HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING

Lk.2:13,14 – And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

The new birth makes everything new and special in our lives. I have been thinking this year about how much my new birth experience changed my view of everything related to Christmas. It changed my view of the Christmas traditions, especially the songs. I am still amazed at the beauty and the power of the historic Christmas carols that literally fill the air from Thanksgiving Day all the way until the New Year. Many of these songs are quite spiritual and carry the very spirit of revivals of long ago. One of those songs is HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING. It was originally a poem written by Charles Wesley and was soon adapted and changed by George Whitefield. It carries the power and revelation of these two spiritual giants. No wonder we are still singing this song almost 300 years later. Pay close attention as you read the words to this great Christmas hymn.

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King!”

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled.

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With th’ angelic host proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King!

Christ, by highest heaven adored:

Christ, the everlasting Lord;

Late in time behold him come,

Offspring of the favoured one.

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;

Hail, th’incarnate Deity:

Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King!

Hail! the heaven-born

Prince of peace!

Hail! the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings,

Risen with healing in his wings

Mild he lays his glory by,

Born that man no more may die:

Born to raise the son of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King !”

Like many of the historic Christmas songs this one is filled with spiritual revelation. It speaks of reconciliation from sin, the joy of salvation, the messianic birth, the deity of Christ, the new birth, His healing power, and the mystery of God being born in human flesh. The song is absolutely breathtaking. So what shall I do? I am going to join with Charles, George, and the angels and sing the glory of Christ’s birth this Christmas.

HIS SHOCKING BIRTH

Lk.2:6,7 – While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

It’s impossible for us to begin to understand the mystery of the human birth of the Son of God. How could the creator enter into His own creation? How could the creator of women be born of a woman? How could the One who feeds the whole earth be nourished from a woman’s breast? How could Someone who is all powerful be housed in the weakness of a human infant. As Paul the Apostle said, “Great is the mystery of godliness”. With all of our activities and distractions of the Christmas season it is easy to miss this incredible mystery that is all around. The Word of of God became a human and made His home in our midst. Here are some thoughts from Augustine on this Christmas miracle.

“Let’s blare “his glory among the nations, and his marvelous works among all the peoples”. He plays with a ball in a manger, but the manger contains the orb of the world. He drinks from His mother’s breasts but He’s fed by His Father’s Angels. He’s got Himself entangled with our mortality, but He drapes us with His own immorality. He enjoy’s adoration, and He’s tickled by lactation. He didn’t find a decent spot at the hostelry, but He’s made a nice nest for Himself in the hearts of all believers. He made infirmity look strong by making fortitude appear weak. Therefore, let’s look up at, more than we look down upon, His fleshly nativity! What did He do for us? After all, he raised humility to unheard of heights! All of which is another way of saying, let’s burn with His Charity so that we may enjoy His eternity!”

So let’s embrace the words of Augustine, “Let’s burn with His Charity (supernatural love) that we may enjoy His eternity”. What doe Augustine mean by this? It is the love of God that brought Christ to the earth. As we embrace Him His love begins to burn in us and through us. Others are swept up by His love and they too taste the precious love of our Savior. As we live this life of love we are preparing for the great eternal day when step into complete, infinite joy.

CHARLIE BROWN’S CHRISTMAS

Lk.2:8,9 – In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

 

What is the real meaning of Christmas? I mean really, everyone knows its not the parties and the egg nog or the shopping and the presents. Maybe you think its the “I’ll be home for Christmas” syndrome. No. That’s not it either. With all the days off, the shopping, and even doing good deeds for the needy alone can never capture what Christmas is all about. This is the question of the ages and even was the theme of the classic Holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Charlie Brown was struggling, frustrated about Christmas until his friend Linus gave him the answer. Here is a portion of an article from the Gazette talking about Charlie Brown’s Christmas special.

 

“During the making of the animated Christmas classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz had a meeting with Lee Mendelson, the show’s producer, and Bill Melendez, its lead animator. The discussion concerned Schulz’s insistence about including a New Testament scripture reading of the Christmas story from the Bible. The scripture reading was to be spoken by Peanuts character Linus Van Pelt in response to Charlie Brown’s lament, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Mendelson and Melendez both voiced their concern about the reading, with Melendez telling Schulz, “It’s very dangerous for us to start talking about religion now.” Schulz answered him by saying, “Bill, if we don’t, who will?” In the end, the scripture reading was retained, and the CBS special was the second-most watched show of the week when it debuted on December 9, 1965.”

 

I think it is quite interesting to see the political pressure the television folks felt in 1965. There was that unseen elephant in the room, sponsors and money that seemed to be on the line if Charles Schulz brought Christ into the equation. Shultz insisted and the scripture quote became the classic scene in the television show. I watched the show when it first aired when I was thirteen years old as well as seeing it many times since. The amazing thing about the show and why it stands out above any other Peanuts scene in history is that quote of the birth of Christ from the gospel of Luke. Without the quote it would have been another forgotten, worthless Christmas special. So that brings us to us. Are we willing to stand like Charles Shultz and Linus did or will we be plowed over by our godless, secular world?

SHEPHERDS AND SHEEP 2

Lk.2:8 – In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.

It seems like the Lord always chooses to work in the most unexpected ways, using the least likely people. If anyone else would announce the birth of a King surely it would come through proper channels. They would use a king or a famous prophet, never low life shepherds who smelled of sheep and other unsavory things. Now these were not ordinary shepherds at all. These shepherds were raising very particular sheep. These were the sheep who would have to be perfect, without spot or blemish. These sheep were to be used as sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem. Even though there task was important, they were still just shepherds. Here is how Charles Hutchins explains these sheep and shepherds.

“Shepherds were the lowest of Jewish society. They were not trusted – their testimony not usually permitted in court. If anything was ever stolen, there was an assumption that a shepherd did it. They were like modern-day gypsies, traveling to and fro – for obvious reasons. They were always ceremonially unclean – handling dead animals, assisting in the birth of new ones, dealing with all manner of issues in the wilderness that would cause them to become and remain unclean. Because of the nature of their job, they would not be able to take the time to become clean. Many suggest that God offered to them the first news of the Messiah’s birth because of society’s poor treatment of them. These shepherds were specially trained shepherds who took their jobs seriously. They were in charge of the flock in Bethlehem that supplied the Temple sacrifices. They knew the Law; they understood how important it was for the sacrificial lambs to be spotless and perfect. They would have protected those animals and would have especially made sure that the new-borns were taken care of.”

Think of the amazement of the Shepherds when they began to connect the dots. Their sheep were prophetic sheep, the real One was about to be be born in Bethlehem. This Lamb of God would be a King from the lineage of David. He would also be the messiah. To top it all off, the angel said He would be the Savior of the world. The Shepherds world changed that night, actually everyone’s world changed that night. Everyone else just didn’t know it yet.

SHEPHERDS AND SHEEP 1

Lk.2:8 – In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.

You ever take time to think about the Shepherds and sheep that the angels visited while announcing the birth of Christ? Were these random sheep and random shepherds or was there a point? I have heard grinches go on and on about how sheep would never be outside in winter and using this incredible God moment as some prooftext to discredit Christmas being on December 25. That’s not what this story is about. These particular shepherds and sheep were not random, these were sheep being prepared as temple sacrifices. They had to be raised somewhere and there were thousands of sacrificial lambs being offered in the temple. These shepherds raised lambs born for the altar just outside of Bethlehem all year long. These sheep were born to die. The real story was another lamb being born in Bethlehem that the angels were singing about that night. They were singing about the lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world. Charles Hutchins gives us a peek into the back story, why these shepherds and sheep were in Bethlehem.

“Mary and Joseph couldn’t get a room in the inn, but she was about to give birth. Where would be the best place to go? Where they knew other births were happening – albeit sheep. There were practical reasons for going there, but the simple truth is THAT is where God wanted His Son to be born. Why? Because the flock of Bethlehem, only a few miles from Jerusalem, were the sheep used for proper sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Those sheep born at Migdal Eder were destined to be slaughtered one day as part of the divine instructions for temple worship! They were born to die as sacrifices!

So there’s Mary giving birth to the Son of God, born as the one sacrifice for sins forever; chances were there were a dozen or so pregnant ewes also ready to give birth. And what did Joseph do? He took the new-born Child and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, the same clothes used to wrap those all-important new-born lambs. He laid Him in the manger.”

The angels came to these shepherds on purpose. This is what their lives had been about all along. They had known about a king, a messiah, and the restoration of their land. They knew about lambs and temple sacrifices. Now it was all coming together. This King, like David, would be the final sacrificial lamb.

NEVER THOUGHT JOY WOULD LOOK LIKE THIS

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”.

Luke 2:10 ESV

These angels brought a shocking promise, good news of great joy. At the end of they day everyone just wants to be happy. Coming together with other Christians provides a beautiful opportunity for us to take advantage of the spiritual atmosphere found there and for us to pursue our God given quest to be happy. Today’s promise that the Lord gave to the angels over 2000 years ago is still proving to be true. The church world today meets in many nations throughout the world. It’s when we come together for worship and the ministry of the Word that we find the dynamic of supernatural joy that the angels were stirred up about. Today, this joy is birthed in our hearts as we celebrate the coming of our Messiah Jesus. He has come and our world can never be the same. He has truly brought good news of great joy for all the people. Here are some thoughts from Matthew Henry about the joy of His birth.

“He furnishes them with abundant matter for joy: “Behold, I evangelize to you great joy; I solemnly declare it, and you have reason to bid it welcome, for it shall bring joy to all people, and not to the people of the Jews only; that unto you is born this day, at this time, a Savior, the Savior that has been so long expected, which is Christ the Lord, in the city of David”. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed; he is the Lord, Lord of all; he is a sovereign prince; nay, he is God, for the Lord, in the Old Testament, answers to Jehovah. He is a Savior, and he will be a Savior to those only that accept him for their Lord. “The Savior is born, he is born this day; and, since it is matter of great joy to all people, it is not to be kept secret, you may proclaim it, may tell it to whom you please.”

What I love about this promise is the fact that this joy is not only for all people, it is also specifically for me. Christ came to this world because of my need for true, lasting joy. Like the Shepherds from that field in Bethlehem, I just never thought the joy I was looking for would look like this.

WAS JESUS BORN DECEMBER 25 ?

LK. 2:9-12 – And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

All of my life there has been something mystical about Christmas Day. Now before I get lectures from the people who say “you know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th” let me share a couple of things with you. From the earliest times Christmas has been celebrated on December 25. As a matter of fact, Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), Tertullian (155-240 BC) and John Chrysostrom (349-407AD) believed December 25 was the day. They all quote a registry in the Roman archives of the census of Caesar Augustus that talk about “Mary the mother of Jesus” and give December 25 as the day.

The next thing that is often said is that shepherds wouldn’t be out in these fields in December. The thing many people fail to realize is that sheep were offered as sin offerings by the thousands all year round just a couple of miles from Bethlehem at the temple in Jerusalem. These were surely temple sheep being raised as offerings for the temple. If angels were going to visit shepherds, why not the ones raising the lambs sacrificed for our sins? Not that it really matters which day Jesus came, I’m just saying don’t let legalistic people still your joy about a date they don’t even know about themselves.

As for this special day, the Lord Himself seems to set it aside and make it special for His Glory. Businesses shut down, stores and restaurants close, and most people make it back home for Christmas. There is something about standing still as an individual, as a family, and as a people that centers us once again. Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King. Have you opened your heart to this incredible King? Have you made room in your life for Christmas? Have you made room in your life for Jesus? If not, open your heart right now and invite Him to be born in your heart this Christmas.

A SAVIOR IS BORN FOR YOU

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 2:10–11 ESV

This is only good news for someone who is already painfully aware of their need for a Savior. This good news touches the very heart of the gospel and the mission of the life and ministry of Jesus. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. Christ died for the ungodly. Until you see yourself in the category of sinners and the ungodly a Savior is meaningless to you. Once that happens, once you see your sin and His mercy, this is good news of great joy. This is the very joy of Christmas.

So for all the sinners reading this blog today, this Savior is for you. Jesus came to save us from our sins. This brings us to the very meaning of the word Savior. Savior comes from the greek word sozo. Here is Dick Mill’s definition of that beautiful Bible word.

“saved, sozo: To save, heal, cure, preserve, keep safe and sound, rescue from danger or destruction, deliver. Sozo saves from physical death by healing, and from spiritual death by forgiving sin and its effects. Sozo in primitive cultures is translated simply, “to give new life” and “to cause to have a new heart.”

So to be saved by the Savior brings in a whole world of remedy and cure. To be saved from sin deals with forgiveness. The Savior’s death on the cross cleanses us from every sin by His blood poured out on the cross. To be saved from sin also means deliverance from the power and bondage of sin. The Savior strikes at the very heart of the problem, our sinful desire for carnal fulfillment. It is the loveliness of the Savior, the beauty of knowing Him that liberates us from sin’s power. The work of the Savior also involves healing for our body and our emotions. The same sacrifice that frees us from sin destroys the power of sickness in our bodies and our minds. The Savior is our Healer, He has saved us from our diseases. This Savior Who was born for us also saves us from our enemies. All of the attacks that have been mounted against us are brought to nothing, the enemy has been stripped of His power and we are made totally free.

So there is good news of great joy for me and for you. On Christmas Day a Savior was born, Jesus Christ the Lord.

NO ROOM AT THE INN

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And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6–7 ESV

Every detail of the birth of Christ is amazing to me. Who would ever think of such a plan? For the creator to come to this minuscule planet in an insignificant country to be born in an insignificant town to poor parents is shocking. To be born to an unmarried virgin is scandalous. To be born in a stable with the animals seems really over the top. That’s the way our Lord seems to do most everything. The humility in His birth smells of authenticity, Christ was born as an outsider to die for the common man. Here are some thoughts from Matthew Henry on His birth.

“He was born in a stable; so some think the word signifies which we translate a manger, a place for cattle to stand to be fed in. Because there was no room in the inn, and for want of conveniences, nay for want of necessaries, he was laid in a manger, instead of a cradle. The word which we render swaddling clothes some derive from a word that signifies to rend, or tear, and these infer that he was so far from having a good suit of child-bed linen, that his very swaddles were ragged and torn. His being born in a stable and laid in a manger was an instance of the poverty of his parents. Had they been rich, room would have been made for them; but, being poor, they must shift as they could…. Christ would hereby put a contempt upon all worldly glory, and teach us to slight it.“

The fact that there was no room at the end hints at what the Apostle John said, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him”. He was rejected even from His birth and at the same time the first fruits of the nations came from hundreds of miles away just to see Him.

Today it is still the same for the Lord. People reject Him still, sometimes it is just more subtle. Often, its by altering His message to suit the spirit of the age, I think they call that making church relevant. Others reject Him outright saying that the Christian message is just too exclusive. What about you? Are you making room for Him in your life? That’s really what Christmas is all about, no room at the inn.

God centered anticipation – the dawning of a new dispensation

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Merry Advent Season

And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

Luke 2:12 ASV

December always catches us by surprise. Sometimes one can get irritated if you allow it to catch you on the wrong side of life. Having a God centered anticipation corrects the attitude. Most didn’t catch the birth of Christ, it was a uneventful moment in the chaos of life. Others were rudely interrupted so much that it altered their course in life. Heaven long ago prepared for an Incarnation, but Earth was not quite ready. (Interpreters Bible) It was the dawning of a new dispensation for when it’s midnight all around the daystar comes silently.

When God does a marvelous work, such as may amaze all heaven and earth, He commands silence all around, sends forth the still small voice, and then sets some feeble instrument to work—and straightway it is done! Man toils and pants, and after all effects but little; the Creator, in the silent majesty of power, noiseless yet resistless, achieves by a word the infinite wonders of omnipotence! Horace Bonar

I pray you will allow yourself to be caught up in anticipation! Come beggar, bag lady, tramp mendicant and allow your crud to be washed; washed into blood red. To look again at the simple things of life, to pause at the manger and be part of its birth. Standing there in the muck and the smell of the stall centers me back to it all. Christ can come anytime anywhere anyplace-he is not set off by the unexpected. He isn’t in the crowded inn full of the “other” noises. He bleeds out to the simple; the ones under the loads of life. God comes quiet and comes small. Small enough to understand us, small enough to bend and listen to our sorrow. Love comes anticipating a reception – in the room all quiet. Meet him in this Advent season.