OUT OF PLACE?

Have you ever noticed something that seemed to be “out of place” in the context surrounding the thing or event?

We saw this sign was alongside a road that had a nursing home on the right and a cemetery on the left. 

  dead end sign and cemetery

Although the sign was factually correct in that it told the driver that the road did not lead to any other road, it seems to be somewhat “out of place”, or perhaps a better description might be “somewhat macabre”, given the context in which it was placed.

We saw an even better example of something “out of place” when we were watching one of Agatha Christi’s Poirot mysteries on television recently.  The many episodes in the Poirot series are elaborately filmed, with mid-1930s furnishings, clothing, automobiles, etc.   The characters are incredible and the story lines are detailed.  All this to say, the programs are a delight to watch and we really enjoy them. 

However, on this particular occasion, one of the characters was assigned the job of tailing a suspect whenever she left her apartment.  The suspect came out of the building and got into her car, so our character dutifully started his vehicle.  As the suspect sped away, so did our character when the rear of his vehicle was seen bouncing over …

wait for it …

a SPEED BUMP! 

A speed bump on a street in the 1930s?  I don’t think so.  In fact, a quick Google search said that speed bumps were not used in the UK until the 1980s.   It quite simply was “out of place” in the episode we were watching.

As Christians, we are called to live a life of holiness, of love and of sweet communion with our Lord. 

The church in Ephesus seemed to have many problems and Paul addressed them in his letter, and he points to the importance of living a life that is in keeping with their witness as Christians.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

Ephesians 5:3-4

In short, while certain activities and certain speech may be acceptable among society, such things are “out of place” when said or done by Christians. 

Paul says this about the traits that the Christian should exhibit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

This way of living will never be “out-of-place” as far as the Lord is concerned, however it will certainly be countercultural to those around you and it may appear “out of place” to them!

Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan theologian in the early days of our country, said this about the Christian virtue of love:

A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to GodIf love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming Christians.  An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

So, beloved, when I look in the mirror of my life, do I see consistency in the development of my Christian life?  I know that I am not where I need to be, but am I closer than I was last year at this time?  Are you?

When I look in the mirror of my life, do I see speed bumps where I faltered, do I see times that I harmed my witness by taking actions or saying things that are out-of-place, that are inconsistent with my Christian witness?  Do you see such things?

Let us bring our life into conformance with what our Lord desires for us.  Let us be attuned to the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our sin, as He leads us into paths where we are to walk, and as He brings to mind the Scripture that will enable us to do the work that has been planned for us to do, and let us eliminate our “out of place” activities/words/thoughts.  In short, let us be transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ through the power of His Spirit.

Father, I pray that I would be attuned to your Spirit so that I would be able to discern when my thoughts, actions, or words would be out-of-place, when they would harm my witness for my Lord, when they would grieve you, Father.  I cannot do this on my own, and I seek your strength and power to do these things.

OUT WITH THE OLD

We have often heard the phrase “out with the old, in with the new” and with December 31 rapidly approaching, it seems an appropriate statement — out with 2018 and in with 2019.

We recall the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when the whole town rescues Jimmy Stewart from debtor’s prison on Christmas Eve.  As they arrive to bring needed funds, they sing “Auld Lang Syne”. 

Every New Year’s Eve, when the clock counts down the seconds to the beginning of the new year, we sing, or hear the singing of, “Auld Lang Syne”.  Specifically, we hear it played and sung when we watch the ball drop at Times Square in New York at the exact moment when the new year begins in the Eastern Time Zone.  Across the globe, this song frequently has its first notes sung at the end of one year and its last note sung in the first moments of the next year. 

But, this year, I wondered what, exactly, we were singing when we spouted those words from our lips.

Apparently, I am not the only one who has questioned this tradition.  One article I read said that historians call this the “song that nobody knows” but that we all try to sing on an annual basis!   But, when you sing “for auld lang syne,” what are you saying?

The song was known as early as 1588 when it was part of the oral tradition of getting drunk and singing.   In 1788, the Scottish poet Robert Burns said that “Auld Lang Syne” was an old song dictated to him by an old man so that he could put the word down on paper.  Burns, therefore, did not write the poem but he put it together from what the old man told him. 

After getting new life from Burns, “Auld Lang Syne” spread out into the world of pop culture, particularly in his homeland of Scotland. Meant to bring up feelings of nostalgia and a love of old relationships and times gone by, the song is still sung right before the clock hits midnight in Scotland and in many places across the world.

But, really… what do those old-timey English words translate to?

“Should old acquaintance be forgot, / And never brought to mind? / Should old acquaintance be forgot, / And auld lang syne.”

In the most literal sense, auld lang syne can be roughly translated to “old long since.”  Since those words don’t form a real phrase in modern English, they really mean “long, long ago,” “a long time ago,” or “days gone by.” So, when you sing “auld lang syne, my dear” in the chorus, you’re essentially cheering the old days of the past.

The full text of the song presents a series of rhetorical questions, all amounting to the point that unless you are totally devoid of any emotion or memory, that is unless you are dead inside, you ought to be able to recognize the value of reconnecting with old friends and pondering old times.

This thought is very consistent with Scripture.  In the Bible we read much about remembering. 

God says that He will remember:

I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

Genesis 9:15-16

“And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

God commands that we should remember certain things:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Exodus 20:8

So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.”

Numbers 15:40

Jesus told us to remember Him and His words:

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.””

Luke 22:19

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:26

The angels told the disciples to remember after Jesus’ resurrection:

“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Luke 24:7

And we should remember the days of our past:

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.”

Psalm 143:5

While the song “Auld Lang Syne” had its genesis in a drinking song, and while it is often sung now with alcohol flowing freely, for the Christian the song could remind us of the very words of David in Psalm 143.  Remember the days of old.  Think and meditate on what God has done.  Consider and ruminate on the work of His hands.  Let the new year be a springboard for your spirit to sing out praises to our Lord and Savior, to our Redeemer-King.    

So, out with the old and in with the new … But don’t forget the old times, the old friends, the old experiences.  Don’t forget the wondrous things God has done for you in the past and ponder on His love and mercy, His grace and goodness, His incredible salvation through Jesus Christ. 

Let your memories thrive so that your new memories will be ever so much more meaningful.

Father, I pray that we would take Auld Lang Syne and use that song speaking of days gone past to remind us of Your mighty works in, through and for us throughout our lives.  May we praise our Lord and Savior for His love and mercy in the past and in the new year as well.  May we be witnesses of Your love to others, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Merry Christmas 2018

I do pray that you have/had a Merry Christmas.   A Christmas that was marked with love and kindness extended to you and to those you encountered during your day.  A Christmas that, at least in some small measure, focused on the Christ Child who entered this world as a Baby so that He could save us from our sins.

20181224_113436

Every year we decorate the tree with various ornaments and lights, complete with gaudy garland and the toilet paper Santa that the children made when they were in nursery school.  (The Santa has lost one of his legs through the 40 years it has survived, but all in all, he sits on one of the tree branches and smiles at the adult children who made him so long ago.)  Then too there is the construction paper star and the clothes pin angel that the children made in Sunday School.  The star has had to be laminated but the angel is still free to clip onto the branch high on the tree.  (Each year it is a sibling fight to see whose ornament is the highest on the tree!  This year I believe the star won the honor.)

20181224_113328

But, high on the tree, there is a cross made of hay. 

It is a somber ornament – one that does not speak of the manger or the cattle, of Mary or Joseph, of the angels singing or the shepherds marveling.  It is a symbol of the crucifixion that would take place 33 years later.

But, it is a solemn reminder that Christmas is not the “end game” for the Christ Child.  Rather, His becoming the Babe in the manger was a necessary occurrence so that He could live and become the Savior and  Redeemer for His children. 

The Christmas carol “Silent Night, Holy Night“ was composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to words written by Joseph Mohr in the village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.   

The third stanza of the carol sums up this aspect of our Lord’s birth:

Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light;  Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace,  Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Paul says it another way in Galatians 4:4-5:

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.

Celebrate Christmas with the realization that without the Babe in the manger, we would not have the Christ on the cross, and we would be left in our sins and trespasses, the burden of our iniquity too much for us to bear. 

Praise the Lord for His coming as a child – Praise Him too for being our Savior and Lord.

Merry Christmas to you all from all of us at The Ruminant Scribe.

NOW THAT I HAVE HELD HIM.

Last year I came across a song that touched me deeply.  It is the song “Now that I have held Him”.  I want to share it again with you this year.  Here is a repost of that blog entry from one year ago.

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.

Shepherds in pageant
One of the shepherds in the Christmas Pageant.

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. 

Angels in Epiphany Pageant
The Christmas Pageant angels.

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 ignored for our pageant purposes.

a-wise-man-from-childrens-pagent
A wise man at our children’s Christmas Christmas Pageant.

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 like Simeon?  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
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
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 – Lord Jesus, enable me to make YOU the priority this season, and all year long.

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN!

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

John Wesley Work, Jr. is said to have been the first black collector of Negro folksongs, and was most likely born on August 6, 1871 in Nashville, Tennessee. His father, John Wesley Work, was a church choir director in Nashville, where he wrote and arranged music for his choirs. Some of his choristers were members of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers.

He attended Fisk University in Nashville where he studied Latin and history. Singing in the Mozart society while at school sparked an interest in Negro spirituals in Work. Following graduation, Work went on to teach for a year, studying for one year at Harvard University, and a year as a library assistant at Fisk University. In 1898, he received a Master’s degree from Fisk and took an appointment as a Latin and Greek instructor.

While teaching, Work became a leader in the movement to preserve, study, and perform Negro spirituals. He organized Fisk singing groups about 1889. With the help of his brother, Frederick Jerome Work ,John Wesley Work, Jr., collected, harmonized, and published a number of collections of slave songs and spirituals. The first of these collections was New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, in 1901.

Among the other solo songs he published, the spiritual, “Go, Tell It on The Mountain” was issued in 1907.  In all likelihood, the song was sung by slaves decades prior to its publication by Work.   In 1915, Work published “Folk Song of the American Negro.” John Wesley Work, Jr. died on September 7, 1925.

While Work did not create the song, we can thank him for preserving the song and publicizing it in a way that we can enjoy today, over 150 years after he put it in his publication. 

Go tell it on the mountain” is sung by people of all ages, from the adorable preschoolers to adult choirs.  When sung, people are smiling and moving with the song’s telling of the story of our King who came down from heaven and who was humbled by human flesh, all for our salvation. 

“Down in a lowly manger 

The humble Christ was born 

And God sent us salvation 

That blessed Christmas morn” 

The gospel of Luke mentions Zechariah’s burst into praise when his speech is restored.

“He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.” … “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:”

Luke 1:63-64, 67 NIV

With his previous lack of faith now overflowing with proof, he could not keep from shouting praise to God for who He was. Some call the text of Scripture referenced in this song, “Zechariah’s Song.”  You can read it in Luke 1 beginning with verse 67.

Indeed, the power of Christ’s birth on earth is soul bending. When we allow our minds to sink into the scene, to imagine what wonder each person had as they viewed the Babe in the manger, to hear the words of the angel and to listen to the heavenly choir extol the glory of this One who was born.  If we contemplate the event we celebrate at Christmas, we cannot help but feel like shouting our praises for Him. 

Here is The CenturyMen singing “Rise Up, Shepherd/ Go Tell It on The Mountain”  (arr. Joseph Joubert & Buryl Red) on their album Beautiful Star.

May we each follow the example that the shepherds gave to us over 2,000 years ago.  They arose from their flock and went to Bethlehem to see what God had done there, and when they arrived at the manger, they saw the Babe who came to save them, and us, from our sins.  With such a marvelous gift of salvation, our spirit sings and we are compelled to tell others of the great grace of our marvelous God and Savior.

Beloved, go tell the good news to those around you, and shout it from the mountain top!

Father, I praise You for the gift of your Son as a Babe in a manger so long ago.  May I trust that Babe and cling to the cross upon which He was crucified as I seek forgiveness of my sins through His abundant love, mercy and grace.  Then, may I live my life as a witness to that great love so others can see Christ in me.

IMMANUEL CAME TO US – PRAISE HIS NAME!

The advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” originated in part from the “Great ‘O’ Antiphons,” part of the medieval Roman Catholic Advent liturgy.  In the 13th century a metrical version of five of the verses appeared on the musical scene.  That version was translated into English in 1851 by J. M. Neale.

The tune for this hymn is Veni Immanuel, originally music for a Requiem Mass in a 15th century French Franciscan Processional.  The chant tune was adapted to the poem by Englishman Thomas Helmore (1811-1890) and was published in Part II of his The Hymnal Noted (1854). 

Tradition tells us that on each day of the week leading up to Christmas, one responsive verse of this carol would be chanted, each stanza referencing a different Old Testament name for the Messiah who would be coming.

The text for this 8th century hymn comes from a 7 verse poem that was used in a call and response fashion during vespers, or the evening, service.  As a side-note, the original text created the reverse acrostic “ero cras,” which means “I shall be with you tomorrow,” words that are particularly appropriate for the advent season.  

Here is the text of this beloved Christmas hymn. As with all carols that have been sung through the centuries, there are variations in the content of the verses.  So, if the following stanzas do not include one that you are familiar with, forgive me; I believe that the majority of the verses in use today are reflected in this listing.

Please feel free to read this as you listen to an instrumental version by The Piano Guys on their album A Family Christmas.

1 O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

2 O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.

Refrain

3 O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.

Refrain

4 O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death’s abode.

Refrain

5 O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.

Refrain

Although many hymnals do not include all the 5 verses translated by Neale, each verse is an acknowledgement of Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies and we can consider the names and think about what they mean to us and for us in our walk with Jesus.

  • “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23) means “God with us”
  • “Adonai” (Leviticus 18:4) which is a name for God that means “the giver of the law”.
  • “Branch of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1) refers to Jesus’ lineage
  • “Key of David” (Isaiah 22:22, Revelation 3:7) refers to Jesus’ lineage as well as His high calling in the kingdom of God – He has the key to heaven and only He can open/shut its door.
  • “Daystar” (Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79, Revelation 22:16) this refers to the East and the dawn of the morning star, daybreak or the sunrise

We sing this hymn recognizing that the Kingdom of God has already come but is not yet here in its completion.   Christ’s first coming gives us a reason to rejoice again and again. Yet the minor tone of this carol reflects our realization that all is not well with the world. So along with our rejoicing, we plead using the words of this hymn that Christ would come again to perfectly fulfill the promise that all darkness will be turned to light.

As we read these words and think about their meaning through the centuries of Christianity, we come to a new realization of the power of our Lord and His Word.  We mourn for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in physical danger and exile in today’s world.  But even if we are not in physical exile, we experience the separation from society that comes when we follow the commands of our Lord which run counter to the culture around us.  In short, we are different or as Peter puts it:

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: [KJV]

1 Peter 1:9.  The English Standard Version translates “a peculiar people” as “a people for His own possession”.  In short, although we reside in our various countries on earth, believers in Jesus Christ are citizens of another kingdom in which Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords and King of Kings and in which we are brothers and sisters in Him.

Each of the verses of this beautiful carol ask that the Lord would guide us so we could live in His kingdom that was ushered into this world by the birth of the Babe in the Manger. 

While it has been over 2,000 years since our Lord was born, our God is the same today as He was when Christ was born and as He was before the creation of the world.  He does not change and He will be with us today and through the end of time.  Time has no hold on Him and His names that applied in the millennia before the coming of the Babe in the manger still apply in the millennia since that Christmas blessing.  

Take time to praise Him as you contemplate these names of God and the incredible Gift that He has given to us both in the Babe at the manger as well as in the salvation that comes through that Babe’s atoning sacrifice on the cross thirty-three years later.  Listen to the carol and sing it to yourself, letting the names of our God and His Christ resonate within your heart and soul.  Celebrate Immanuel’s coming as God is surely with us!

Father, I thank You that Emmanuel did come to this earth as a human Babe. I further thank You that He lived a perfect life that I cannot live, and that He took my sin upon Himself and died an atoning death on the cross of Calvary.  Finally, I thank You that He conquered death and is currently alive in heaven, interceding on my behalf before Your throne.  Thank You for salvation that was the very reason that He came at Christmas.  Thank You that in the manger, we see the shadow of the cross, all for the saving grace extended to Your children through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING THIS CHRISTMAS?

Many years ago, my daughter gave me a Christmas gift that has brought delight for over 3 decades.

I had always loved looking at Christmas villages in the store and once my daughter laid eyes on it, it was a foregone conclusion – that was going to be her present to me that Christmas.  Mom was going to have a Christmas village. They presented me with an early Christmas present that year and it has been on display during the Christmas season ever since. We even call it “Lindaville”.  I am, of course, the Mayor (an uncontested race!) and my husband is all the other officials of the village, including the Utility Board, the Village Land Planner and the Village Building and Architect (he takes the building out of the boxes each year, creates the cityscape and foundation for the village, and then he sets up the electronics for lighting, animated accessories, etc.).

village - original set
The original Christmas Village set purchased by my daughter years ago.

Needless to say, she had no idea what she started when she first pointed to that village display.  Every year since that initial purchase, we have added new buildings, accessories, and scenery reflecting our interests.

The Village downtown with grocery, theater and the County Courthouse.
Village sweet shoppe
Christmas village Sweet Shoppe with delivery man and truck.

 

 
Village house with children playing
One of the homes in Lindaville. 

On a quiet evening, I sit and stare at the village, imagining the people in their houses, the business people at work, the craftsmen delivering the goodies from the bakery. Of course, the people in the village are ceramic – they can’t actually think or do anything.  I understand that, but my thoughts move from the pretend village to that of my town, my country, my world.  What are my family and friends doing, thinking, planning, enjoying, fearing?

We often respond to the inquiry “How are you, today?” with a quick “Fine, thank you.” or “Okay.” or “Better than I deserve.” But we seldom take down the façade and let others see us as we really are – perhaps hurting physically, perhaps in pain because of harsh words spoken by someone we love, perhaps fearful over concerns about health, perhaps in fear of the mail in January when the bills for the presents purchased will arrive and we know the income will not be sufficient to pay them all. The list could go on and on and is as varied as there are people.

The Christmas season brings out smiles and acts of generosity when penny-pinching is the norm at other times of the year. It provides occasions for us to don our holiday sweaters and our holiday ties, we put on the bright jewelry and party vests, and we polish up our smiles that hide our real hurts and concerns. But for many it is a very difficult, painful time.

The Good News, however, is that the Christmas season is a giant birthday party for the One born over two thousand years ago, in a Bethlehem manger. This One is the Son of God and He does not need to ask: “What are they doing?” He already knows exactly what we are doing, and He even knows why we are doing it! This One has come to show us the Way out of our crushing fear, our overwhelming struggle as we seek to run from our problems, and our continual convicting awareness of our sin and guilt before God.

Indeed, this is the Christ whose birth was announced along with the admonition not to fear and to be at peace!

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. … Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:10 and 14.

This is the Christ who told His disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27.

This is the Christ who said, after His resurrection:

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!

Luke 24:36.

This is the Christ of whom it was written:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Acts 4:12.

What is the best present to receive this Christmas? It is the gift that has already been given … no strings attached … free to all who believe on Jesus’ Name.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23.

The Babe who was born in that Bethlehem manger became our atoning sacrifice on the cross.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9.

This gift, when accepted, gives peace with God, fellowship with other Christians, a life with the Holy Spirit guiding and securing your steps as you are transformed into the image of our Savior.

What are we doing this Christmas season?

I am confident that there are a bunch of activities that we will have on the agenda. However, I pray that we will have as our priority the worship of the One who was born so long ago, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, and may we take the time to be still before Him, casting our cares upon Him and giving Him our love and adoration.

I pray that God’s Gift that we celebrate at Christmas will energize us to worship Him, study His Word, praise Him, and witness to others of His love, mercy and grace.

So, what are you doing this Christmas?

Father, may I honor and worship you throughout the year, not just at Christmas, and may I glorify your name in all that I say and do. Accept the gift of my heart and life, Lord, and may I live for you throughout my days, as you give me the grace and mercy to so live.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

Celebrations of meaningful life events is common in our culture, and I expect in many cultures that differ from ours in various respects.  We celebrate events that are exciting, which are blessings to us, which have consequences and expectations that reach far into the future.  Consider birthday parties, for example. 

Birthday party and balloons (C)
Birthday balloons 

Being the intrepid dog lovers that we are, we even celebrate the birthday of our canine family members.  Here is a party when our beloved Goldie, a retired racing greyhound, was the Birthday Princess and, standing next to her, was her sister, Sweetie, wearing a snazzy party hat.

Doggie party

Today is the 32nd anniversary of my marriage to my husband, Bill.  It is a date that we celebrate because of the love we have for each other and because November 27, 1986 marked a wonderful change in our lives, and in the lives of our children.  Both of us had been married previously so the marriage was between us as husband and wife as well as between us as parents of the children.  (We avoid the step-child/step-parent designation.  We both share in the children as if they were our own to the best extent possible.)

We thank God every day for the love that He has given to us in the form of our spouse.  And we thank God that He is part of our marriage. 

Triangle for marriage illustration

We often praise God for when we draw closer to each other, we are closer to God as well.  And, when we are closer to God through worship, our Bible reading, study, and fellowship with others, we are drawn closer to our Christian marriage partner.

We are in the midst of the “holiday season” in which we celebrated Thanksgiving Day (in the U.S., at least).  As a matter of note, we were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1986, signifying our thanks to the Lord for His hand in bringing us together.   Now that we have finished the Thanksgiving turkey, we turn our attention to the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Christmas Day. 

The heavenly host celebrated Jesus’ birth with their choir anthem to the shepherds.  The magi celebrated in worship when they delivered their gifts to Him.  But there is no directive that we are to celebrate His birth.

We remember events that may not be exciting or happy but are events which mark a change in our life or future.  Consider the remembrance of major surgery, or the marking of the date that a parent or spouse died.  These remembrances are not usually considered celebrations in the party-like sense, but they are things that we recall because of the effect that they had on our lives.

There is such an event described in Scripture.  Indeed, it is something that the Lord expressly directed His disciples to do, to celebrate, to remember.

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”

Luke 22:19-20

Jesus celebrated the Passover feast with His disciples the night he was betrayed into the hands of the soldiers. He knew what was immediately ahead of Him, what suffering and humiliation He was going to endure.  He knew that the disciples would abandon Him and that He would be scorned, beaten and crucified.  He also knew that He was innocent of any wrong-doing.  He had lived a perfect life (which  we cannot live) and He was going to die a hideous death (a death that we deserved because of our sins).  He was going to die so we could live. 

That is a celebration that we have every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Beloved, celebrate the wondrous things in your life – anniversaries, birthdays, births, weddings, and the list goes one.  Remember the difficult times in your life – deaths, illnesses, divorce, and the list goes on.

Above all, celebrate and remember what the Savior has done for you, no matter if everything is bright and rosy in your world or if everything is dull and gray.  The Savior has given you life, abundant life now and eternal life hereafter, if you believe in His name and claim Him as your Savior.  Honor Him and remember His sacrifice for you. 

Listen as the hymn “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” is presented on the album Hymns in the Vineyard by Vineyard Music.

Keep your eyes upon Jesus, and He will be near you no matter what this world throws at you.  Celebrate His presence and you will find His peace even in times of hardship and difficulty.

Father, thank You for bringing us together in marriage, and thank You for being with us through various trials, surgeries, and difficulties that the past 32 years have brought.  Thank You too for Your gracious loving hand on the family and on each of the children and grandchildren, for which we praise Your Holy Name.  I pray that these words would be of encouragement and that You would be glorified.

SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT

I love the cold weather, and I thoroughly enjoy some snow.  Not enough to cause horrible accidents, power outages or massive difficulties, but snow on the trees and bushes and lightly covering the ground.  I love the calming effect and profound silence that falling snow brings.

snowy-tranquility-c
Snowy quiet and tranquility.

One Christmas carol that is calming even in the midst of a season of tumultuous activity is Silent Night, Holy Night.  This calming effect is due, at least in part, to its sound theology.  Let us look at the words of this carol and consider the Scripture that relates to each stanza.

  • Silent night, holy night; All is calm, all is bright. [1] Round yon virgin, mother and child,Holy infant, so tender and mild, [2] Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace

[1]  The prophet Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 7:14:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  

This prophecy was quoted in Matthew 1:23 with a small addition, the meaning of the term “Immanuel”: 

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to her son, Jesus.   Indeed, she confirmed that this prophesy was being fulfilled when she said, in Luke 1:34:

“And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?””

[2]  Then there is the phrase “Sleep in heavenly peace”.  

Jesus is, truly, the source of peace.  When His disciples were afraid, He said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27

The peace Jesus provides is overwhelming, and is heavenly peace!

  • Silent night, holy night,  [1] Shepherds quake at the sight; Glories stream from heaven afar, [2]  Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!  [3] Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born. 

[1]  The word “quake” is not found in the description of the shepherds on that hillside.  However, Scripture does support the concept in Luke 2:9 where we read:  

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” 

I have to say, if I saw an angel of the Lord, with the glory streaming from the angel surrounding me, I believe that I would be filled with fear and would likely “quake” too!

[2]  Luke 2:13-14 tells that there was great singing by the heavenly host:

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”” 

I can’t write these words without smiling and hearing in my soul the choir singing these words during Christmas anthems.  Another way to say “Glory to God” is by use of the word “Alleluia” or Hallelujah meaning “God be praised”.

[3]  “Christ the Savior is born”.   The angel told Joseph that Jesus was going to be the Savior of men when he announced to him that his betrothed was with a heavenly child.  

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:21

The angels also announced this to the shepherds on that hillside so long ago: 

 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:11

  • Silent night, holy night, (1) Son of God, love’s pure light; (2) Radiant beams from thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace, (3) Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

[1] The babe in the manger was truly the Son of God and “love’s pure light”.   Jesus said:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. .””

John 8:12

I doubt that the Babe in the manger had a halo around His head as depicted in religious art.  But radiance does assuredly apply to our Lord.  Consider the description of Jesus when He was transfigured before three of his disciples.  Matthew describes it as follows: 

“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”

Matthew 17:2 

[2]  Redeeming grace was truly brought to earth when Jesus was born.  Paul sums this up in Galatians 4:4-5 where he says:

“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.”

[3]  The carol concludes with the statement “Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.”   This is, too, an accurate statement and it is an affirmation of faith and belief in that wonderful Babe.  Again  Paul writes:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:9-11.  Jesus is Lord of all, and He was Lord even as the Babe.  He gave up His heavenly place so He could save us from our sins; but He was no less Lord when He was a man than when He was in heaven.  The God/Man Jesus Christ is and always has been part of the Triune God, from the time before time began and He will remain such when time no longer exists and we are in heaven for eternity.  Jesus is Lord.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

May the blanketing silence of snow cover you, whether literally or figuratively, so that you experience the peace that our Savior brings to your heart and soul even in the hectic days of the Christmas season.  

Perhaps listening to Silent Night, Holy Night as sung by Nashville Liberty Acappella on their album Christmas Acappella will get you into the stillness mode.    

Do whatever it takes to calm yourself this Christmas.  You will be glad you did and your relationship with your Father will grow stronger even in  the hectic Christmas season.

Father, thank You for Your Word that tells of the birth of Jesus even hundreds of years before it occurred.  Thank You for Your Word that speaks to us today, thousands of years after Jesus was born, telling us of His birth, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return.  Help me to keep my eyes on You and Your gift to us, the Babe in the manger who became our Sacrifice on the Cross and is now our Savior in Heaven.   Give me the grace to “Be still”, even when chaos reigns around me, through the power and love of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Savior.