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.

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel

The advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” originated in part from the “Great ‘O’ Antiphons,” part of the medieval Roman Catholic Advent liturgy. On each day of the week leading up to Christmas, one responsive verse would be chanted, each including a different Old Testament name for the coming Messiah.

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

nativity-from-the-alamo-in-san-antonio
Nativity depiction from a San Antonio mission

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. 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.  Each of the five verses expounds upon one of the names for the Messiah:

  • “Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23) means “God with us”
  • “Adonai” (Exodus 19:16) is a name for God, the giver of the law
  • “Branch of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1) refers to Jesus’ lineage
  • “Daystar” or “Oriens” (Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79) is the morning star
  • “Key of David” (Isaiah 22:22) again refers to Jesus’ lineage

(This listing compiled by Greg Scheer, 1994)

We sing this hymn recognizing that the Kingdom of God has already come in Christ Jesus but it 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.

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). 

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

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 in this world mourn as many Christians 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.

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 Christmas Day is past, our God is the same today as He was two days ago and even 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, and even past that into eternity because He is omnipresent, omniscient, the Almighty God.  Time has no hold on Him and His names that applied in the millenia before the coming of the Babe in the manger still apply in the millenia since that Christmas blessing.  

Take 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. 

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.