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.

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.

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.

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.  

SEASONS – GOD SENDS THEM ALL.

In the English language, we use the word “seasons” with reference to many different things.

For example, we talk about the season of childhood, when new things are learned and experienced every moment of every day.  Sometimes those lessons are hard and painful, other times they are fun and silly.

2008 - 12 Mom and Dad 071
The child wanting to be like the big boys!

Then there is the adolescent season, when lessons are a bit more difficult and the consequences are more far-reaching but also where we have unbounded energy and dreams of exciting days ahead.

Baseball - batter up
When learning skills that will enrich them long after adolescent years have passed.

We later arrive at the season of adulthood where we are still challenged with new problems and adventures [I am thinking about adjusting to technology here!].  Disappointments may arise when we are downsized from a long-held job.  Hardships may come when physical disabilities are hampering living life to the fullest.  Tears may fall as the child has to become the parent as dementia takes over the mind of a loved mother or father.

No matter what season of life we are in, God is there with us.  David writes:

“He asked life of you; you gave it to him, length of days forever and ever.”

Psalm 21:4

There is the season for work and accumulation of wealth.  But when we think we have arrived, we must take a second look at the situation:

“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'”

Luke 12:19-20

Many are the souls that work hard, care for their family, accumulate goods and money in the bank, without regard to caring for their soul.  It is paramount that we remember this world is not the end … as wonderful as it is, we will all perish and spend eternity somewhere.  Bank accounts won’t matter there – what matters is the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ, His Son.

We use the word “seasons” to talk about various holidays and celebrations.  In the United States, for example, we have the season of Thanksgiving, a day when we recall those first settlers from Europe who endured hardships and forged the basis for our country to grow. We give thanks to God for His providence in preserving and sustaining those early settlers.  Often the meal centers around the Thanksgiving turkey!  (Of course, every day should be a day of thanksgiving, not just one time per year!)

Thanksgiving turkey ready to consume (C)
Mouths are watering, getting ready for the Thanksgiving feast!

On the heals of Thanksgiving we have the season of Christmas, the time we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a time to focus on the advent of our Lord, the ultimate gift of God to us.  The Christmas tree and representations of the nativity scene are found in many homes across the country.

USED Christmas tree and decorations
The decorations are ready, the nativity scene is set — praise the Lord for His Advent!

A sweet description of the season of the blessed life is found in the very first psalm in Scripture.  David, in speaking of the man who walks in the counsel of God, says:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

Psalm 1:1-3  

God is in all our seasons.  He is the one who gives us life and breath.  He gives us security when we follow Him and walk in His Ways.  This verse does not mean that God promises that we will have material wealth here and now.  This is not the prosperity gospel from the Old Testament. 

Rather, God is speaking of prospering us in spirit, the ultimate evidence of this is the gift of Christ as our atoning sacrifice so that we can approach God in prayer and so that we will be accepted into heaven because we have been adopted by God into the family of the Lord.  Adoption as a child of God is true prosperity and security.

Father, thank You for giving me the security of being a child in Your family.  I love You and praise my Lord and Savior for all that He has done.  Help me to see Your Hand in all the seasons of my life and may I live each day You give to me to the honor and glory of Your name.  I can only do that through the power of Your Son, and my Savior.

 

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.

I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY

 

By now, at this time in the Christmas season, I suspect that most of us have seen some form of the Nativity pageant in our church, or at a school performance, or on television. 

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

We have been told about the events that first Christmas Day over 2,000 years ago when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the lowly shepherds who were tending their sheep in the field.  The angels’ announcement is found in Luke 2:13-14 where we read:

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!”

The King James Version of verse 14 says “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”.  

The Jews wanted a prince to restore a peaceful kingdom to Israel, so this angelic hymn was, quite literally, music to their ears!  Even today, many people believe that true religion must bring peace. And, this proposition would be true if the message of Jesus Christ was universally received.  It cannot be argued that any system of laws could be more suited to living peacefully in human society than the Gospel of Christ. 

And he [the man] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:27-28 [See also Matthew 22:37-41] 

But, even a superficial glance at the daily newspaper shows, such love does not reign in our society or our world, and sometimes not even in our churches.  Indeed, the fact of the matter is that love is all too often missing from our interactions with others. Road rage, murders, massacres, vehicles plowing down pedestrians, infants being shot while in a car seat in the family vehicle, people shot while praying in their church, wars and conflicts … and the list goes on.  Hatred is everywhere and peace is hard to find.

Were the angels wrong when they said that this Babe would bring peace to our world?  Absolutely not.

But, Jesus said that He did not come to bring “peace on earth”:

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Matthew 10:34 and again,

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Luke 12:51

In these verses, Jesus is saying that He did not bring peace to the earth!  This seems to be inconsistent with the angels’ message when He was born!  But, the angels were not wrong or misinformed and Jesus was not ignorant of His mission.  Quite the contrary.  He did bring peace, just not the kind of peace that the people expected.  The fact is that civil peace was not the purpose of the Babe’s birth.

In Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Jesus is talking about the dedication that following Him requires.  It is not a shallow “liking” nor is it simply a willingness to do good things. He is also forewarning His followers that there would be persecution and that they needed to remain strong in their faith and dedication to Him.  Indeed, following Him requires whole-hearted devotion, no matter what the cost, even if it involves persecution, even if it separates us from our family, even if it separates us from this life.

Matthew Poole, in his Commentary on the Bible, says this about Matthew 10:34-37:

Accidentally, through the corruption of men’s hearts, the consequent [result] of Christ’s coming into the world, and of his gospel coming into and prevailing in any part of the world, is (as Luke phrases it) “rather division”, which is here called a sword. Through men’s fondness of their idolatry, superstition, and lusts, and madness on them, their impatience of being outdone in religion and righteousness of conversation, the event [result] of Christ’s coming was division, wars, variances, … men taking up arms to compel all others to their idolatries and superstitions. And that natural antipathy [hatred] which men have to holiness, setting them at variance with [in opposition to] those who, embracing the gospel, live a life as becometh the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,… 

Jesus did bring peace.  It was His heavenly peace for those who accept Him as their Savior. 

Here are just a few of Jesus words giving His peace to His followers:

“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

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

What does this have to do with Christmas?  A great deal!  Civil peace is almost a fiction. Rather, the peace that our Lord brought was His peace, heavenly peace. It is the peace that allowed Jesus to willingly go to the cross, to experience excruciating pain and torture without retaliation, and even to forgive those who were mocking Him while they nailed Him to the cross.

For the believer, His peace is real … it is part of the fabric of our faith and it covers the believer even in times of great distress.  It may appear that Satan and his forces are winning the cosmic battle over the earth.  But this is only an illusion that Satan wants us to believe.  (Remember Job?  Satan had to get God’s permission to hurt him, all for God’s purposes of which Job was unaware.)

God, the Creator and Sustainer, the Almighty Immortal Sovereign Ruler is in control. Make no mistake — God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is in control.  He was in control when Satan had to get permission to act and He has not changed.  He sent Christ into this world to exhibit peace and to bring that peace to His people. 

The Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” expresses the despair that the conflict in our world brings but God is neither dead nor sleeping.  He did bring His peace into the world on Christmas Day, and He is still in control even 2,000 years later.  Listen to the carol as sung by the group Casting Crowns on their album Peace on Earth.

Christian, take heart.  Rely on Jesus Christ and His peace this Christmas and all year long.  He will give you grace to endure that which comes your way.  His grace was sufficient for the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9) and it is sufficient for us today.

Father, I bow at this time of the year and thank You for the Gift brought to us through Your grace and mercy in the birth of Jesus Christ.  When the sorrows of the world beset me, grant me the grace to rely on You in the sure confidence that even in times of difficulty, You are in control and I am in Your hand!

I’ll be home for Christmas

 

 

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me”.  It was recorded by Bing Crosby during war times and was intended to express the feelings of the soldiers who were far from home at Christmas and also to encourage those at home in realizing that their loved one was thinking about them, as they were thinking of the soldier. 

Often, by the end of the song, I have misty eyes as I remember Christmas times in the past when things were easier, when loved ones were still with us, when the children were young.  All the fondness from memories of years past comes crashing in especially when I have been away from home at Christmas time.

While this is an awesome concept and many of us do return to our natal homes for the holiday, it really has no application to Christmas for the Christian.  It sounds great in Hallmark movies or as sentiment in a song, but do you really think that Jesus was anxious to return to the manger to celebrate his birthday?  Scripture says:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7

nativity
The nativity scene as sewn on a Christmas tree skirt.

 

Even during His ministry, Jesus did not have his own place to live.  Scripture gives this statement from our Lord:

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Matthew 8:20

Of course, the reality is that Jesus did have a “home”.   Three of the disciples saw a bit of Jesus’ nature from His “home” at the transfiguration. 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. …  He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.

Matthew 17:1-2, 5-6.

Paul tells of it like this:

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.  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 2:5-11.

Paul is telling us that Jesus did not hang on to his position in Heaven, but He willingly took human form as a baby.  This does not mean that He no longer was part of the Trinity that existed before there was any created order. (John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:1-2; 11:3)  He was both God and man, a mystery that we cannot fully comprehend but we accept through faith.  He came from Heaven and, after His resurrection and further ministry on earth, He returned to His Father in Heaven.  Acts 1:11. 

What does this have to do with the believers’ home?  Paul specifically states in Philippians 3:20 that “our citizenship is in heaven”.   The note on this verse in the Reformation Study Bible says:

Just as Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12), the church is a colony of heaven.  Although presently at a great distance, physically speaking, from the heavenly “city” where the redeemed can see the Lord reigning over all creation in glory, the followers of Jesus already belong to that city, which defines their identity and eternal privileges.

The song “I’ll be home for Christmas” relates to our physical home here on this planet.  But, for the believers in Jesus Christ, we may live on earth, but our citizenship is in Heaven where we will live eternally with our Lord. 

Here is the song as sung by Frank Sinatra on the album Christmas With The Rat Pack.

 

So, I challenge you to think about your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ each time you hear “I’ll be home for Christmas” this Christmas season.  Think about the glories that are yours through His sacrifice and reflect on your assurance that Heaven is where your citizenship lies.

 

Father, I thank You for sending Your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, to this earth as a little baby that we celebrate this season.  I pray that I would not forget His coming in all the parties, dinners, activities of the season, and I pray that I would remember that my home is in Heaven, where my citizenship has been guaranteed by my Savior and His Spirit.

 

Do you see what I see?

George Seurat spent over two years, painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jette.”    It is nearly 7 by 10 feet and occupies an entire wall in the Art Institute of Chicago.  The painting depicts a lovely landscape with lakeside visitors, including people in 1896 garb, complete with dogs and even a pet monkey in front of a lady in the foreground.  

Standing at the entrance to the hall where the painting is hung, you can feel a part of the lovely, sunny afternoon in Paris. 

georges_seurat_-_a_sunday_on_la_grande_jatte_-_1884_-_google_art_project

[Copy of picture obtained from Wikimedia: By Georges Seurat – twGyqq52R-lYpA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22319969%5D

But stand closer and all you see are yellow, red and blue dots, each carefully positioned to contribute to the painting as a whole.  Seurat believed that this form of painting, called divisionism at the time but now known as pointillism, would make the colors more brilliant and powerful than standard brushstrokes.  His painting teaches us a valuable lesson in perspective.

Sometimes, you have to back away from a situation to get the full picture. 

Jesus understood this.  For example, the people were crying “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” while He was riding on the back of the donkey in what is called “His Triumphal Entry”. 

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

Luke 19:41-42

Jesus wept because of their unbelief and the coming judgment of which they were completely unaware.  He wept because the very people proclaiming allegiance to the King would become the same people who would cry out demanding His crucifixion in just a few days.  He wept because the people were clamoring for release from Roman bondage when their real need was release from the bondage of sin, but this need was not even on their radar screen.

He stood afar and looked at the entire scene unfolding before Him, and recognized that the people were clamoring after that which would do no good and that they were ignoring the relief that He could bring which would do eternal good.

But then there are times when you must get into the picture to see what is going on – you must get into the dirt and grime of the situation in order to assist those who are helpless by themselves.

Jesus understood this too.  For example, at other times, He participated in the situation itself, getting close to those involved in the conflict.  In John 8:3-11 we read of the following encounter:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst – they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.   Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Jesus got into the mix with the scribes and Pharisees.  What He wrote in the sand we don’t know, but it was possible that He was listing the sins of those who were the woman’s accusers.  I can imagine that the accusers were so convicted when they saw that Jesus knew their sins and had listed them in the writing on the ground that they just wanted to get away from the situation.  No longer were they intent on getting this woman for her sin.  Rather, they all left the woman alone and unharmed with Jesus. 

Then, when He addressed the woman, He, who could have condemned her because He was without sin, extended grace and mercy by letting her go with the command not to sin any more.

He stood close by the woman and saw the entire situation.   Sometimes what you see depends on where you stand. 

A famous Christmas song is entitled “Do you hear what I hear?”.  Here it is as sung on the Nashville A Capella Album Christmas. 

The first verse asks “Do you see what I see?”.  When I hear that song I hear my Lord saying “Linda, do you see what I see?  Do you see the hurting, the lost, the wanderer?  Do you see the one needing assistance who I put in your path because she was too timid to ask for help?  Do you see what I see?  If so, how are you responding; what are you doing to do about it!”   

May we seek our perspective from Him who provides help far surpassing our own limited abilities.  Seek the Lord and lean on His wisdom rather than your own.  Sometimes, you have to back away from a situation to get the full picture, and sometimes you have to get involved to see the real problem. 

 

Either way, I pray that we will stand where Christ places us, and that we will have eyes that see that which He sees so that our hands can do that which He directs, through His power and for His glory alone.       

 

Father, I pray that You will position me so that I see that which You want me to see.  May I be close enough to feel the pain and to assist in relieving stress and discomfort, if that is what You call me to do.  May I back up so I am far enough away from a situation so that I can see the whole picture, and then have an understanding about how to resolve or alleviate the difficulty, if that is what You call me to do.  May I do all that You ask and may I do it to my very best ability, for Your glory and honor.