December 16 – What Child is This?

December 16

What Child is This?

At the age of 29, William Dix was living in Glasgow, Scotland working as an insurance salesman.  He contracted a serious illness that left him in bed, and also (eventually) depressed.  For the promising young hymn writer, it looked like his illness would limit his ministry.  But, the Lord is not restricted by our limitations.  In our weakness, the strength of the Lord is often most clearly seen.

It was from this bed of despair that William Dix wrote the hymn “What Child is This?”  The song is a simple Q&A style, where the verses ask questions that the chorus answers. 

  • Question:  “What child is this that lay to rest in Mary’s lap sleeping?” 
  • Answer:  “This, this is Christ the King!” 

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus asks His disciples who they thought He was.  Dix’s song points Jesus’ words forward to us.  During the Christmas season we see depictions of Baby Jesus everywhere.  As we see these depictions of Jesus, may we ask ourselves the question of the song, “What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”  Some may say that Jesus is a prophet or a religious leader.  But who do you say that Jesus is?  Is He just those things, or something more?

May we come to know (as Peter did in Matthew 16) that Jesus is the Christ (Savior), the Son of the Living God.  And because He is a living God, He offers us a living hope, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).”

From a place of personal frailty, Dix reminded us of the power of God in Christ.  The Child that lay sleeping on Mary’s lap offers hope and life to all who come to know His true identity and trust in Him.  Who do you say this child is?

What Child Is This?

What Child is this Who, laid to rest

On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing

Haste, haste, to bring Him laud

The Babe, the Son of Mary

Why lies He in such mean estate

Where ox and lamb are feeding?

Good Christian, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through

The cross be borne for me, for you

Hail, hail the Word made flesh

The Babe, the Son of Mary

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh

Come peasant, king to own Him

The King of kings salvation brings

Let loving hearts enthrone Him

Raise, raise a song on high

The virgin sings her lullaby

Joy, joy for Christ is born

The Babe, the Son of Mary

 

To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

December 15 – O Little Town of Bethlehem

December 15

O Little Town of Bethlehem

In 1868, Episcopalian Pastor Phillip Brooks needed a song for the kids to sing at a Christmas service at his church.  Not satisfied with any other songs he had heard, Brooks decided to write a song himself.  Inspired by a Christmas Eve service Brooks had attended in Bethlehem during a Holy Land trip three years prior, Brooks sat down and wrote the song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  Not only did the children in his church sing this song in their Christmas program, but millions more continue to sing the song today, some 150 years later.  Think about that for a moment.  This Philadelphia Pastor has a top hit that has lasted 15 decades!  Knowing that best sellers in the iTunes music store top the charts for only about 15 days and even the best of our contemporary praise and worship songs might only persist for about 15 years, Brooks song is amazingly durable.  What is it about this song that has allowed it to endure?

I think the message of this hymn is very powerful.  I have always been struck by the phrase at the end of the first verse, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”  The idea that Jesus Christ comforts our deepest fears and provides for us our greatest hope is an amazingly powerful message!  As I ponder the significance of this phrase, I am reminded of 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Our deepest fear is death.  Our greatest hope is eternal life in fellowship with our Creator, the salvation of our souls.  Truly, in Christ the hopes and fears of all the years are met.

As you sing this hymn this year may you be reminded of the comfort and hope Jesus Christ provides to you and me.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

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 his 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.

 

To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

December 14 – Joy Has Dawned!

December 14

Joy has Dawned!

Great Christian songs are not just old.  There are wonderful songs currently being written that reflect upon the majesty of Jesus.  Of the groups currently writing modern hymns, my favorite is Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  They have written a number of very popular modern hymns including the “Power of the Cross” and “In Christ Alone.”  They also have written a few songs that reflect on the birth of Jesus.  Of these new Christmas songs, my favorite is “Joy Has Dawned.”

In “Joy Has Dawned” each verse reflects upon the paradox of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Just some of the poetry in this song:

  • “Not with fanfare from above, not with scenes of glory, but a humble gift of love – Jesus born of Mary.”
  • “Hands that set the stars in place, shaped the earth in darkness, cling now to a mother’s breast, vulnerable and helpless.”
  • “Shepherds bow before the Lamb, gazing at His glory”
  • “Son of Adam, Son of heaven, given as a ransom; reconciling God and man, Christ our mighty champion!”

These statements reminded me of Philippians 2:4-11, where the birth  of Jesus is described as a step of tremendous humility – “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 2:6-8).”

The humility Jesus shows is meant to do more than just inspire us, it is to instruct us with a model for our lives.  If the Creator God humbled Himself in love to come to the earth for us, then we should (following that example) humble ourselves in service to others.  As you sing “Joy has Dawned” today may the humble example of Jesus inspire you that joy dawns not when we cling onto our life and rights but when we freely give it away in love for others.

Joy Has Dawned

Joy has dawned upon the world,

Promised from creation—

God’s salvation now unfurled,

Hope for ev’ry nation.

Not with fanfares from above,

Not with scenes of glory,

But a humble gift of love—

Jesus born of Mary.

Sounds of wonder fill the sky

With the songs of angels

As the mighty Prince of Life

Shelters in a stable.

Hands that set each star in place,

Shaped the earth in darkness,

Cling now to a mother’s breast,

Vuln’rable and helpless.

Shepherds bow before the Lamb,

Gazing at the glory;

Gifts of men from distant lands

Prophesy the story.

Gold—a King is born today,

Incense—God is with us,

Myrrh—His death will make a way,

And by His blood He’ll win us.

Son of Adam, Son of heaven,

Given as a ransom;

Reconciling God and man,

Christ, our mighty champion!

What a Savior! What a Friend!

What a glorious myst’ry!

Once a babe in Bethlehem,

Now the Lord of hist’ry

 

To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

The Christmas Carols Week 3 (Sermon Preview)

At the church where I grew up, we had a number of traditions to help us celebrate the Advent season.  One tradition was the “Hanging of the Greens” service, held early every December.  This Sunday evening service featured a number of Christmas musical presentations on the night when we decorated the church for the holiday. Our church was really blessed by a Music Director (Lauren and his wife Juanita) who did a fantastic job leading the choir and musicians for this special night.

On this night each year, Lauren would make the same joke . . . and it would make me laugh every time.  Lauren would make sure we understood the true meaning of the name of that service.  “Hanging of the Greens” referred to the placement of the holly, not an execution of the Music Leader – Lauren GREENE and his wife Juanita (the featured vocalist).  Worship wars are real inside churches (i.e. “sing more hymns” vs. “sing more current songs”) but at Christmas time it was “Peace on earth” and goodwill toward the greens AND the GREENES!

While no one at East Cross United Methodist Church ever REALLY made that mistake, it was funny to joke about.  In church circles, we do use a lot of jargon and terminology that can be misunderstood.  Take the word “Christ” for example.  What does it mean?  Is it Jesus last name?  Is it something else?  Does it matter?

Well, it does matter what that word means, and at CHRIST-mas time, it is especially important for us to know its definition.  This Sunday at Wildwood, we will be continuing our “The Christmas Carols” series by looking at the song “What Child is This?”  This song asks a question and provides an answer.


Q:  What child is this?


A:  This, this is CHRIST the King!

So, what is the “Christ” that this song sings about?  Sunday, December 16 we will see.  Hint – it is NOT Jesus’ last name, but a title full of rich significance.  Join us as we look at that together this Sunday in our 9:45 and 11:00 services.  Also, make sure you stay to the end of the services, as our worship team will be performing their special rendition of “Carol of the Bells” this weekend.  Make plans to be with us Sunday . . . and bring your friends!

December 13 – The First Noel

December 13

The First Noel

In 1833 William Sandys wrote the hymn, “The First Noel.”  The song details the story of Jesus’ birth, with each verse of the hymn telling a new part of the story, separated by the chorus refrain, “Noel!  Born is the King of Israel!”  The word “Noel” is a French word for Christmas that comes from Latin roots that mean “New birth.”  Therefore, the song is ultimately about how the “new birth” of Jesus in Bethlehem’s stable leads to the New Birth of the people of God in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  Again Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:3-8, “‘I [Jesus] tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’  ’How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked.  ’Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sounds, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’” 

These verses talk about the new birth that believers in Jesus Christ have.  A Christian’s “second birth” occurs because in Christ, their full identity has changed.  The core identity of who they were before Christ was an “object of wrath” before a Holy God.  After trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, the Christian’s core identity is as a child of God . . . an heir according to His promise.

What this means is that believers in Christ celebrate the first birth of Jesus because it provides for them their new birth into the family of God.  That is why the sixth verse of this hymn has such power to me.  It begins, “Let us all with one accord . . . ”  Since this song has been sung for 185 years now, our voices join the “one accord” with literally millions who have sung this very song.  The verse concludes with declaring the reason for our cross-generational unity, “With His (Jesus) Blood mankind hath bought.”  Because of the blood of Jesus Christ, all believers now have a second, “new” birth.  With this in mind, the chorus sounds off like a 1930s newspaper salesman shouting, “Extra, Extra, read all about it!”  The chorus shouts out, “New birth!  New birth!  New birth!  New birth!  Born is the One who brings us new birth!

Think about that as you reflect on the lyrics of this great Christmas hymn this season.

The First Noel

The First Noel, the Angels did say

Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay

In fields where they lay keeping 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

O’er Bethlehem it took its rest

And there it did both Pause and stay

Right o’er the place where Jesus lay.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those Wise men three

Full reverently upon their knee

And offered there in His presence

Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

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 nought

And with his blood mankind has bought.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel!

 

 

To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

December 12 – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

December 12

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

There is a great scene in the 1995 movie “Apollo 13 where Tom Hanks (playing the part of Astronaut Jim Lovell) sits in his back yard staring at the moon.  Lovell was soon to pilot the famed Apollo 13 spaceship all the way to a lunar landing.  As he sat in his suburban backyard on terra firm, however, Lovell was thousands of miles away from his destination.  While staring at the moon, Lovell closed one eye and extended his hand in front of him.  The captain then extended his thumb up into the air.  The camera switched to Lovell’s perspective and showed us the captain’s ability to make the moon disappear behind his thumb.

Now, two possible explanations exist regarding Lovell’s disappearing moon technique:

  1. The disappearance of the moon was an optical allusion created by the close proximity of the finger to the eyeball.  In other words, it was a matter of perspective.
  2. Tom Hanks has an extremely large thumb!  In other words, his thumb is bigger than the moon.

Of course, option one is the correct answer.  It also serves as a helpful reminder to you and me.

In our lives, the problems we face everyday have a very close proximity to our eyes.  Medical issues we deal with, relationships that crumble, dreams that are dashed, are so close to where we live that they feel absolutely enormous.  In fact, they feel so big, they can even cause us (as we close one eye of perspective under the strain) to not be able to see God in the midst of our difficulty.  As we ponder this phenomena, two possibilities exist:

  1. We have some really large problems . . . larger than the God who created the universe.
  2. We are allowing our current circumstances to create an optical allusion blinding us to the reality of the presence of our God.

This Christmas season, many of you are no doubt dealing with difficulty.  In fact, I would hazard a guess that virtually all of us are facing a tough trial of some kind.  Because of that, we might have a tendency to miss God this holiday season.  Under the stress and strain of life, we squint our eyes and see only that which is attached to our own hands.  However, do not be fooled.  God is there!  The infant born in Bethlehem is not small in stature . . . He is larger than life, and He is our Immanuel – God with us.  Because of this, we can sing loudly the chorus to the hymn “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” 

O Tidings of Comfort and Joy!  Comfort and Joy!  O Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

We are comforted because God does not disappear from us . . . He has come to us in Christ.  We have great joy because when we open both eyes of biblical perspective, we can see that the Lord has been here all along.  Remember, Jesus’ last words to His disciples were, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  This promise opens our eyes to dispel the allusion that we are alone.  He is here, and He is bigger than all of the problems and issues we face.  We can trust Him with all our problems, big and small.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

Fear not then, said the Angel let nothing you affright

This day is born a Savior of a pure Virgin bright

To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy

 

To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

December 11 – Breath of Heaven

December 11

Breath of Heaven

Do you want a “blessed” life?  Of course you do!  Who doesn’t, right?  Only a hardcore atheist that does not believe in a “Bless-or” is repelled by the concept of being blessed by their Creator.  However, what does the blessing of God look like, and how do we get on the blessed list . . . these are questions we often debate or question.

After Mary is visited by Gabriel and told she was carrying the Son of God, she goes to visit her relative Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45).  At that time, Elizabeth declares to Mary that she is indeed “blessed” by God (Luke 1:42).  Of course, the blessing Elizabeth was referring to was the Baby Mary was carrying in her womb . . . but a closer reading of this passage (in context) also reveals to us another way Mary was blessed in Luke 1.

After being visited by the Angel Gabriel, Mary was left to ponder her new found pregnancy in (somewhat) isolation.  Her parents would have been concerned.  Her betrothed (Joseph) was considering a divorce.  Who would believe her?  Did she really hear the Angel correctly?  These were probably some of the questions Mary was asking. 

So, where does she go?  How does God provide and bless Mary in the midst of her situation?  The Lord has Mary walk 50-70 miles to the hills of Judah to visit Elizabeth:  the only other woman in the world who would understand miraculous pregnancies (see Luke 1:5-25)!  The Lord blessed Mary through another person – her cousin Elizabeth’s company!

That said, here are two thoughts:

  1. Can you imagine what Mary may have been thinking as she walked to Elizabeth’s house?  The song “Breath of Heaven” shares a fictionalized perspective from Mary as she made that walk.  Listen to this song today as you relate to her circumstance.
  2. Realize that the “Breath of Heaven’s” blessing that fell on Mary at that time was not a second angelic visit, but a cup of coffee with her cousin. 

Where in your life right now are you longing for the supernatural provision of God?  Have you ever stopped to think that the blessing of God . . . the breath of heaven . . . may be coming to you by another member of the Body of Christ who lives down the street, or is in your small group, or is just a phone call away.  The supernatural blessing of God is often wrapped in natural paper.

Breath of Heaven

I have traveled many moonless nights

Cold and weary with a babe inside

And I wonder what I’ve done

Holy Father, You have come

And chosen me now to carry Your Son

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone?

Be with me now, be with me now

Breath of Heaven, hold me together

Be forever near me, breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness

Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy

Breath of Heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face

If a wiser one should have had my place?

But I offer all I am

For the mercy of Your plan

Help me be strong, help me be, help me

 

To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

December 10 – Strange Way to Save the World

December 10

Strange Way to Save the World

For good reason, Mary (the mother of Jesus) gets a lot of attention in the Christmas story.  After all, the Gospel of Luke gives us a number of details (throughout Luke 1-2) about Mary’s experiences while Jesus was in the womb and at His birth.  Further, it seems as though Joseph died by the time Jesus’ public ministry took off, while Mary lived on.  Therefore, there are more biblical records of Mary’s experience than Joseph’s.

All that said, it is important for us to think through Joseph’s experience in the story of Jesus’ birth – as it is a remarkable story of faith and faithfulness.

Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story of Joseph’s experience during the time Jesus was inside Mary’s womb.  Joseph and Mary were betrothed, but not yet married.  This meant that they had made the commitment to spend the rest of their lives together, but they had not yet begun to live together and sleep together.  Two days ago, we looked at Mary’s experience from Luke 1 as God announced (through an Angel) that Mary would be pregnant (even though she was a virgin) and have a Son who would be the Messiah.  This was HUGE news, and certainly would have been hard to believe for anyone who was not talking to Angels!  And at first, Joseph was NOT talking to Angels.  God first brought the news to Mary before He brought the news to Joseph.  So, with Mary pregnant, and Joseph looking only to natural explanations for this situation, Joseph decides to divorce Mary quietly – probably so that she could then marry whoever was the father of the child.

But it was not God’s will that Joseph would leave Mary.  So, an Angel intervened and visited Joseph to tell him that Mary’s child was indeed supernatural, and that Mary was telling the truth that the Baby was the Messiah. 

In today’s song, “Strange Way to Save the World,” we get to be a fly on the wall of Joseph’s room as he prays out loud, processing the news of Mary’s pregnancy and the Angel’s visit.  This fictional conversation is probably not far off from what Joseph must have been thinking that night after the Angel came. 

As you listen to this song today, may you also ponder the things about God that don’t make sense to you.  Things you might wish to “dismiss quietly” instead of receiving them as true.  Let this song remind you that though God’s ways are sometime “strange” to us, there is salvation and blessing in God’s plans in this world.

Strange Way to Save the World

I’m sure he must have been surprised

At where this road had taken him

Cause never in a million lives

Would he have dreamed of Bethlehem

And standing at the manger

He saw with his own eyes

The message from the angel come to life

And Joseph said Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade

Why Him with all the rulers in the world

Why here inside this stable filled with hay

Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl

Now I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say

But this is such a strange way to save the World

To think of how it could have been

If Jesus had come as He deserved

There would have been no Bethlehem

No lowly shepherds at His birth

But Joseph knew the reason love had to reach so far

And as he held the Savior in his arms

He must have thought why me, I’m just a simple man of trade

Why Him with all the rulers in the world

Why here inside this stable filled with hay

Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl

Now I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say

But this is such a strange way to save the world

Now, I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say

But this is such a strange way to save the world

Such a strange way to save the world

 

To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.

 

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

“O Come All Ye Faithful” Sermon Audio

On Sunday, December 9, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on John 1:1-5, 9-14.  This message was part 2 in “The Christmas Carols” series and helped further our understanding of the song “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  Below you will find the sermon audio to listen to or share with others.

 

To listen offline, click the link below to download:

The Christmas Carols #2 12.09.18

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To watch the worship service, use the Facebook live stream:

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“O Come All Ye Faithful” – Sermon Questions

This morning, December 9, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a message based on John 1:1-5, 9-14 and the words of the Christmas hymn “O Come all Ye Faithful.”  This message was part 2 in “The Christmas Carols” series.  Below are a set of questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read John 1:1-5, 9-14
  3. Jesus birth in Bethlehem was not His “beginning.”  Have you ever considered this before today?  What thoughts do you have about the Eternal nature of Jesus Christ?
  4. Have you ever imagined Jesus to be different in attitude from God the Father?  If so, in what way?  How does this passage address that idea?
  5. What are some of the reasons why you think people reject Jesus?
  6. Have you received Jesus in faith?  If so, what does this passage tell us is true about you?
  7. What would it look like for you to come in faith and adore Jesus this Christmas season?
  8. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.