Category Archives: Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS

To each and everyone, a joyous celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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We Three Kings

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high.
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Words and Music by John H Hopkins, Jr., 1857

 


Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
Matthew 2:1 – 12

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
John 18:37

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each.”
Exodus 30:34

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

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

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
John 19:38 – 40

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many
Mark 10:45

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
1 Corinthians 15:20 – 21


 

January 6 is a holiday that is not necessarily recognized by time off like Christmas, but around the world it is a holiday that has played a great role in the history of Christendom. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition it is Christmas Eve. The night leading into the Feast of the Nativity. But for the western churches, both Catholic and Protestant, who changed from the use of the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar it represents Epiphany (The revelation of Christ to the gentile world). This revelation is represented in the visit of the Magi to Jesus as recorded in Matthew 2, which Leads to the other name it is known by, Three Kings Day. But it is the truth of this revelation, of this visit that is found in John H. Hopkins, Jr.’s hymn, “We Three Kings.”

The hymn begins with the words, “We three kings of Orient are.” Now the exact origin of the Magi is not given but we find in Matthew 2:2 that the Magi said to the palace officials “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

The Magi came from a land to the east of Israel, where they had been when they had seen the star when it appeared. Quite likely, they were from somewhere in Persia as the name Magi comes from a Persian word that refers to Zoroastrian priest or astrologers. People who would have been considered wise and learned in their lands.

The hymn continues by discussing that they had traveled a great distance, “Following yonder star.” This is a direct reference to Matthew 2:9 which tells us that “After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.” This star had guided them to Jesus from their homeland all the way to Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:5 – 6)

The hymn goes on to discuss the three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh, (Matthew 2:11) which the Magi brought to give to this new-born King of the Jews. (Matthew 2:2) These gifts where items worthy of a King. Each having a great value and importance. But beyond the initial meaning can be found a deeper symbolic and spiritual meaning for who Jesus was and what he would do.

First the hymns says, “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, Gold I bring to crown Him again.” Jesus was and is a King. John 18:37, tells us that in Jesus final days, “Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king.” By his own testimony, Jesus identified himself as a King. A truth that was revealed to the Magi, when they saw the star. The Gold therefore serves as a reminder of Christ sovereignty.

The hymn goes on to say, “Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh.” Frankincense was an incense used in many religious ceremonies. We read in Exodus 30:34 that the Lord told Moses, “Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each.” Frankincense was used to worship God and here can serve to remind us that he was not simply a King, but was God himself. A truth that was prophesied in Isaiah 9:6 where we read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” God himself had come into the world to dwell among us. (John 1:14)

The hymn goes on to say, “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume. Breathes a life of gathering gloom. Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone cold tomb.” Myrrh was used in ancient times for a variety of reasons; as a perfume, and anointing oil and for embalming.” We find it specifically mentioned later on in relation to Jesus burial when we read in John 19:39 – 40, “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.” From the gift of myrrh we find a reminder of why Christ had come. He came into the world “to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) He came to die in our place.

The hymn concludes by looking forward to the glory that Jesus would one day embody. It says, “Glorious now behold Him arise; King and God and sacrifice.” We are remind that this Child was God-With-us, that he was born a King and that he would sacrifice his life for all who believe. This Jesus would rise glorious and triumphant over sin and death. As 1 Corinthians 15:20 – 21 tells us, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”

“King and God and Sacrifice.” Those who know him, call him each of these. Those who believe in him understand that he alone can open the door to forgiveness. So we seek after him, to know him more and more. So we cry out to him to “Guide us to thy perfect light.”

 

 

Read more about “We Three Kings.”

Go Tell It On The Mountain

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled,
When lo! above the earth,
Rang out the angels chorus
That hailed the Savior’s birth.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessèd Christmas morn.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

Words and Music:Traditional African-American Spiritual

 


When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
Luke 2:17 – 18

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
Mark 16:15


 

In today’s age of technology, the idea of information being spread by word of mouth throughout the land seems unheard of.  After all, today you can instantly send information around the world.  But, yes there was a day when the news was spread to a community by the town crier. No, not the sad person who sits on the corner bench, but the person who would walk through the street crying out the news that everyone needed to hear. This is how the information of Christ birth was first spread and is the theme of the old spiritual, “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”

The news had first come to the shepherds heralded by the angels “That hailed the Savior’s birth.”  Luke 2:10 – 11 tells us that the angel declared, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Well the first thing they were compelled to do was to verify the news so in Luke 2:15 they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

The shepherds traveled to the stable where they found the Christ child just as the angel had said.  Their response is clearly shown in Luke 2:17 – 18 where we read that “when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” This news was so incredible that they could not keep it to themselves, they proclaimed it throughout the city “The Savior is Born.”

This news is to be proclaimed, and notbsimply in the streets of Bethlehem or in Judea, but from the very mountain tops.  The meaning behind this is clear, it is proclaimed for all the world to hear, for this is a message to the whole world (Luke 2:10) that is open to anyone who will hear.  A message that declares the truth “And God sent us salvation, That blessèd Christmas morn.”

Salvation had come to the world, a Salvation that would be completed 33 years later when this same Jesus would willing give his life on the cross in our place. This was the reason for His birth as He himself stated in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is the call that is laid on each of us to whom the message has been given.  A call of the news proclaimed that first Christmas morning, and echoed in the final commission of Christ to His follower recorded in Mark 16:15 where “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel (good news) to all creation.'”

So as each of us celebrates the Christmas season in our own fashion, let us not forget the good news that came that first Christmas. Let us then, in turn, “Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.”

 

 

 

Read more about “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”

 

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around,
And glory shone around.

“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind.
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind
To you and all mankind.

“To you, in David’s town, this day
Is born of David’s line
A Savior, who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign,
And this shall be the sign.

“The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid,
And in a manger laid.”

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God on high,
Who thus addressed their song,
Who thus addressed their song:

“All glory be to God on high,
And to the Earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from Heaven to men
Begin and never cease,
Begin and never cease!”

Words by Nahum Tate, 1700
Music by George F. Handel, 1812

 


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:8 – 14


 

 

There is always something nice about ballads as opposed to other song.  Other songs may flow and say different ideas, but the cohesion is not always there.  A ballad on the other hand tells a full story in verse or song from beginning to end.  When you have heard a ballad you have heard the story and know what it was all about.  What is more, when it is set to music it becomes something that is easier to remember.  The words, tied to the music help us to hold the information in our brains.  So as I said, I love all songs styles, but there is something special about a ballad. And such is the case with Nahum Tate’s “While Shepherds Watched Their Flock By Night.”

In six simple verses we are presented the story found in Luke 2:8 – 14 of the Angel’s pronouncement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus. An event that sums up the entire message and significance of the birth.  So Tate begins his ballad by writing, “While shepherds watched their flocks by night, All seated on the ground, The angel of the Lord came down, And glory shone around,” which paraphrase verse 8 – 9 which read, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.”

He continues on in he second stanza where he writes, “‘Fear not!’ said he, for mighty dread Had seized their troubled mind. ‘Glad tidings of great joy I bring To you and all mankind'” Here he picks at the end of verse 9 where the first stanza ended and continues on through verse 10 which reads, “and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Tate continues his journey through the passage as he writes in the third stanza, “To you, in David’s town, this day Is born of David’s line, A Savior, who is Christ the Lord, And this shall be the sign,” Here he paraphrases the words of verses 11 – 12 which read, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you.”

There is no question of the Biblical solidity of the Tate’s Christmas ballad as he continues his paraphrase by writing, “The heavenly Babe you there shall find, To human view displayed, All meanly wrapped in swathing bands, And in a manger laid.” Here he retells the the remainder of verse 12 which reads, “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

In the fifth stanza Tate writes, “Thus spake the seraph and forthwith Appeared a shining throng of angels praising God on high, Who thus addressed their song.” He he paraphrases verse 13 which reads, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying.”

Finally, in the last stanza Tate writes, “All glory be to God on high, And to the Earth be peace; Good will henceforth from Heaven to men, Begin and never cease.” Tate has gone through the entire passage and finishes with the summary of verse 14 which reads, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Yes there is something nice about a ballad, a song that simply tells a story.  In this case, the story that God had come to earth, the Messiah had been born.  Unfortunately, it is so easy to find ourselves singing the words without thinking about them.  Next time you sing “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night” listen to what you are saying and realize that you are proclaiming the birth of the Savior of the World.

 

 

Read more about “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.”

 

The First Noel

The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay tending their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east, beyond them far;
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

And by the light of that same star
Three Wise Men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

This star drew nigh to the northwest,
Over Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then did they know assuredly
Within that house the King did lie;
One entered it them for to see,
And found the Babe in poverty.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then entered in those Wise Men three,
Full reverently upon the knee,
And offered there, in His presence,
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Between an ox stall and an ass,
This Child truly there He was;
For want of clothing they did Him lay
All in a manger, among the hay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught,
And with His blood mankind hath bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

If we in our time shall do well,
We shall be free from death and hell;
For God hath prepared for us all
A resting place in general.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Words & Music: Traditional English Carol

 


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2:8 – 15

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:1 – 11


 

 

I am fascinated by the misconception people have about the Christmas story from carols. But it really isn’t surprising. People sing carols far more that they read Luke 2 or Matthew 2. When I started working on this carol, I hesitated on even doing it. But the more I looked at it, I realized that this beloved carol does not teach anything that is unscriptural, it simply takes some license in speculations of things we are not told. So, I have chosen to look at “The First Noel”

We hear it sung every year. We probably sing it every year. But does anyone really know what Noel means. We know it as the french word meaning Christmas. Now I have no question that this is indeed the contemporary word for Christmas, but what are its origins. One explanation is that it is derived for the Latin, “natalis” meaning birth. (This is where we get the English word Nativity, the Spanish word Navidad and the Italian word Natale.) Now this is the most commonly accepted answer, but it seems interesting that all these other languages maintained some appearance of the original, yet French did not.

A couple other explanation I found are that it is derived from the french word “nouvelles” meaning “news”. This would fit with the idea that the birth of Christ was Good News.

The final one says that is comes from ancient Gaulish. It is derived from the words “Noio” or “Neu” meaning “new” and “Helle” meaning “light”. In this case the Noel is the new light that came upon the world.

All this is fascinating, but I do not speak french and I am certainly not an etymologist. The simple answer is that today, it means Christmas whether it comes from the birth, the announcement or the new light that entered the world.

So the Christmas carol begins by telling us that it “Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.” Yes the news of the birth of Christ, the light of the world, was first proclaimed to the shepherds. Simple shepherds who had done nothing to warrant this gift. But it is to them that it comes. Not the first of this creative license is found in the line, “On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.” Yes, it is true that we do not know if it was cold or if it was a winter night. But this paints a picture for us a shepherd set apart from everything else that is going on.

So the carol continues that the star appeared in the sky. The implication of the verse is that the Shepherds saw the star. Again, while there is nothing that tells us this in the Bible, there is no reason to think that they could not have seen the star. It also says the star shined both day and night, this one I think I am going to have to disagree with, but again it is an attempt to emphasize the brilliance of the star.

The star that beckoned to the wise men “To seek for a King.” Yes it does say three wise men, and most of us are familiar with this one. There were indeed three gifts, but it does not tell us how many wise men there were. So the wise men followed the star until it came to rest over Bethlehem. This is how they knew that they had found the place where the king was. The carol then says, “And found the Babe in poverty.” We don’t know the financial situation of the Holy family, but this is clearly a reference to the fact that he was born in a stable. This is why it later says, “Between an ox stall and an ass.” Of course the wise men did not find Jesus in the manger. Matthew 2:11 tells us that they came to the house.

It is here where they found the child, the young King, and they presented him gifts worthy of a King. The gifts of “gold and myrrh and frankincense.”

Now my intent here was not to ruin a beloved old traditional hymn, but to remind us that our final authority must always be the Bible. It is there that we must always check out facts. Many a well meaning person has been creative with the Bible accounts to the point where they have altered the message. I do not think this is the case here. So I invite you, if you love this carol, continue to sing it for in it we declare the greatest truth of all when we sing, “Then let us all with one accord, Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught, And with His blood mankind hath bought.”

 

 

Read more about “The First Noel.”

God Is Not Dead, Nor Doth He Sleep

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864
Music by John B. Calkin, 1872

 


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:8 – 14

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Romans 5:1

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
John 12:46


 

It’s been 2000 years since the Angels declared in Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Yes they declares peace on earth, yet when we look around it can be hard to remember this. Fighting continues around the world. People killing each other over meaningless things. Where is the peace on earth.

This is what went through the head of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas 1863. Two years earlier he had lost his wife in a tragic fire in which he was seriously injured trying to save her. Now he found himself in Washington DC to see his oldest son who had been seriously wounded, possibly paralyzed in the civil war. And the war raged on, just a few months earlier more than 45,000 soldiers had died at the battle of Gettysburg.

It was truly a dark time as a nation and for Longfellow personally. It is in this darkness that he penned the words to the Christmas hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

As was often the custom in days past, and still in many places, all the churches would ring their bells on Christmas morning. A beautiful musical reminder echoing throughout the skies of the joyous news that the Angels had declared that first Christmas, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. . . . Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:10 – 11, 13 – 14)

If only for a brief moment, we are reminded that there is hope. Jesus said in John 12:46, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” Christ had come into the world to bring light peace to all mankind. But this peace is not first between men, but between God and man. This is why Christ was born. For as Romans 5:1 tells us, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Yet Longfellow can not escape the pain of the darkness that seems to surrounds him. A truth found in John 3:19 where we read, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” So he writes, “And in despair I bowed my head ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.’”

Christ came that we might have peace with God and bring peace on earth. This peace on earth is a peace that can only when we set aside petty difference and focus on the reason for Christ birth, peace with God. A message that rings from “the belfries of all Christendom.”

And so, Longfellow is reminded that there is still hope. While there are still problems that seem to flow throughout the world God is faithful to His promises. And while they may not happen in our time, He will not fail. Just as 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Yes, darkness does still exist in this world, but through the gift of Christ light has come. There is hope in the darkness. A hope that rings forth with the bells on Christmas morning. No “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

 

 

Read more about “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Morn.

Silent Night, Holy Night

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 Savior is born,
Christ the Savior 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.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Words by Josef Mohr, ca 1817
Music by Franz Gruber, 1820

 


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

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.
Psalm 4:8

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.
Ephesians 1:7

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Luke 1:29 – 33


 

I don’t know if your cupboard is like ours, but the dishes we have are used regularly. Some of the dishes may have a few chips, but you know that comes from regular us. Now we do have some special dishes. You know what I am talking about, the “fine china.” Those dishes that only come out for extremely special occasions, whatever those may be. This is not really that unusual. Whether it is dishes, clothes, or anything people often have the everyday items and then those that are set apart for something special. This is the definition of the New Testament Greek word “hagios” which we translate in English as holy.

Now while this word has become a commonly used word in the everyday language, it true meaning is often missed. But in the case of the Christmas hymn, “Silent Night, Holy Night” its true meaning shines through. Holy – To be set apart by or for God.

Josef Mohr begins by setting the tone of a quite and peaceful evening with the words “Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright.” With this as the background he begins to paint for us a picture. He writes, “Round yon virgin mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild.” A reminder that Jesus was the fulfillment of a prophecy given by Isaiah in Chapter 7, verse 14 where he writes, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

The first verse ends with the words, “sleep in heavenly peace.” Now while this at first glance may seem to be a reference to the Christ child sleeping. However, when we look closer it in light of Psalm 4:8 which reads, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.” it seems rather to refer to the city and the peace that has descended on upon the world with Christ presence.

The hymn continues by recounting the events of Luke 2:8 – 14 which reads, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”

He is the Messiah, the Lord. It is this theme that Mohr continues with when he writes, “Son of God, love’s pure light.” He is the Messiah, the Lord and He is the light and “in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

The light shines forth and Mohr uses the imagery to transition to a new idea. For the lawn comes with the dawn, and he writes, “Radiant beams from Thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace.” Jesus came to extend the grace of God to all people. This is why Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” This is why Jesus came, and his birth is but the beginning, the “dawn of redeeming grace.” From the moment he was born, he was there for this purpose. From the moment he was born he was the Son of God (Luke 1:32) So the Mohr wrote, “Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,”

This night was indeed set apart for special time in all history. It was truly a Holy night, for on this night God came to earth to redeem the world. For this reason, those who come to know the peace that can be found in Jesus alone join together with the proclamation, “Christ the Savior is born!”

 

 

Read more about “Silent Night.”