December 19 – Hope was Born This Night

December 19

Hope was Born This Night

Hope is a necessary thing.  It is not a luxury.  It is not an option.  We may need water and food and air to survive, but we need hope to thrive.  So how do we have hope?  Where is our hope found?  In this dark world, is there a light at the end of the tunnel, or is that flicker an oncoming train?

In Psalm 42:5a, the Psalmist asks a very important question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”  In other words, life is hard!  My spirit feels crushed!  I am prone to discouragement!  Under the tree of my life today I can see more hardships than blessings.  What am I to do?  Is your soul cast down today?  Are you in turmoil?

The Psalmist continues with the solution to our down cast soul, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”  The solution for our spirit today is hope for tomorrow.

Hope for tomorrow means that we do not believe that today (or yesterday) was the best things will ever be.  We are tempted to think that our past was the “good old days.”  As we age, we are also tempted to think that the end of our lives will only be about loss:  loss of health, deaths of friends and families, activities we can no longer enjoy.  With this perspective, our past or our present are the pinnacles of existence, and everything else is simply downhill.  If our perspective is only earth bound, then there may be some truth to this existential depression.  However, if we know the God of the universe, we have access to an unending hope . . . because our hope is anchored to something OUTSIDE this life.

God is eternal.  When we “hope in God” we connect our perspective to Him.  In eternity, we are saved.  In eternity, our broken and breaking bodies are upgraded to an imperishable sort.  In eternity, God richly provides for all our needs.  In eternity, we do not sin or struggle.  With this eternal perspective, we can have hope now!

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God demonstrated His intimate connection between the world in which we live and His eternal order.  Jesus came here to give us a tangible and living hope, to provide a way for us to enter eternity.  When we place our faith in Christ, we can have a hope today based on what He has promised us tomorrow.  And Christmas is a reminder of that.

The Psalmist ends 42:5 by reminding us to demonstrate our hope in God by praising Him.  To help with that, listen to the contemporary Christmas song, “Hope was Born this Night” by the Sidewalk Prophets, and hear “the echoes of grace of our Savior’s embrace because hope was born this night.” 

Hope was Born this Night – Sidewalk Prophets

Tonight I can see a star shine

And its splendor fills up the sky

It’s the same that appeared

And the wisemen revered

When Hope was born this night

Out upon the snowy fields

There’s a silent peace that heals

And it echoes the grace

Of our Savior’s embrace

Because Hope was born this night

Glory to God in the highest

Peace on earth

Goodwill to men

Let all of the world

Sing the chorus of joy

Because Hope was born this night

I can hear the Christmas bells ringing

As softly a church choir sings

It’s the song used to praise

The Ancient of Days

When Hope was born this night

There are angels in this place

And my heart resounds in the praise

Like a shepherd so scared

I’ll rejoice and declare

That Hope was born this night

Glory to God in the highest

Peace on earth

Goodwill to men

Let all of the world

Sing the chorus of joy

Because Hope was born this night

 

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

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

December 18 – Away in a Manger

December 18

Away in a Manger

A “manger” is an animal’s feeding trough.  After Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph placed Him in one such trough.  This reality is sung about in the song “Away in a Manger.”  This fact is so commonplace to us since the Christmas story is so familiar.  However, have you ever stopped to wonder exactly WHY God had Jesus placed in a manger that first Christmas day?

While certainly the repurposed manger helped symbolize the humility of Jesus, Luke 2:12 gives us the specific reason for the trough. “And this will be a sign for you, you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth and lying in the manger.” These words (spoken by the Angels to the shepherds, inviting them to visit Jesus after His birth) indicate that the manger crib was the sign to let the shepherds know which baby Jesus was.  In others words, there were other babies in Bethlehem that night, but only one was wrapped in cloth and lying in an animal’s feeding trough.  That One was Jesus.

Since every Jewish mom would wrap their child in cloths, it was the manger that highlighted Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.  The Angels basically used the manger as a spotlight.  The shepherds would go house to house until they found the baby in the feeding trough.  When they found THAT child, they would worship Him.

I think it is important to reflect on the BED Jesus lay in being the distinguishing factor as to His identity.  This lets us know that He otherwise LOOKED like a normal child.  He was not glowing in holiness . . . He looked normal.  He was not talking in perfect language . . . He sounded like a normal baby (meaning He probably was crying, despite  what the lyrics of the Christmas Carol might suggest).  Everything about Jesus looked normal, so the Angels could not identify Jesus to the shepherds through His physical appearance.  So they described the bed He lay in.

Friends, this simple point helps remind us that the Son of God really did become the Son of Man.  Jesus really did become fully human, identifying down to all the sights and sounds of “normal.”  This reminds us that, “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)” Jesus knows what it means to live a normal human life.  He lived a “normal” human life in every way . . . except that He did not sin.  Therefore, He can help us and forgive us as we deal with the sin in our own life as well! 

As you sing “Away in a Manger” this Christmas season, be reminded that Jesus’ bed (not His body) revealed His uniqueness that first Christmas night.  He knows normal, and so He can help normal people – like you and me.

Away in a Manger

Away in a manger

No crib for a bed

The little Lord Jesus

Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the sky

Looked down where He lay

The little Lord Jesus

Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing

The Baby awakes

The little Lord Jesus

No crying He makes

I love Thee, Lord Jesus

Look down from the sky

And stay by my cradle

Till morning is nigh

Be near me, Lord Jesus

I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever

And love me I pray

Bless all the dear children

In Thy tender care

And fate us for heaven

To live with Thee there

 

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

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

December 17 – Silent Night

December 17

Silent Night

“You have found it!  The right song!  God be praised!” said the organist to Priest Joseph Mohr at a Catholic Church in the Austrian Alps just before Christmas 1818.  The organ had broken down, and the Priest and his musician were trying to compose a song that would be fitting the majesty of Christmas, but would not require the booming sound of the organ.  The simple song that was written (to be accompanied by a guitar), was “Silent Night.”  This Christmas, this song celebrates its 200th birthday!  What a gift born out of necessity.

Two things come to mind when I learned of the origin story for this song:

  1. “Contemporary” styled Church music (with guitars and other instruments) have been around a long time!
  2. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Just think, if the organ had not broken, this song might never have been written.  As a Pastor who has planned a lot of Christmas services, I can only imagine that the broken organ was a major inconvenience and potentially a discouragement during the holiday season.  But God took this challenge and (in the midst of it) gave the church an enduring gift.

Romans 8:28 reflects on the sovereignty of God by saying, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  God is able to take the broken instruments in our lives and work through them to make a beautiful song.

As you sing “Silent Night” this year, remember where it came from.  Think about the things in your life right now that seem out of tune.  Trust the Lord to work through them for good.

Silent 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!

 

 

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

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

 

“What Child is This” Sermon Audio

On Sunday, December 16, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 2:1-10 (and select other passages).  This message was part 3 in “The Christmas Carols” series and highlighted the hope behind the song, “What Child is This?”  Below is the audio from the sermon to listen to or share.

 

To listen offline, click the link below to download:

The Christmas Carols #3 12.16.18

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

To view the livestream of the service on Facebook, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fwildwoodchurch%2Fvideos%2F270425596927095%2F&show_text=0&width=560
 

 

“What Child is This” – Sermon Questions

On Sunday, December 16, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 1:1, 2:1-2, 10-11.  This message also focused on the chorus of the song “What Child is This” and was part 3 in “The Christmas Carols” sermon series.  Below are a set of questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 1:1, 2:1-2, 10-11
  3. Jesus is “the Christ.”  What is your best understanding of what this title means?
  4. Jesus is the promised One who brings victory over Satan, righteous rule among the nations of the earth, and forgiveness from our sins.  In the past 30 days, brainstorm some challenges you have faced.  Then take a moment to thank God for how (in Christ Jesus), these challenges are addressed.
  5. What is the revelation that you have received about Jesus Christ.  Make a list.
  6. In what ways do you need to reorient your life to make your relationship with Jesus Christ a priority for you?
  7. What are some tangible ways in which you can “bow before Jesus” this year?
  8. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

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: