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.

December 9 – O Come All Ye Faithful

December 9

O Come All Ye Faithful

Every year on my son’s birthday, we find special ways to celebrate his life.  One of the common things we will do is have a birthday party.  When we have a party, one of the critical questions to answer is “who will we invite to the party?”  Some years, the guest list has consisted of only family.  Other years, we have invited only a couple of friends.  Still other years, we invited all the boys on a team or in his class.

Whatever the determined guest list, the next step is to invite those guests to attend – so an email, phone call, or post card heads in the direction of friends and family.  Those who receive the invite then have a choice, will they attend?  Are they able?

I was thinking about this dynamic as I look over the lyrics of one of my most beloved Christmas Carols, “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  This song recounts the birth day of Jesus Christ.  At His birth, a “party” broke out near the manger.  Of course Mary and Joseph were there, but soon others began to make their way to the gathering.  God the Father went out of His way to invite two very different (and unlikely) groups to attend the party – shepherds and Magi (see Luke 2:8-20, and Matthew 2:1-12).  The shepherds represented common Jewish people – a class of citizens that would normally NEVER have been invited to a religious ceremony or royal birth.  The Magi were Gentiles from a faraway land who would have had no expectation of inclusion in the plans of the God of Israel.  Yet, at Jesus’ birth day party, God sends an angelic invite to the shepherds and a starry message to the Magi inviting them to come.

When these invites come, the shepherds and Magi have a choice.  Will they attend?  Are they able?  Both groups move toward the manger.  Both groups decide that they cannot miss the opportunity to be included in this special moment.  As a result, both are incredibly blessed.  They were not able on their own, but by God’s grace, they find their stories find meaning in Christ.

Now, I want you to think about your own life for a moment.  By virtue of you reading this devotional, knowing these songs, reading the Christmas story, you have received an invitation from your Heavenly Father.  An invite to come to Jesus and find your hope in Him. 

This invitation from God is not based on our performance but on His grace.  It is sinful people like you and me, like the shepherds and wise men, who get the invite to come to Jesus and find our hope and forgiveness and life in Him.  God desires that we open this invitation by faith and trust in Jesus as the Son of God who takes away the penalty of our sins through His death on the cross.  Have you placed your faith in Jesus?  If not, hear the words of today’s song as an invite from God to come and adore Him and place your faith in Jesus.

O Come All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful

Joyful and triumphant

O come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem

Come and behold Him

Born the king of angels

 

Oh come let us adore Him

Oh come let us adore Him

Oh come let us adore Him

 

Christ the Lord

Sing, Choirs of angels

Sing in exultation

Sing all ye citizens of heaven above!

Glory to God

Glory in the highest

 

Oh come let us adore Him

Oh come let us adore Him

Oh come let us adore Him

Christ the Lord

 

Yea, Lord we greet thee

Born this happy morning

Jesus to Thee be all glory given

Word of the Father

Now in flesh appearing

 

Oh come let us adore Him

Oh come let us adore Him

Oh come let us adore Him

Christ the Lord

 

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

 

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

December 8 – Mary Did You Know?

December 8

Mary Did You Know?

In 1991 Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry wrote a modern Christmas song that has become a contemporary “classic.”  In its short history, this song has been recorded by many contemporary artists, and sung in many church services. 

The song asks a simple rhetorical question:  Mary, did you know who your Son was?  The question is expanded throughout the song citing both the salvation Jesus would bring and the miracles He would work.  Did Mary know while holding Him in Bethlehem’s barn who Jesus really was?

This song is musically beautiful, but it also shines a spotlight on the paradox of the Sovereign God becoming a dependent baby.  But for all of its beauty, is it accurate?  Did Mary know?  If so, what did Mary know?

From the very beginning, Mary certainly knew that Jesus was not a normal baby.  Take a moment and read Luke 1:26-38.  In these verses, Mary finds out she is pregnant through a conversation with the angel Gabriel.  In this conversation she would come to know:

  • She had found favor with God (1:28-30)
  • She was pregnant with a Son, even though she was a virgin (1:31)
  • Her Son would be the Son of God (1:32a, 35)
  • Her Son would be the promised Messiah (1:32b)
  • Her Son’s Kingdom would know no end (1:33)

For nine months Mary carried Jesus with the words of the Angel (no doubt) reverberating in her ears and echoing through her heart.  Then, when Jesus was born, angels and shepherds, and Magi show up and remind her of the supernatural nature of her Son.  As He grows up, she continued to know that Jesus was unique.  She even had an expectation that He could do miracles (like turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana – John 2). 

So, based on these verses, did Mary know?  Yes.  I think she knew.

However, let’s not make Mary into more than she was.  She was certainly favored by God, but she was still human.  At one point, she (and Jesus’ half brothers) openly questioned His methods (Matthew 12:46-50).  After Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary was not sitting outside the tomb on the morning fo the third day expecting to see the stone rolled away.  She (like the other disciples) thought the Dream died on the cross. 

So, in one sense Mary knew, but in another sense she didn’t.

So, the question asked in this song reminds us that at times we can KNOW a truth about God, but still have questions about how it looks in our lives.  Can you relate?  Allow this tension to encourage you today in the areas of your life where you know, but in another sense don’t know. 

Mary Did You Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again

The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?

That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Oh

Mary did you know?

 

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

 

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

“The Christmas Carols” Part 2 – Sermon Preview

Later today, I will have the distinct privilege of leading the Memorial service of my friend Mike Hargis.  Mike lived his life well, as evidenced by the obvious influence he has had in his family, community, and church.  We also know that Mike is experiencing eternal life today in heaven.  However, Mike is not present in heaven today because he lived his life well . . . He is in heaven today because of the grace of a loving God who sent Jesus to die in His place to take the penalty for his sins, and to forever reconcile Mike to God.  Mike received that gift from Jesus by faith, and as a result, He is now alive forevermore — though his earthly life failed, his eternal life in Jesus continues.

As I prepare for this Memorial service, and reflect on the life of my friend, because of the truths stated above, I also cannot help but reflect upon the life of Jesus Christ . . . who came to us full of grace and truth in Bethlehem and beyond, giving us the chance to become sons and daughters of God.  John 1 states, “For as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name.”  This verse is an invitation to “Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!  Come and adore Him!”  If we embrace by faith what Jesus has done for us (like Mike did) we can approach death triumphantly and adore Jesus, not just for the season but for all eternity.

This Sunday at Wildwood, we will be continuing our “The Christmas Carols” series by looking at the song “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  We will specifically be looking at John 1:1-14 as an anchor for the truth that this song proclaims.  We also will welcome all the kids into a portion of the worship services to sing some carols to us this weekend.  Should be a great Sunday!  Join us in our 9:45 or 11:00 service . . . and bring friends!