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.

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 2:18 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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. 

snow-driveway-and-yard
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.

 

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.

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, No. 7, JOY, Part One

 

JOY – EFFERVESCENCE EVEN IN CHAOS

 PART ONE

This week we are considering Joy.  We know that everyone wants to be happy.  In our culture, happiness is talked about and searched for, but seldom is real joy experienced.

 

The internet dictionary.com defines joy as being “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.”  A picture of joy, I believe, is this one of a young boy with his grilled cheese sandwich.   Eyes closed, bread in both hands, cherishing the taste in his mouth.  He seems to be in little boy bliss!

Joy of grilled cheese sandwich (C)

In an attempt to find happiness, people try all sorts of things, way beyond grilled cheese sandwiches.  For example, Indian philosophy has given a 7 prong approach to locating happiness.

 

  • Think less, feel more
  • Frown less, smile more
  • Talk less, listen more
  • Judge less, accept more
  • Watch less, do more
  • Complain less, appreciate more
  • Fear less, love more

 

These things are good and they may help you lead a more productive happy life.  Any time that you focus on others and have your eyes off of yourself your life is likely to be happier.  But, these actions are based on our own efforts, and any happiness that is achieved is fleeting because it is based on outward circumstances.

 

This is the fundamental difference between Christians and unregenerate persons around us.  Even though we use the same word Joy, the Joy given to the Christian is separate and apart from outward circumstances of this world … it is not the power of positive thinking nor is it based on the prosperity gospel’s promise of vast monetary wealth here and now.

ORANGE - JOY

What does Scripture say?

 

Using the orange analogy that we developed previously, Biblical Joy is a segment of the fruit of the Holy Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23.

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

 

The Greek word Chara Joy – refers to a delight in God and His salvation for the sheer beauty and worth of who He is.    The world’s counterfeit of this fruit is elation that comes with blessings rather than from thoughts of the One who blesses.  Further, because the world’s joy is based on external things, there will be mood swings based on circumstances.

 

The Holy Spirit’s Joy is not dependent on external circumstances but is deep seeded and is rooted in the heart filled with love for our Lord.

 

Martin Luther said:

Joy means sweet thoughts of Christ, melodious hymns and psalms, praises and thanksgiving, with which Christians instruct, inspire, and refresh themselves.

 

Matthew Henry understands Paul’s use of the term “Joy” as part of the fruit of the Spirit as being “a constant delight in God.”

 

Unlike the writings of other faith systems, Joy is well embedded in Holy Scripture of the Bible.  Scriptural Joy is the fruit of a right relation with God because it is based on the Holy Spirit’s presence within us.  If we do not have the Holy Spirit, we cannot have Biblical Joy!

 

Note:  The Bible distinguishes scriptural Joy from pleasure – the Greek word for pleasure is the word from which we get our English word hedonism, and it is the philosophy of self-centered pleasure-seeking.  Paul referred to false teachers as “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:4)

 

The Bible warns that self-indulgent pleasure-seeking does not lead to happiness and fulfillment.

  • Ecclesiastes 2 records the sad story of one who tried to build his life on pleasure-seeking and was left empty and disillusioned.
  • 1 Timothy 5:6 says that the self-indulgent person is dead even while seeming to be alive.
  • Titus 3:3 notes that pleasure-seeking often enslaves the person in a vicious cycle of addiction.

 

In contrast, the God of Scripture knows Joy and He wants His people to know Joy.

  • Psalms 104:3 speaks of God rejoicing in His creative works.
  • Isaiah 65:18 speaks of God rejoicing over His redeemed people who will be to Him “a joy.”
  • Luke 2:10, a focal verse at Christmastime, reminds us of the perfect example of bringing joy from the Lord in the Angel’s pronouncement to the shepherds at Bethlehem.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” 

 

How does this apply to my life?

 

In John 15:9-12, Jesus told us to keep His commands and to abide in His love, further stating that He told us this so that “my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”   

 

The answer to the question “Can we have that same joy?” is a resounding YES.  We can, and do, have within us the same Joy that Jesus was speaking of.  We can confidently say this because we have His Spirit within us and He provides Joy as we listen to Him, as we read the Scripture and as we rely on Him for all things.

 

Is our joy different from the happiness that is sought so desperately by the world?  As you should be aware by now, the answer to this question is an unequivocal YES.  Our joy is different because of Who it is based on – our joy is not dependent on circumstances or things.   Our joy is based on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and we experience it through the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit.

 

In speaking of Galatians 5:22, Author Keri Wyatt Kent says:

“This verse is not a to-do list for us to work through, but a description of the transformation that occurs when God’s Spirit begins to work in us.”

 

This week, pray that the Holy Spirit would continue this transformation by enlarging your love and joy in Christ.  Ruminate about keeping the commands of our Lord so that you can abide in His love.  Then, take action and do that which the Lord commands.  I believe that you will find that your joy will be abundant as you live and serve Him through the power of His Spirit.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.  

 

 

WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

Many years ago, my daughter bought me a Christmas gift that has continued giving delight for over 3 decades. She had heard me exclaim over various Christmas villages that I had seen in store windows, as I love looking that the buildings, the people, and the activities that they were doing in their snowy worlds.

She and my husband happened to be shopping when she saw a Christmas Village set. Once she laid eyes on it, my husband knew that we were going to have a Christmas village in our home. They bought the set and gave it to me as an early present that year, and it has been on display during the Christmas season ever since. We even call it “Lindaville”.

 

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

Every year since that initial purchase, we have added new buildings, accessories, and scenery reflecting our interests. Here are some of the additions to Lindaville that we have incorporated into the village over the years.

Village church with musicians
Christmas village church with musicians outside serenading the people in the neighborhood.

 

Village house with picket fence
Christmas village house with picket gate.

 

village animal shelter
Christmas village animal shelter with their little friends being well treated.

 

Village Diner, dog park and playground
Playground and dog park with Tennessee Volunteer Diner close by.

 

Village sweet shoppe
Christmas village Sweet Shoppe with delivery man and truck.

 

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, the volunteers taking care of the animals at the shelter. I love watching the children in the playground on the see-saw going up and down under the blinking lights on the playground trees.

 

I wonder what they are doing, thinking, planning, enjoying, fearing. And, when we are ready to turn the lights off for the night, I jokingly tell my husband that the parents of the children making snow angels should be contacted since the children ought to be in bed at that time of night!

But then, as we ourselves go to bed and turn off the house lights, I think about not just the ceramic village but of our real friends and family who are far away. What are they 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 where there often are frowns. It brings out 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 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, 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.

This is the Christ who has provided salvation to those who believe on His Name.

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Acts 16:30-31.

What is the best present to get at Christmas? It is the gift that has already been given … no strings attached … free to all who believe.

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 have accomplished over the past several weeks. However, I pray that we have had as our priority the worship of the One who was born so long ago, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, and may we have taken the time to be still before Him, casting our cares upon Him and giving Him our love and adoration.

Christmas day has come and gone for 2015. The ceramic people in the village are doing the same things they were doing ever since we put the village up. They are static and cannot change.

In contrast, 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 season?

 

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. I praise you and honor you, and I thank you for the saving grace extended to me and all those who call upon your name. In Jesus Holy and Wonderful Name, I pray.