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.

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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.

FROM HEAVEN ABOVE TO EARTH I COME

FROM HEAVEN ABOVE TO EARTH I COME

Martin Luther, translated by Catherine Winkworth

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, in honor of Martin Luther’s significant role in the Reformation and the Church of Christ, I thought we would consider one of the Christmas carols that he wrote.  It is one of Lutheranism’s greatest Christmas carols, and it is entitled “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”.

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Nativity from a San Antonio mission

Robert J. Morgan in Then Sings My Soul, book 2, presents the story behind the carol and it is as touching as the words Luther wrote.

Luther was an Augustinian monk, and that means the he had taken a vow of celibacy.  Even though the Reformation truths of Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, meant that such vows were not required, Luther intended to maintain a celibate life.   

After the Reformation, both monks and nuns were renouncing vows of celibacy and marrying.  Luther heard of a nearby cloister in which the nuns wanted to marry but they were in virtual captivity.  Luther sought help from a merchant, and he smuggled the nuns out by placing them in empty barrels used to deliver herring to the nunnery. 

After freeing the nuns, Luther took it upon himself to find husbands for them, and he was successful except for one young lady, Katharina Von Bora, who remained unmarried for two years.  When Luther visited his parents, and said that he might have to marry her himself, his father gave whole-hearted support.

Martin and Katharina were married on June 27, 1525.  In the spring of 1526 Martin bragged to his friends: “There’s about to be born a child of a monk and a nun!” and on June 7, 1526, little Hans Luther was born to the couple.

Luther was a devoted father and for Christmas when Hans was 5 years old, Martin penned this hymn, calling it “a Christmas child’s song concerning the child Jesus” and it was annually sung in Luther’s home during the Christmas Eve festivities. 

Paul wrote:

“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.”

Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Let Luther’s hymn and the words of Paul remind you during this season that our Savior did come from heaven to earth, He did leave all his majesty and power behind Him in heaven and He did become man so that He could be our Savior.  He deserves all honor, glory and reverence from us for this sacrifice on our behalf.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XY3O5MLYXM

Hear this hymn sung by the University of St. Thomas Alumni Choir, Aquinas Chapel, December 18, 2013.  The YouTube description states “Written by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), this carol begins with the angelic proclamation of Christ’s birth and ends with a worshipful human response inviting Jesus to abide within the “quiet chamber” of the heart. In this new setting, verses selected from the original text alternate with the refrain “Gloria, the Christ is born.”” Music composed and conducted by Josh Bauder.

 

Father, I thank You for giving us the gift of Jesus Christ who came as a Babe and lived a perfect life so that He could be the atoning sacrifice for me, one who cannot life a perfect moment let alone life!  I pray that this Christmas season I would have a new appreciation for Christ’s coming to earth from heaven above.

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM? – Part Two

In Part One of this post, we considered the question Jesus posited to His disciples disciples: “Who do YOU say that I am?” 

In ruminating on this question, we pointed to, and quoted from, C. H. Spurgeon’s sermon, preached on January 7th, 1872, entitled “The Glorious Master and the Swooning Disciple.”  In the earlier post we looked at what happens when we have a low opinion of our Lord and Savior.  Now, we continue with the text of the sermon and consider the flip side of the question’s answer – if we have a high opinion of the Lord:

If our conceptions of the Lord Jesus are very enlarged, they will only be His due. We cannot exaggerate here. He deserves higher praise than we can ever render to Him. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is He above our loftiest conceptions. Even when the angels strike their loudest notes, and chant His praises most exultingly on their highest festal days, the music falls far short of His excellence. He is higher than a seraph’s most soaring thought! Rise then, my brethren, as on eagle’s wings, and let your adoring souls magnify and extol the Lord your Savior.

Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

So, what does Scripture say about Jesus Christ?  How high is our Lord and Savior?

The Prophet Isaiah testified as follows:

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.'”

Isaiah 45:22-23 ESV

Paul, in the New Testament letter to the Philippians, elaborates on what Isaiah prophesied centuries before.  Paul, speaking of Jesus Christ, said:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him [Jesus Christ] 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 ESV.   See also Romans 14:11-12.

We may know this intellectually, but sometimes we fail to see Jesus in the proper light.  We see him as the Babe on Christmas, or as a Hollywood actor who walks through crowds with slow and steady gait, dressed in the browns and grays.  We see the poor itinerant teacher, without a place to lay His head.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV

But do we recognize Him for Who He is?  Do we think of Him as He really is?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:1-4, 14 ESV

Did you comprehend that statement of John?  The Word, Jesus Christ, was with God before the world was created and through Him were all things created.  For the believer, we should do as Spurgeon urged: “let your adoring souls magnify and extol the Lord your Savior.”

A further description of the Word is found in Revelation as follows:

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.”

Revelation 19:11-13 ESV

Who is Jesus Christ?  John’s Revelation answers:

“And he said unto me, ‘It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.’”

Revelation 21:6 KJV.  Remember Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman at the well?  

“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

Revelation 1:8 ESV.  See also Revelation 22:13. 

May we have a high opinion of our Lord and follow Spurgeon’s urging to let our adoring souls magnify and extol the Lord our Savior!

 

Father, I pray that these words would be edifying and encouraging to those who read them.  I pray that You would use Your Word to strengthen those who are struggling today and I pray that You would send Your Spirit to convict us of our sin so that we may rejoice in the strength and majesty of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

FROM VARIETY COMES UNITY

There are times when I look out the window into our backyard and I am amazed at the creativity of our God.  The variety of birds that come to the bird feeder and to the birdbath is wonderful, and it just comprises a miniscule sampling of the birds that He created for His world.

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Backyard bird looking for worms!

 

Some are so graceful and fast that our eyes cannot take in their flight unless it is captured in slow motion.

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Precious hummingbird approaching the feeder.

 

Others blend in with the surroundings, but they always seem to appreciate the shelter from the snow!

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Little bird taking cover from snow under the bird feeder “awning”!

The cardinal is young and is not yet fully colored, but he will be a brilliant eye-catcher when he is older!

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Young cardinal looking around the side of the feeder.

 

Some are dusty colored and demure in their plumage, but they create such beautiful music with their cooing and rustling feathers when they take wing!

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Mourning dove at the bird bath.

 

Some are bright in their coloration, and they shine in the sunlight.

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Yellow goldfinch standing brightly on a stem.

 

Each kind of bird brings his own beauty, sound, and sight to the yard.  The variety of colors and of sounds from the numerous birds, both visible and hidden in the trees, brings to my mind the description that God gives of His people and His church.

 

By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

Isaiah 45:23

 

“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 2:10-11

 

In the book of Revelation, John records the vision that he had of the end times, of the church and of the activities in heaven.  In chapter 5 at verses 9 and 10 we read:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”  [Emphasis mine]

 

Then, to top it off, that same chapter states in verse 13:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”  [Emphasis mine]

 

Imagine the sound as millions of voices join in the same song of praise.

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The choir and symphony ready for the music to begin at the Schermerhorn concert hall in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Even now, I get chills when a choir powerfully sings of God’s grace and His love.   I cannot imagine the glorious euphony that will be raised when all of us are praising God through song, even those whose voices on earth sounded more like a “caw” than a “chirp”!

 

Scripture clearly states that through Christ’s blood and his sacrifice, He ransomed us as a people for God, and this group of people is comprised of Christians from around the world, encompassing “every tribe and language and people and nation”.    This means that we will worship in different ways and we will sound different in our language, but the meaning will be the same – our God and our Savior will be praised, adored and glorified.

 

Some may worship in grand and glorious cathedrals.

 

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Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

 

Others may worship in a wood frame church in the mountains.

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Wooden church in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

 

Just as the creatures in nature are not clones of each other, we are not going to look alike.  Just as each creature has its own unique sound/language, we do not all have the same language.  But if the God who is worshiped in each of these places is the God of the Scripture, the God who sent His Son to save His people from their sins, all of these folks will join together in one glorious song of praise to the King of Kings, now and for all eternity.

So, why wait until heaven? 

Start now – praising the Lord for His glorious creation.  Praising the Lord for His wondrous works to the children of men.  Praising the Lord for His sovereignty and providence.  Praising the Lord for His grace and mercy towards his people through salvation from their sins.  Praising the Lord in song or by making a joyful noise.  Praising the Lord in your heart and in your soul, as you remember all His kindnesses and mercies showered upon you each moment of every day.

 

David put it quite succinctly, repeating the imperative throughout the Book of Psalms:

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 106:1

 

Father, I thank You for your grace, mercy and love as is evident in your creation that is all around us.  i thank You for your Spirit that dwells in each believer in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I praise your holy name for all the gifts and benefits bestowed upon me through no merit of my own, especially salvation through Jesus Christ.  I thank You and praise You now, and forever more.

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, No. 22, GENTLENESS part two

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Series Post No. 22

GENTLENESS – HUMILITY SHOWN IN MEEKNESS

PART TWO

What does Scripture say?

 Humility means putting God and other persons ahead of our own personal selfish interests. Humility comes with the knowledge that God’s creation as a whole transcends our own narrow interests.

 

Humility will cause an individual to wholly subject himself to God.  Even if God sends affliction or depressed circumstances, the humble person does not complain but expresses his gratitude for what God has decreed. The humble man says with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

“The greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12

How does this apply to my daily life?

  •  The humble person lives by the Golden Rule.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Luke 6:31.

 

If we want to be loved, we must first give our love to others.  If we want to be respected, we must first give respect to all persons, most especially to those persons we do not like.  If we wish to be satisfied in our lives, we must first be generous toward others.

 

  • Gentleness/humility affects our talk, both with regard to attitude and topic. Scripture confirms this in numerous passages:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Proverbs 15:1-2

The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”

Matthew 12:35

 

More specifically, when it comes to our talk, gossip is an act of hostility intended to harm someone’s reputation. We must avoid the temptation to misrepresent someone’s character or actions even if we are covering those acts with “Bless her heart!”

 

  • Gentleness/humility also affects our speech and emotions in that the humble person will not respond in anger or revenge.

 

Instead of anger, the humble person’s reaction to life’s difficulties is understanding and empathy.  An understanding attitude will settle the dispute and avoid turning a minor issue into a major confrontation.  The humble demeanor is a perfect tool for avoiding disputes and hard feelings.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20

When we respond to anger with empathy and love, we can break the cycle of hatred and transform even our enemies into friends. Jesus recognized this when he gave us the unique command to love even our enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:43-45

  • Certain characteristics can be found win the humble man or woman.

 

The humble man or woman avoids ambitious behavior.  She is not greedy for honor and does not desire to be above her neighbors.   She does not take upon herself that which does not belong to her as if the earth ought to be subject to her bidding. On the contrary, she gives all due deference to the judgment and desires of others.  Her behavior is consistent with Philippians 2:3:

“Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves”

 

The humble man or woman avoids ostentatious behavior. If she has any advantage, ability or benefit over her neighbors, she will not make a show of it.    In other words, she is not a Pharisee who, according to Jesus, did all their works to be seen of men.” Matt 23:5.

 

Rather, she knows that the impression others have of her is a small thing indeed.  She is content that the God in Heaven sees what was done and she desires that He approve of her efforts.

 

The humble man or woman will not express scornful or belittling behavior. Treating others with scorn and contempt is one of the most offensive manifestations of improper pride toward them.  The humble woman treats others with courtesy and friendliness – because she is aware of her own weakness before God, and she knows that it is God alone that makes her any different than others.

 

The humble will always have the spirit to “condescend to men of low estate” (Romans 12:16) and this is true even if the person is in a position of public trust and honor.

 

The humble man or woman will not exhibit willful or stubborn behavior.  The humble man or woman will not be stiff and inflexible, and insist that everything must go according to what they happen first to propose.  Further, the humble person will not make all the difficulty they can so as to make others uneasy if they do not get their own way.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

 

On the contrary, humility inclines men to have a yielding spirit to others, ready, for the sake of peace and to gratify others, to comply in many things with the desires of others, and to yield to their judgments when they are not inconsistent with truth and holiness.

 

A truly humble man is inflexible in nothing but in the cause of his Lord and Master, which is the cause of truth and virtue. In this he is inflexible, because God and conscience require it.

 

The humble spirit is desired by God and should be sought by the Christian.  Peter said that this spirit is the richest of all ornaments:  “even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” 1 Peter 3:4.

 

We read in 1 Peter 5:5 that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”   Regarding this verse, Jonathan Edwards says that in the original language, this means God “sets Himself in battle array against him,”  In other words, the proud spirit is abhorrent to God!  I certainly do not want God to fight against me!

 

Jesus – our Lord and Savior said:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

Matthew 5:9.

 

Gentleness/ Humility is the ornament of the spirit, the source of some of the sweetest exercises of Christian experience, the most acceptable sacrifice we can offer to God, the subject of the richest of His promises, the spirit with which He will dwell on earth, and which He will crown with glory in heaven hereafter.

 

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.