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.

FINAL RESTING PLACE

Cemeteries are found throughout the countryside. I love to read the headstones and see the notations made about the life of the one who died. Some cemeteries seem to be random, standing as solitary sentries for a few memorial markers along the roadside.  Some are huge and stand as monuments commemorating historic events that shaped our nation, community, and ourselves.    

One such place that we visited was the cemetery in the Vicksburg, Mississippi battlefield.  It was sobering to see the cannons all lined up as if they were ready to inflict injury on the enemy.  It was even more sobering to consider that in the battle, American was pitted against American as the Civil War was raging throughout the country.

Cannons in Cemetery in Vicksburg MS
Cannons lined up and ready, Vicksburg, Mississippi

In the battlefield there were monuments throughout the area to fallen soldiers form various states and communities.  This is the Illinois monument, complete with soldiers names inscribed inside the mausoleum-type structure.

IUED llinois state memorial Vicksburg Mississippi civil war cemetery
Illinois monument, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Some have a decidedly modern atmosphere, such as Sunnyslope cemetery in California. 

Sunnyslope Cemetery, CA '56

While some have a decidedly older atmosphere,  such as this cemetery located in Boston.

Boston cemetery
Cemetery in the City of Boston, Massachusetts

Then there are cemeteries that bear special significance to us personally, feelings that other places do not produce.

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Cemetery in Salem, Virginia

My husband’s family is buried in this Virginia cemetery.  I love going there, not only to remember the people and thank them for teaching my husband to be a Christian man who loves me unconditionally, but also to meditate on the end that will ultimately come to all of us.  I also love to look out over the hillside and see the church steeples reminding me that Christ is the One who governs all of life and who gave His life as a ransom for many.

I truly don’t mean this to be morbid, but I do want us to think about our mortality and the finality of our days. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes correctly notes:

No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.”

Ecclesiastes 8:8

The writer of Hebrews affirms that each of us will die, it is the fate of all finite beings:

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Hebrews 9:27-28

Paul, writing to the Thessalonians said this about the end of our lives:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise firstThen we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

In other words, all people will have to die unless they are still alive when Christ returns.  Even they will rise to meet the Lord.  None of His people will be left out!  This is what Jesus meant when He said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.””

John 8:51

The believer in Christ will certainly die a physical death just like everyone else – but the believer will not have a spiritual death.  Instead, we will be with Christ.   Physical death is a reality for all mankind because of sin.   Spiritual life is a reality because of the grace of God as it is a gift from God given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

Romans 6:23

Our Western culture does a fantastic job of shielding us from death.  We are killing each other faster than we are birthing people, but we rush the bodies off to the undertaker, to the funeral home, so that we don’t even see the body, often with either closed casket or cremation burials.  Many children have never been to a funeral/memorial service and go into their early adult years before experiencing this type of personal loss.

Even if we wish to hide our heads and ignore reality, all of us will face death at some point, and when we do, we will no longer have time to make the decision that is of eternal consequence.   Do I follow Christ Jesus as my Savior or do I act as if God does not exist at all, only to be supremely surprised when that belief is in error!

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13

Beloved, be sure of your faith and of the One in which you have your faith.  Be sure that you have answered that question correctly.  Let the cemetery remind you that no one is immortal, we are all going to die and the ground will not be the final resting place for our spirits. 

Blessings to you, today, tomorrow and throughout your life.

Father, I pray that these words would be of encouragement to those who believe in Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  I pray that the Holy Spirit would use these words to convict and soften hearts that are hard and that You would work in those hearts to bring them to Yourself.  In Christ’s name I pray.

HOW BRIGHT IS THE LIGHT?

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.”

Matthew 17:1-2, 5.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John records his vision of the Lord Jesus Christ and says, in part:

In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

Revelation 1:16.

When the solar eclipse was occurring on August 21, 2017, we stood transfixed while watching the moon march through the afternoon sky, with the sun high in the heavens.  When the moon completely covered the sun, the corona was still visible as a flaming band surrounding the image of the dark moon. 

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But, when the moon continued its preordained trek across the sky and began to uncover the sun, the sun’s radiant light was not restrained any longer.  The power of that first glimpse of the sun’s light was so strong that the corona which had transfixed our gaze seemed to disappear in the brilliance of the sun’s pure light.  And, the moon’s participation in this planetary spectacle was almost obliterated by the re-emergence of the sun’s light.

How bright is the light? 

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

Scripture writers recorded the light emanating from the Lord at his transfiguration by referencing the sun and its bright light.  Paul records his confrontation with a bright light when the Lord called him to do His work:

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me.”

Acts 22:6

How bright is the light?  The light from the Lord blinded Paul as he was on the road to Damascus.  Similarly, we were told that it was dangerous for us to gaze at the sun with our naked eyes, even when the moon was covering part of it.  In our sinful nature, we cannot look at the holiness and magnificence of God — He is surrounded in blinding light. 

We used eclipse glasses to watch the heavenly event without danger.  The Light of our Lord is strong enough to find us when we stray, to guide our path and to extinguish the darkness of sin.  When we look at God through the righteousness of His Son, we see His power and His glory, and we have comfort in His omnipotence because we are in His arms.  

For a couple of minutes during the totality of the eclipse, the sun’s light was stopped by the moon.  The Son’s Light, however, does not stop — it will last forever!  

Father, I thank You for the privilege of watching Your creation operate in such wondrous ways.  I praise Your name for the gift of seeing Your power and majesty as they are exhibited in Your creation.  You are God, and there is none like You.  Praise and honor are due to You, and You alone.

 

ARE YOU IN A CAVE?

I dare say that most of us live above ground, we don’t live in caves.  Sometimes in the high heat of the day, I have wondered about finding a cave and living in it since the temperature is always significantly cooler than the ambient temperature above ground.  But, needless to say, I use air conditioning and I am not a cave dweller. 

However, I have been in a number of caves throughout my lifetime.  In fact, a dear friend grew up on a farm on which there was a huge cave, and she played in it long before anyone realized how big and complex the cave system was.  Later, Sequoyah Caverns, Valley Head, Alabama, was opened for public visits and we had multiple opportunities to see the inside of her childhood playhouse.  Unfortunately, it has recently been closed to the public once again! 

We know from early church history that believers resorted to caves and catacombs to escape from the intense persecution and to bury their dead.  In fact, the catacombs in Rome show the inscriptions made by those early Christians.  

How about you?  Have you ever been in a cave?  It is quite an experience to walk hundreds of feet down into the earth, to see the formations and underground lakes. I have not gone cave-exploring, spelunking, other than in commercial tours of well-mapped caves.  The Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri are some such well-known caves. 

Meramec Caverns in Stanton MO

Each cave I have visited always includes the time when the guide tells you to hold hands and don’t move, then BLACKNESS.  Such darkness that you cannot even see your hand inches in front of your face.

It is difficult to comprehend darkness like that, until you experience it.  It reminds me of the description of one of the plagues in Egypt:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.’” 

Exodus 10:21. 

Can you imagine, darkness that was so pervasive and so intense that you could feel it?   God is the Master Creator of all things.  He is sovereign.  He caused this darkness over the land of Egypt and it occurred at His command. 

The Psalmist wrote of the scope of God’s knowledge of him, of God’s love and of God’s power in Psalm 139. 

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,”  even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. 

Psalm 139:11-12

In modern parlance, we might consider these verses as saying “God sees you even in pitch black darkness.  No matter where you go, God is there and He sees you.”

We often think of darkness and light as equal counterparts, the flip side of the same coin.  But that analysis is vastly mistaken, I believe.  Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light.  Thomas Kinkade, the artist known as the “Painter of Light” (thomaskinkade.com), said:

You have to expect spiritual warfare whenever you stand up for righteousness or call attention to basic values. It’s just a matter of light battling the darkness. But the light wins every time. You can’t throw enough darkness on light to put it out.

Scripture puts forth this concept in this way from the Gospel of John:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5

Praise God, the Father Almighty, that Jesus Christ is the Light from heaven that shines in this dark old world. 

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

John 8:12

It is blessed comfort to know that the darkness of the cave cannot remove us from the Father’s sight.  The darkness of our sin will not eliminate our relationship with the Father if we are found in Christ Jesus, His Son. 

Praise God, and praise His Holy Son through whom we have forgiveness of sin and life everlasting. 

Father, Your word tells us that we are never out of Your sight.  We cannot run so far or descend into the earth so deep that You cannot find us, that You cannot see us, that You cannot hold us in Your hand.  Such comfort is too marvelous for us to comprehend, but for the eyes and heart of faith.  Thank You for Your word and for your marvelous love for Your children.

KUDZU – A FORMIDABLE FOE

Kudzu is a vine that is ubiquitous in the American South.  It was formally introduced to the United States at the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, however its potential in the U.S. was minimal at best and it appeared not to have a place in our landscape.

Then came the dust storms of 1935.  When soil erosion ravaged the prairies, millions of kudzu seedlings were grown in greenhouse nurseries as the weapon that would stop erosion in its tracks. 

Today, rather than in prairies, kudzu is associated with the South.  It is very aggressive when planted along roadways and railway embankments, and for that reason, it is conspicuously visible from passing automobiles!   Indeed, its creation of goblins and ghouls out of trees and telephone poles can be seen even when traveling 65 miles per hour. 

Kudzo - Trees engulfed in the vine
Kudzu as seen from the car traveling down the Interstate Highway.

In fact, the vine has been called “the vine that killed the South”, although that seems to be quite an exaggeration!  (Read more about this at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/true-story-kudzu-vine-ate-south-180956325/#cGVCq35eEDVdpfqu.99) )

We pass kudzu every time we get in the car as it is on the roadways that we travel daily.

As we were traveling down the highway, I began thinking about Kudzu and its spread.  At first, it is innocuous, just a little vine, a weed, no problem.  But when it becomes aggressive, it takes control of a small area on the tree and, quickly, engulfs the entire tree.  It is truly a formidable foe!

As I was thinking about this, I found a parallel to it for our spiritual lives. Consider the insidious ways that sin overtakes us.  Sin is cosmic treason, it is disobedience to God’s command.  Dr. R. C. Sproul says:

The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority.  It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act in which we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything.  It is an insult to His holiness.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 115-116

Kudzo along highway beginning its takeover in VA
Kudzu getting a firm hold along the highway in Virginia.

Looking at trees that are consumed by kudzu, we see them weighed down, bent and misshapen.  This brings to mind Jonathan Edwards’ description of sin and its effects:

Your wickedness makes you as if it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf; and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.

The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. II (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1974) p. 9.

Like kudzu, sin is insidious – it creeps in when and where we least expect it.  We must be on our guard because sin is constantly tempting us to disregard God and to act on our own, and sin is a formidable foe. 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

1 Peter 5:8 ESV

Indeed, we cannot defeat sin on our own.

Martin Luther put it this way:

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God.  Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved.  Now choose what you want.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Kudzu thrives in the light along the highways and roadways of the South.  But, its enemy is the shade of the forest where it cannot survive. 

Sin thrives in the darkness of rebellion against God and of self-pride.  Jesus said:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 ESV

But, sin has its enemy, specifically the Lord Jesus Christ.  When the Light of the world illuminates sin, the Light defeats the darkness. 

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””

John 8:12 ESV

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

Like kudzu, sin may creep in and may even cover the heart, but the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is sufficient to overcome whatever sin we have committed.  Repent and accept His forgiveness, then praise our Lord and glory in His name.

Father, thank You for shining the light of Jesus Christ in my heart and for the presence of the Holy Spirit that protects me as sin tries to tempt.  I pray for strength as I walk the path you have directed, I pray that I will look to You each day in Your strength, all for Your glory.

 

ERADICATION OF FREEDOM

We were traveling through East Tennessee doing errands and found ourselves in Morgan County, near the Frozen Head State Park.  I have heard of this park for years but had never visited the location, so we took the opportunity to do so.  The park was beautiful and we were very glad to have taken this side-trip. 

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Frozen Head State Park, Morgan County, Tennessee.

However, on the way to and from the park, we passed the Morgan County correctional facility.

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Morgan County Correctional Facility, Morgan County, Tennessee

As we drove by, we could not help but notice the “razor wire” in multiple layers that surrounded the facility. 

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Morgan County Correctional Facility, razor wire surrounding facility.

The sight put me in a somber, introspective mood.  Being incarcerated and seeing the outside world but not being able to get to it would be terribly difficult.  I have had occasion to work with female prisoners in various facilities and I believe that it is fair to say that life there is hard, both physically and emotionally.

While I have not been in jail, I have experienced a period of time when I could not move off my bed.  Many years ago, I was in a body cast that ran from my head to my left knee.  I was immobile in bed, unable to move my body, for over 7 months.  I gained some measure of “freedom” when the leg part of the cast was cut off and I could sit up and walk again, while wearing the body part of the cast.  All in all, the cast experience was almost 14 months. 

My experience was not pleasant by any means, but even on my darkest days, I knew the time of my inactivity was limited.  I had an end date when the cast would come off and I could, slowly, return to normal activity for a 10 year old. 

That is not the case for many of those incarcerated in the jails of our country.  There is no certain end date for their release to the outside world. 

As bad and as dreary as that scenario is, there is one scenario that is far worse.  We know that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were cast out of the Garden of Eden because their union with God was broken by their disobedience.  And, as a result, Adam’s descendants live in sin. 

According to Strong’s Lexicon, in Hebrew, the root word “sin” is the Hebrew word חַטָּא chaṭṭâʼ, khat-taw’; that refers to “a criminal, or one accounted guilty:—offender, sinful, sinner.”  Generally speaking, to sin is to miss the mark; to violate God’s law thereby bringing judgment on yourself.  In short, disobedience is the crux of sin … we disobey God’s law and we all must pay the penalty for it.  Sin is the ultimate bondage and enslavement for all mankind.

The first time the word “sin” is stated in Scripture is found all the way back at the beginning.  In Genesis 4:7 we read God speaking to Cain after his offering was not accepted by God:

“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7 ESV

Shortly after these words were spoken, Cain did not rule over sin.  Rather, he gave in to it and murdered his brother Abel.

Scripture talks of sin as putting us in bondage. 

“For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter,”

Psalm 59:12 ESV

“The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.”

Proverbs 5:22 ESV

In the New Testament, Jesus told those who were feeling free because of their status as children of Abraham:

“They answered Him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’”

John 8:33-34 ESV

We, in the modern world, intrinsically know the truth of these statements from Scripture.  Notwithstanding the bravado from the thrill of repeated criminal activity or from the high brought on by illicit drugs, when the excitement is gone, what remains is the sure awareness that we have done wrong, that is, we experience guilt.  Whether we want to admit it or not, we know that we have violated God’s law.  

We don’t have to be imprisoned in a jail with razor wire to be in bondage.  We might be a slave to drug or alcohol addiction.  We might be a slave to smoking or overeating.  Sin can even be hidden in respectable clothing … it can come in the form of gossip or malicious speech, both of which can be subtle but dangerous addictions.  It can come in the form of doing good things for others for the purpose of praise and glory to you, instead of doing those same things for the glory of God.  Any time we rob God of the glory that is properly His, we have committed sin.   And, the more often we sin, the more sin becomes our master. 

How do we get out of the razor-wire confinement imposed by sin?  We look to the One who took our sin on Himself.  We must repent and cling to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has paid the price for our sin.  We don’t need to keep sinning because He has broken its power over us.  Paul says it like this:

“For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Romans 6:10-14 ESV

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:56-57 ESV

Listen as the Centurymen sing the beautiful hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” from their album The Centurymen Silver Anniversary,

The power of Jesus’ name is the answer to the bondage of sin.  While sin eradicates, obliterates, and otherwise destroys our freedom, the Lord Jesus Christ has broken sin’s shackles and replaces that bondage with freedom in Him.   Praise His Holy Name!

Father, I thank You that Your Son has conquered death and sin; that He died so that Your children could have freedom from sin and could live with You eternally.  I praise Your Holy Name!

SILENT NIGHT

Anyone who has stood outside while snow is falling has heard “the sound of silence”. 

big-snow-in-chicago-1967
Chicago big snow in 1967

The blanket of snow simply muffles sounds that ordinarily would be heard. 

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Front yard and drive covered in white blanket of snow.

It is a silence that is palpable, beautiful and spell-binding.

snowy-tranquility-c
Snowy tranquility.

That snowy silence was the impetus behind the Christmas carol “Silent Night” which is a staple in the Christmas collection of carols for thousands of churches.  Even secular groups will sing the song because of its incredible imagery, beautiful lyrics and soul-calming theme. 

Here is the story behind the creation of this beautiful Christmas classic.

In 1818, Josef Mohr was assistant pastor of the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg in the Austrian Alps.  He was in a meditative mood as he walked home after a Christmas presentation in a friend’s home.  He walked along the longer path to his home which took him to the top of a hill.

Surrounded by the majestic Alps, from his vantage point over the village, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village.  He experienced the awesome silence of the night as he looked at the shining scene below him that looked rather like a Christmas card.  As he pondered on the scene, he remembered a poem that he had written a couple of years earlier which described the night when angels came to the shepherds on a hillside to announce the birth of the Messiah.

While Mohr had words that he believed would be a good Christmas carol for the congregation to sing at the Christmas Eve service, he did not have any music.  So, he went to see the church organist, Franz Gruber.  In short, Gruber had to have a melody that could be sung that evening with a guitar since the organ was out of commission.  Gruber composed the music for Mohr’s poem and they sang it that evening without the organ. The congregation loved the carol, and it is reported that many of the people had tears in their eyes from its beautiful rendition.

Later, the organ builder came to repair the St. Nicholas church organ, and, when completed, he asked Gruber to play a tune to test the repair.  Gruber sat down at the organ and began playing the melody he had written for Mohr’s Christmas poem.  Struck by the beauty of the piece, the organ builder took copies of the music and words of “Silent Night” back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing.  There, two well-known families of singers, the Rainers and the Strassers, heard the song.  They were so thrilled with “Silent Night” that both groups put the new carol into their Christmas season repertoire.   

The rest, as they say, is history.  The carol swept the world and now it is sung in over 300 languages worldwide. 

The words of the carol are beautiful but their power comes from the fact that the carol is also theologically sound, quite a powerful combination!  In the next post, we will examine how theologircally sound this wonderful Christmas carol is.  In the meantime, Here is a rendition of the carol by The Piano Guys in their album “A Family Christmas”.

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.  The Psalmist says it this way:  

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10.  Perhaps listening to Silent Night will get you into the stillness mode.  Do whatever it takes to let yourself “Be still”. You will be glad you did and your relationship with your Father will grow stronger this Christmas season.

Father, 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.  I pray that my soul would rest in Your peace despite the calendar demands and obligation.  Give me the grace to “Be still”, even when chaos reigns around me, all this is through the power and love of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Savior.

 

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.

JAN AND JILL AND THE FUTURE!

We cleaned out a storage unit recently and, in so doing, we came across a number of boxes that contained – who knows what!  We couldn’t tell from the outside of the boxes and we had no recollection of what we had stowed in them.  So we had a type of retro-vintage-Christmas when we opened the boxes to see what they had sheltered for so long.

After going through several boxes, I re-discovered Jan and Jill.

Jan and Jill, vintage friends for a young girl
Jan and Jill, vintage friends for a young girl

These two dolls are, today, lovingly called “vintage” rather than simply “old”.  They came into my possession in the late 1950s and I recall playing with them often.  As an only child, they could be my friends on rainy days and I could tell them my thoughts without fear that they would blab!  The box also contained their four-poster bed and closet, complete with drawers and hangers.

Doll bed
Doll bed

A separate box contained quite an assortment of clothes for the duo.  Of course the box also contained the accoutrements of the dolls’ haute couture such as earrings, shoes, leggings, a swimsuit, etc.

Doll wardrobe and clothes
Doll wardrobe and clothes

These dolls reminded me of a different time and place – when I was young and living with my parents.  The future was ahead of me and I could tell the dolls all the things that might happen, of course in my anticipation there was only good and no pain or sorrow.   Neither the dolls nor I had any ability to affect the course of history, I was just dreaming about what would happen down the road.

The dolls didn’t know they would wind up in boxes that were enclosed in other cartons which moved from house to house, city to city, and ultimately to an off-site storage unit, along with old magazines, records, tax returns, and junk.

I didn’t know that I would move several times before and after college; that my mother would die when I was 21 years of age; that I would go to graduate school long after college; that I would have children and grandchildren; or that I would retire after a 30-year long career in one place.  I didn’t know that I would have numerous health issues, many related to the effects of the polio I had as an infant, or that there would be times in my life that I believed I would not be able to handle another day.

No, I had no idea of any of that – but I do know Who did!

My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, came to me when I was a young girl, speaking of His love and sacrifice for me.  I did as Paul described in Romans 10:9-11:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Salvation is through faith in Christ alone.  Nothing that I could do would merit my adoption by God and none of my “good works” will accomplish, affect or influence my salvation; because I am a sinner, and the Holy God cannot look upon sin.  Isaiah 6.  Rather, because of the righteousness that Christ has provided for me, I have forgiveness and I can now call God my Father.  Galatians 4:6.  I still sin, but I have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and I can confess my sin, repent from it and turn to Jesus.  Ephesians 2:8.

Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 8:33-36.

While I am still a sinner, I am no longer controlled by sin.  God’s Son has set me free from the control of sin.  Praise the Lord.

So, I don’t need to know the future.  God has it in His hands and He loves me because of His Son’s sacrifice for me.  In Jeremiah 29:11, God says:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

The Lord God Who said these words regarding His people in the Old Testament is the same God Who cares for His New Testament/New Covenant people.  That would be you and me, Beloved, if you are a believer in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   Indeed, Jesus said:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

John 10:27-29.  [The emphasis is mine.]

Jan and Jill
Jan and Jill

I know that the Jan and Jill dolls cannot remember what I confided in them when I was a young girl.  And, if they had the ability to do so, they would likely wonder what their next phase in life will be.  That, of course, is in my hands.  Unless I find some young girl who would like to have them, they may find themselves on a shelf as a reminder of days long gone.

For me, now that I have retired, I know that my future is not in my hands.  It is in the Hands of my Savior.  My job now is to pray for guidance from the Lord Jesus Christ, and then to reconfigure my days to follow the course that He has laid out for me.

While I don’t know the future, I do know Who holds my hand.  And, I have absolute trust that He will continue to hold my hand through whatever else this life has in store for me and on into the next, where I will join my Savior and the great cloud of witnesses who have gone on before me.  Hebrews 12:1.

Praise His Holy Name.

Father, thank You for the gift of Jesus Christ Who paid the debt created by my sin.  Thank You that the righteousness You require is not my own but that my Savior has covered me in His righteousness.  Thank You that, because of Jesus, I can come before You, not only in Heaven after death but also now in prayer and in worship, and I can call You Father.  I praise Your Glorious Name, through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.