin and that He came to save His people from their sin.

But there is another event that occurred when Jesus was just a baby that we seldom read or hear about during the Christmas celebration.  In short, it is about Simeon and Anna who recognized Jesus as The Christ, the Savior, the Messiah.  Luke’s description of Simeon’s response to the Babe is found in Luke 2:

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’”

Luke 2:25-32

Simeon was waiting.  He was watching.  He was ready to see the Savior.  He was told that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ, and he was waiting. 

Jesus promised that He would come again and receive His people to Himself.  He was born as a baby for the specific purpose of dying on the cross as our atoning sacrifice.  He was raised from the dead and now is in heaven where He intercedes to God the Father on behalf of His people.

Are we waiting?  Are we watching?  Are we ready for Jesus’ return?  It is a promise as securely written in the book of the Father as the news was for Simeon that he would see the Savior before he died. 

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

Numbers 23:19

Simeon understood – the prophesy said that there would be a Savior and he believed and waited.  Are we waiting?

While it is not a traditional Christmas carol that we sing every year, here is Michael Card singing Simeon’s song “Now That I Have Held Him In My Arms”.   It is a beautiful rendition of the song and I suggest that it will speak to your heart as you prepare for the celebration of the Advent of our Lord.

Here are the lyrics if you want to read them as you listen to the song.

That old man in the temple
Waiting in the court
Waiting for the answer to a promise
And all at once he sees them
In the morning sunshine
A couple come and carry in a baby

Now that I’ve held Him in my arms
My life can come to an end
Let Your servant now depart in peace
Cause I’ve seen Your salvation
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel

Mary and the baby come
And in her hand five shekels
The price to redeem her baby boy
The baby softly cooing
Nestled in her arms
Simeon takes the boy and starts to sing

Now that I’ve held Him in my arms 
My life can come to an end 
Let Your servant now depart in peace 
‘Cause I’ve seen Your salvation 
He’s the Light of the Gentiles 
And the glory of His people, Israel

Now’s the time to take Him in your arms
Your life will never come to an end
He’s the only way that you’ll find peace
He’ll give you salvation cause
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel

Father, thank You for people who are skilled in writing and performing music and movies so that we can ponder and meditate on Your Word.   Your Word is alive and speaks to us, and I pray that I will take time to meditate on it daily, even when all the Christmas activities close in on me – enable me to make YOU the priority this season, and all year long.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU.

We hear that cry everywhere we go.  “Merry Christmas to you!? At least we hear it unless the speaker doesn’t want to acknowledge Christmas in which case it is “Happy Holidays”.  That seems to cover the waterfront of celebrations at this time of year. 

Then we also hear the phrase “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”.  We see it on greeting cards, plaques, china, even coffee mugs at Cracker Barrel. 

I certainly agree that Jesus came to earth as a baby born to a Virgin, although whether it was December 25 is somewhat in doubt.  I am glad that the phrase at least indicates that we are celebrating Christmas because our Savior came, and if it encourages people to think about our Lord’s birth then I am glad for it.

But is He really the reason for the season?  In a blog post by Jill McIlreavy on her website Mustard Seed Blog entitled “Jesus is NOT the Reason for the Season” she argues that the phrase is theologically wrong – WE are the reason for the season.  [You can find her blog at https://mustardseedblogs.com and I encourage you to read her post that gives her thoughts about this phrase.]

You see, Jesus did not leave His home in heaven because He wanted to visit our planet, or because He wanted to take a “road trip” or because He wanted to see how the “other half” lived! 

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:5-8

He left glory to come to this earth in humiliation: born of woman, in a cattle shed, with no clothing other than rags.  The manger became a king-sized bed as it was where the King of Kings was laid.

king-size-bed
The manger that provided a place to sleep for our Savior was, on that day, a bed for the King.

Think about it – the One who was coexistent with God the Father from all eternity, even before the world was created and before His plan for mankind was put in place, the Creator of the world and everything in it had absolutely nothing upon His birth.  The One who could call legions of angels to do His bidding had nothing but a mother and stepfather as the Babe was surrounded by farm animals.

Why would He do such a thing?  Why would He suffer such indignities as these?  He was despised by those in power from the moment He arrived.  Then after three years of declaring His message, He was rejected by the very people He came to save.  He was betrayed and belittled; He was mocked and beaten; He was crucified.  He voluntarily died a death so horrible that only one of His followers remained with Him.  Why would He do that?

Because God loved YOU and ME.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:16-17

He came so that WE could come to God in repentance and humility, so that WE could hear the Holy Spirit tugging at our hearts and pointing us to Him, so that WE could receive forgiveness of our sins. He knew what awaited Him on earth … He willingly went through agony because of God’s love for us!

He came because of us  – WE are the reason for the season.

Father,  I thank You and praise Your holy name for sending Your Son from heaven and for His obedience in coming to this planet to live a sinless life that we could not live and for dying a death that we deserved but which He did not, all so that we could be forgiven of our sins and have a life here and forevermore with Him in heaven. 

JOY TO THE WORLD

When Isaac Watts was a young man, he became dissatisfied with the quality of singing in the British churches.  The songs sung were almost entirely taken from the Psalms in Scripture which were translated into poems with rhyme and rhythm so that they could be sung.  Watts, therefore, began writing hymns to be sung that were outside the Psalter thereby “inventing” the English hymn. 

Nativity with angel and wisemen

He did not ignore the Psalms, however.  In 1719, Watts wrote Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.  In this work, he paraphrased 138 psalms from the perspective of his New Testament faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   Watts stated that: “I have rather expressed myself as I may suppose David would have done if he lived in the days of Christianity.” 

The hymn “Joy to the World” was included in Watts’ work and it describes the incarnation of Christ, the presence of Christ in our hearts through the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Christ as described in the book of Revelation. 

Psalm 98 depicts the salvation of God in three tenses:

  1. Salvation in the past for the people of Israel (verses 1-3)
  2. Salvation in the present for all the earth because God is King (verses 4-6) and
  3. Salvation in the future for the entire universe because God will be coming to judge at the end of time. (verses 7-9)

In other words, Christ is not just a Babe in the manger.  Christ is our Savior and, as such, He is the Victorious Warrior and Judge who is the fulfillment of David’s prayer for righteous deliverance.

Christ has won the battle.  It is the Lord who completed the prophesy of Genesis 3:15 as the One who put enmity between the serpent and the woman.  Both the carol and Psalm 98 tell us what our response should be to such great salvation given by our God.  For the Christian, the carol rightly proclaims Joy, which is our gift from God because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. 

God’s covenant people in all nations and of all tongues joyfully tell of His salvation and righteousness, His sovereign reign and judgment.  When we consider God and all that He has done on our behalf, both in the past and in the present, we cannot possibly do anything other than praise and worship Him.

Even nature joins in the celebration of praise.  Nature gives God praise because God is its creator. 

Paul says in Romans 8:18-23 that all creation waits and longs for the return of the Lord.  When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, all creation including nature was corrupted.  But, when Jesus Christ returns as the triumphant victor over sin, the creation will be released from bondage and will receive the freedom of the glory of the Lord.

Psalm 98 envisions the glorification that is referenced centuries later in the New Testament writings and to which we are still looking forward to with eager anticipation:

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Revelation 22:20 

Here is “Joy to the World” from the Christmas program entitled “The Joy of Christmas”, as sung by the choir of my home church and as accompanied by members of the Knoxville Symphony. 

Scripture says:

“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance” (Proverbs 15:13) and

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” (Psalm 33:3)

May this Christmas season find you praising the Lord and singing carols and hymns, even if you can’t carry a tune in a barrel.  The Lord looks at your heart, so He will know you are praising Him no matter how it sounds to those around you!

Cheerful countenance and loud shouts!  That sounds like joyful praising to me!

Father, thank You for the One who provides true joy to us daily and for the joy that comes eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

Christmas is a time of joy, of singing robustly about the Babe who came to earth 2000 years ago and is the Savior of mankind.  So, it is a bit unsettling when we hear the opening strains of the carol “What Child is This?” because the tune is set in the key of F minor.  We wonder why the soul-searching question at this time of joy and celebration. 

The answer to the title question and the somber mood is dispelled by the chorus which proclaims “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

The tune is an old British tune called “Greensleeves”, which originally was a ballad about a man pining for his first love, the Lady Greensleeves.  It has been said that the tune was penned by Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn.  While this is not likely, what we do know is that Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, danced to the tune.

We also know that Shakespeare referenced the song in the play The Merry Wives of Windsor

The tune was first printed in 1580 and in 1647 it first became associated with Christmas, with words other than those we know today.   “What Child is This” has been sung to the tune “Greensleeves” for over 150 years.

The words of the carol are taken from a longer poem that was written by William Chatterton Dix.  Mr. Dix was born in Bristol, England in 1837 and earned his living by working as an insurance agent after he moved to Glasgow.  His greatest love was writing prose and poetry that praised Christ Jesus.  He wrote two devotional books and scores of hymns including two Christmas carols that we still sing today, “What Child is This” and “As with Gladness Men of Old”.

The scripture text that forms the basis of the carol is Luke 2:9-18.  Verse 18 reads:

“And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”

Luke 2:18 

nativity-carved-into-olive-tree-wood
Nativity scene carved into olive wood tree in Bethlehem.

What child is this?  That was the question that the people 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and, later, throughout the land pondered. 

  • Jesus the baby in the manger grew into Jesus the youth who remained in the temple amazing the teachers at His understanding of the Torah. Luke 2:41-50
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the carpenter’s son who taught in a way that befuddled the hometown folks. Matthew 13:33-36
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the One who had authority so that even evil spirits obeyed His command. Luke 4:36
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the resurrected Christ who was taken into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. Mark 16:19

What child is this?  While the inquiry begins as a question from the dark, the answer is illuminated through the joyous response “This is Christ the King!”

Listen as the carol “What Child is This” is presented to you by the Canterbury Choristers directed by Dr. Newell Wright.

Father, I praise Your name for the gift of the baby in the manger who became my Savior and Lord.  May my Christmas celebration be glorifying to You.