Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas - see you in 2016!

A Prayer for Christmas Morning, by Robert Louis Stevenson:

The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will.
Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men.
Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children,
And the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas III

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.         (John 1:14) 

Jesus, King of angels, heaven's light,
Shine Your face upon this house tonight.
Let no evil come into my dreams;
Light of heaven, keep me in Your peace.
Remind me how You made dark spirits flee, And spoke Your power to the raging sea.
And spoke Your mercy to a sinful man;
Remind me, Jesus, this is what I am.

The universe is vast beyond the stars,
But You are mindful when the sparrow falls, And mindful of the anxious thoughts That find me, surround me, and bind me . . . .
With all my heart I love You, Sovereign Lord.
Tomorrow, let me love You even more.
And rise to speak the goodness of Your name Until I close my eyes and sleep again.

Jesus, King of angels, heaven's light,
Hold my hand and keep me through this night.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas II

Preparing our hearts for celebrating His coming . . .

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas I

This song is reverent and beautiful in any language . . .

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday slowdown - O Holy Night

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Joy to the World

Truly we celebrate a joyful event -- a joyful gospel that we should share with all!

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

O come, o come, Emmanuel

I've always thought the the haunting melody and words of this carol truly show us what the people felt at the time of Christ's birth. Aching for change, and longing for God's Word to be fullfilled . . .

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Verses that inspire

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.  (Isaiah 9:7)

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

 Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:3-6)

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:21)

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (I Peter 1:18-19)

Thanks be to God, for His indescribable gift! (II Corinthians 9:15)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mary, did you know?

For the past two weeks, we studied Mary; a teenaged girl engaged to be married, she was told that she would bear the Savior of the world.

Mary, did you know?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A magnificent song, conclusion

The last part of Mary's psalm speaks to us of God's faithfulness:
“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Mary was realizing that God was going to keep all of His promises, that He had made to His people for oh, so many years!

In spite of the many, many times that Israel had wandered and sinned, and sinned and wandered, God was still the God of the covenant. The promise. In what we would say, in human terms, was reckless disregard for the fact that the Jewish people had broken God's law and wandered from His will, God was determined to continue His plan.

He was determined (and still is, today) to continue His mercy and His grace. The Messiah is coming. It's His love in action that shows He is faithful -- and that is worth singing about!

I'm indebted to Paul Decker for the following illustration:
Like any good mother, when Karen found out that another baby was on the way, she did what she could to help her 3-year-oId son, Michael, prepare for a new sibling. They found out that the new baby was going to be a girl, and day after day, night after night, Michael sang to his sister in Mommy’s tummy. He was building a bond of love with his little sister before he even met her.In time, the labor pains came. Soon it was every five minutes. Every three...every minute. But serious complications arose during delivery and Karen found herself in hours of labor. Finally, after a long struggle, Michael’s little sister was born. But she was in very serious condition. With a siren howling in the night, the ambulance rushed the infant to the neonatal intensive care unit in Knoxville, Tennessee.The days inched by. The little girl got worse. The pediatrician had to tell the parents, "There is very little hope. Be prepared for the worst." Karen and her husband contacted a local cemetery about a burial plot. They had fixed up a special room in their house for their new baby but now they found themselves having to plan for a funeral.Michael, however, kept begging his parents to let him see his sister. "I want to sing to her," he kept saying. Week two in intensive care looked as if a funeral would come before the week was over. Michael kept nagging about singing to his sister, but kids are never allowed in intensive care.Karen made up her mind, though. She would take Michael whether they liked it or not! If he didn’t see his sister right then, he may never see her alive. She dressed him in an oversized scrub suit and marched him into ICU. He looked like a walking laundry basket.But the head nurse recognized him as a child andbellowed, "Get that kid out of here now! No children are allowed.” The mother rose up strong in Karen, and the usually mild-mannered lady glared steel-eyed right into the head nurse’s face, her lips a firm line. "He is not leaving until he sings to his sister!"Karen towed Michael to his sister’s bedside. He gazed at the tiny infant losing the battle to live. After a moment, he began to sing. In the pure-hearted voice of a 3-year-old, Michael sang: "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray…”Instantly the baby girl seemed to respond. The pulse rate began to calm down and become steady. "Keep on singing, Michael," encouraged Karen with tears in her eyes."You never know, dear, how much I love you, Please don’t take my sunshine away…" As Michael sang to his sister, the baby’s ragged, strained breathing became as smooth as a kitten’s purr. Tears had now conquered the face of the bossy head nurse. Karen glowed. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. Please don’t, take my sunshine away..."The next day...the very next day...the little girl was well enough to go home! Woman’s Day Magazine called it "The Miracle of a Brother’s Song." The medical staff just called it a miracle. Karen called it a miracle of God’s love!
God is still showing His mercy and grace today. The miracle of His love is still continuing, even in our own times. Jesus came as God's love song to us -- He said, "You matter to me." He is singing to this world today, if we will only listen.

And when we listen, we will discover the true spirit of Christmas. Mary listened, and she showed us that we should respond with worship. We should give Him our hearts -- that is the best we can offer, and it delights our Lord.

We have plenty to sing about. Is our praise overdue? Has it been a while since we praised Him? Oh, come, let us adore Him -- Christ the Lord!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A magnificent song

In verses 51-53 we read:
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. “
I think Mary is showing her vast knowledge of the scriptures here . . . she is reminding herself (and us) of the many times that God has overturned the things of this world, and shown Himself to be merciful and fair.

Why would that have been important to her? Think about the time in which she and Joseph and all the others were living . . .  they lived under the rule of Rome. What a system! Rome's society was built on (and glorified) an elite, racist, oppressive world-view. It ensured that the rich would remain rich (or get more wealthy) and the poor would remain poor (or get even more destitute). The system took advantage of the worker, the peasant, the farmer, and handed that advantage to the elite. This system walked all over the handicapped, the sick, the widows, and the orphans.

And to add insult to injury, the Romans were not the only ones. The wealthy leaders of the Jewish people loved their power, too, and would tread upon anyone who wanted to change things. They had rules and regulations, and then rules about the rules; they bound everyone up in rituals and there seemed to be no way to change things.

But Mary is realizing, and speaks in her psalm, about the "new program." God is going to change things! No longer will it be the arrogant, the mighty, and the rich who win. God is a God of justice, and He is aware of those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. Those who are arrogant and believe that only they are good enough -- they've made it!

But Mary sees that their fortunes will be overturned. The ones that think they are so wonderful that they are legendary are going to be the ones whose lives will be turned upside down!
God can turn human attitudes and the rules of society upside down -- He acts with awesome power and scatters the prideful. He is going to disperse them. Dethrone them. Deprive them. Just as they sought to deprive others of things they needed.

Then, the needs of the poor, whether they are spiritual or physical, will be met (abundantly) by Him.

The young lions suffer want and hunger;    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10)

This Son that she would bear would say:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:31-32)

We'll finish Mary's Magnificat tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A magnificent song (and prayer requests!)

Continuing in our study of the "Magnificat" we will look at verses 48-50 today:
“…for he has  looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”
The next thing that Mary sings about, after noting that God was her Savior, was that He had favored her. Mary probably considered herself one of the last people that God would reach down and honor. She is a simple, unpretentious girl from a tiny, agrarian town. What in the world would God do with someone as ordinary as she?

But that's just it! God is a God of grace. His name is holy -- His whole person is holy, and infinitely above all of the humans on earth, and the creatures, too. He is incomparably greater than all.

But in spite of that, He looks graciously on us. To choose Mary was an act of grace, and God looks with mercy on those whose hearts and minds are filled with a reverent regard for Him. For those who know that it's the blessings of God that make us truly rich, His grace and mercy are jewels that we hold dear.

That brings us to this: today is our usual day for prayer requests. God is awaiting our prayers; when we trust Him to be faithful and open our hearts to Him, He will bless us. He Who is mighty will do great things for us. His grace and peace will be with us.

Is there a request that we can pray about with you?
Do you have a praise for answered prayer that you can share?

Monday, December 7, 2015

A magnificent song

This week, our verses are a passage in Luke's gospel; these verses are well known as the "Magnificat," a song that Mary sang to the Lord. Similar to the psalms that David sang when he was moved, overjoyed, or overwhelmed, Mary sang a psalm, too. We'll see that it was a song worth singing, and contains some great things for us to study!

                 “My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—    holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him,    from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones    but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things    but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel,    remembering to be merciful  to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors. (Luke 1:46-55)

Let's look at the background for these verses . . . Remember when Zechariah was in the temple? He was visited by a very special angelic visitor. He had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve in the Holy of Holies, and as he pours out the incense, Gabriel appears to him with an unexpected message. That message was that his wife, Elizabeth, who'd been barren for many years, would bear a son!

Elizabeth must have been surprised, as well as being overjoyed, simply because it wasn't the norm to be pregnant at her age. But she wasn't the only one to be surprised. Her cousin, Mary, a mere youngster compared to her, was going to receive some pretty shocking news, too.

Last week we studied Gabriel's visit to Mary, and how he told her that she was highly favored: she was going to bear a son who would be called "Y'shua" (Jesus) and that He would possess the throne of David; He would reign forever, in an eternal kingdom. Good news!

She will be pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hmmmm . . . there's a slight problem, no? Like we said last week, she was engaged to be the wife of Joseph soon. She hadn't been sinning with him, nor with anyone else, so if she turns up pregnant, it doesn't "look good." Imagine again how you might react . . . "Um, kinda inconvenient . . . we don't have good insurance." (Grin) Seriously, though, she might have wondered if Joseph and the rest of the community might be picking up stones and preparing to use them.

Mary's response is this: worship. She is a truly remarkable young woman, for she understands that God is about to change the course of history. And after traveling (the scholars tell us) about four days to reach her cousin's house, she bursts out in praise, in the psalm above. Is she full of doubt? Nope. Is she anxious? No way. Deep in her inmost being, in her soul, she wants to magnify the Lord.

One of the commentaries I used said that the word "magnify" had more meaning that what we might think today. When she says it, she is saying that the Lord is getting larger in her understanding. As she ponders it, and as she thought about it, walking to Elizabeth's house, God seemed to be getting bigger and better!

The verses say that she was more than joyful, more than happy -- she was overjoyed. The emotions within her were so intense that it was almost unspeakable. But lucky for us, the Spirit helped her, and she poured out her joy in this psalm. What was she most joyful about? She tells us first that she is rejoicing because God is her Savior. She, too, is a sinner that needed God's intervention, just as we do.

So, Mary is surprised by her heavenly visitor. And she is surprised by his message, as well. It is a surprising one: God has chosen two obscure women, one old and one young, a virgin. He has tapped them to bear two amazing people into this world: John the Baptist, and Jesus the Christ.

We'll study the Magnificat, Mary's psalm of praise, in more detail this week.