“Joy to the World! The Lord Has Come!” So go the words to one of the most beloved of our Christmas carols. While many things go into making this a season of celebration, it all centers around one of the greatest joys that can be experienced: the birth of a baby.
The Christmas season centers around that great experience afforded to human beings: to have a child placed in your arms and into your life… a child that, when you look into his or her face, you see your own looking back! But more than that, we look into the innocent and lovely face of a child… born to us or adopted by us… and we see our Creator looking back at us. Something of His glory… of His person… rests in and on a baby.
When angels announced to terrified shepherds on a Galilean hillside outside of Bethlehem, “we bring tidings of great joy…, ” I could not imagine joy being wrapped in a more perfect package than a baby! “Unto us a child is born, a son is given” the prophet Isaiah proclaimed.
Joy wrapped in a soft, kissable, cooing, tiny package. The perfect gift! It is amazing sometimes when we look at my granddaughter laughing, or pensive, or her beautiful blue eyes just wide open and taking it all in that we can see her mother or father or even her grandmother looking back at us. We marvel at our Creator’s handiwork and the miracle that is life.
That very first Christmas, when angels shined in the night sky and shepherds knelt at a stable, God showed up in a baby. The tiny life wrapped in Mary’s youthful embrace looked like the mother who had borne Him in her womb for nine months, without a doubt. And yet when she looked into her baby’s face, it was God she saw looking back at her!
That night, that Holy Night, the Creator smiled at us from a cattle stall. He came as a human child, and yet He was fully Divine… “the fullness of Deity dwelt in Him,” the Bible tells us. Salvation had come to the world… God is with us… Immanuel. And now, with the angels and the redeemed through the ages, we too can sing,
JOY TO THE WORLD! THE LORD HAS COME!
When we are younger, Christmas seems to take FOREVER to get here. The decorations and early Christmas supplies appearing in October only seem to TEASE us as to how far away Christmas seems. But when we’re older… we can’t BELIEVE Christmas has come around already… again. And so soon!
What is it about Christmas that makes us eager for its arrival? The promise of new toys? Of delicious once-a-year food? Celebrations with family? The Christmas music? I think, underneath it all, it is our innate longing for hope. Christmas brings people some sense of that hope, even if it seems limited to a few days once a year.
We all need hope. When I was a child, I remember my parents taking me to see the movie, Pinocchio and hearing the little character Jiminy Cricket singing the wistful, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” It was a hopeful song. But the backstory of the song is about the person who voiced and sang for Jiminy. His name was Cliff Edwards. He was a vaudeville performer back in the day and had quite a following. Sadly, his life ended tragically because of alcohol abuse. Though he voiced a song of hope for generations of children courtesy of Walt Disney, his life ended without the hope he sang about.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could hang on to the hope that Christmas promises every year? If it means more to you than the tinsel and presents and greenery and goodies, it can. These things are packed away every year. But we don’t have to pack our hope away.
Jesus came to bring hope to every heart, and joy to every life. His promise was of “life, and life abundantly” and that is the gift He brings… not just at Christmas.
But even to your today.
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Phillip Brooks
Prayer: Our Everlasting Father, we are thankful this day that at the manger of Bethlehem our cry for hope was once for all answered in the cry of an infant. Because of the coming of Christ our hearts can finally be still before you. In the Christ who came we pray, Amen.
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting Light.”
(from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”)
He came unto His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11) If we could capture all of the meaning of Christmas in two words, what two words would you select? “Many gifts?” “Much chaos?” “Happy children?” “Stockings hung?” “Too busy?”
The Bible has already summed up Christmas and its meaning for us in two words. They are found in John 1:11, in the magnificent prologue to the Gospel of John. The words are these:
That’s Christmas. “He came.” Two words. Seven printed spaces. But in those words, and in between those spaces lay an infinity of meaning and an ocean of grace. “He came.” Who came? God did. At Christmas, GOD CAME.
He came as an infant. As a cooing, crying, helpless babe. Laid in straw. Entrusted to a small-town teenaged girl from Nazareth and her carpenter husband. He came in our flesh.
Why did He come? To redeem us. He came “unto His own….” Those who should have rejoiced to welcome Him. Those who should have stopped in the midst of their lives to kneel in worship before His crude, wooden throne as He lay wrapped in swaddling clothes.
He came to save us. His given name was Jesus. His title was Christ. He was the chosen One anointed to save us from our sin, from God’s wrath. He came. That’s Christmas. That is why. He came. He came to His own. But His own rejected Him, “they did not receive Him.” They did not welcome Him. They did not rejoice in Him.
But He came anyway. And because He came we can live. Because He came we know new life. Because He came…
There is Christmas.
FOR REFLECTION: For God did not send His son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:17
ADVENT PRAYER: Have you personally said thank you for the gift God gave in His Son? Have you gladly received that freely-offered gift? If not, will you pray now: “Lord, thank you that You came. You came to me. You came for me. And as You have come, I now receive You as the sacrifice, the price of payment for my sins. You have loved me, sought me, and purchased me. And now and forever, I will follow You. Amen.”
So how exactly do we “see” God? The familiar carol has the statement “Veiled in flesh the godhead see, hail th’ Incarnate Deity.” (Hark the Herald Angels Sing).
The Book of Colossians, which deals a lot with the insurgency of mystery cults in the early church, presents its own mystery of a sort. Colossians 1:19 says, “For all the fullness of God dwelt in him (Jesus) in bodily form.”
The Christmas affirmation is also the Christian affirmation: “That God became flesh and dwelt among us,” and this God who dwelt among us was in Jesus. The implications of the incarnation are staggering.
In the flesh and blood body of our Lord dwelt the eternal, powerful, God of Sinai and God of all creation. One little girl, wrestling in her child’s mind about this mystery, said, “It’s impossible for Jesus to live in me. I’m too little.”
And when we look at Bethlehem’s babe, we are tempted to think the same. “God can’t be in there… the baby’s so little!” And yet here is the mystery, that God became flesh… fully indwelt a human baby who was His Son. The word “fullness” implies nothing being left out.
Nothing of God was left out of Jesus. Truly, when we see Him, we see the Father!
“Born as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”
Prayer: Our Majestic Lord, great is the mystery of godliness. The mystery that You indwelt Jesus… His physical body… in all Your power, and majesty, and immensity, and You compressed it all into a babe in His mother’s womb. No less great is the mystery that, as Christ comes within us, You do the same in us. It is too much for us to understand, so we simply praise You for it.
In Christ who is all the fullness of deity we pray, Amen.
Was Jesus God? This question has been the subject of thousands of volumes of theology and has occupied the thinking of brilliant people for millennia of time.
For some, Jesus was a man who was made “into” God by the early followers of Christianity. Their beliefs have become the stuff of recent novels and movie themes. They could not be more incorrect.
Still others shy away from this affirmation, believing themselves to be too pious to make such an assertion. Cults have begun from their teaching. How could infinite Deity come in a human body?
And yet such is exactly what Scripture affirms, and what true theology requires. Jesus, God in flesh, “became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory…”
To say less than this is one of the worst heresies. Several modern religious systems affirm He could not have been God. To affirm more than this is impossible.
The pinnacle of Christological statements is found in Hebrews 1. It is called by some “nosebleed Christology” because of the heights it reaches. Jesus was indeed fully God, while at the same time fully human. Fully human, fully holy.
An orthodox belief requires we begin there. And yes, it leaves questions unanswered. It is a statement of faith that is affirmed over and over in the New Testament, as well as being hinted at in prophecies almost a thousand years before Christ’s advent.
Christmas is a time that we restate this marvelous truth over and over… that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… and the Word was with God and THE WORD WAS GOD.” (John 1:14 and 1-3)
We sing it, but cannot understand or explain it. We believe it, but wonder in awe at what we sing. We embrace it, or risk a watered down shadow of the truth.
Jesus. Is. God. No other statement makes Christmas true… or worth the celebration.
“What child is this, Who laid to rest in Mary’s lap is sleeping?”
Prayer: Father in Heaven, it is YOUR coming that we rejoice in at Christmas. Your coming… in flesh, as child, in sinless though complete humanity. Jesus You are Immanuel… and we are so very grateful that You have come. In Your great name we pray, Amen.”
“Born as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.” (From “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”)
“And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)
“That is an amazing statement. It is put in the present tense, saying that he is the One who is keeping things going right now. Stanford University is the site of a linear accelerator, a mighty two-mile long atom smasher. It is a great lever with which scientists try to pry the lid off the secrets of matter and discover what is in the miniature world of the atom; the neutron and the proton. Linear Accelerator scientists have discovered a complexity they never dreamed of, and they have found particles that they cannot even invent enough names for. But one thing they are consistently discovering is that there is some strange force that holds everything together. They do not know what to call it, and they do not know how to identify it. They talk about a kind of cosmic glue that holds things together. Isn’t it fascinating that here in the Word of God you have that exact kind of terminology used of Jesus! If you want a name for the force that holds the universe together it is very simple: His name is Jesus. He sustains the universe by his powerful word.
That is not only true of the physical universe, including our bodies and all that we are, but it is true of all the other forces and powers in the universe – physical, psychological, social, spiritual, whatever; He is in charge of them all. After the resurrection, when our Lord appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee, in the most forthright terms, simple, artlessly, he said to them, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (Matthew 28:18b KJV) This means He not only controls all the physical forces of the planet and the universe, but He controls all the events that occur upon them. This is something Christians tend to forget. We get so used to seeing things through the secular eyes of the media, and other propaganda forces around us, that we forget that behind the events that fill the pages of our newspapers is a mighty controlling hand that brings them all together, permitting some things to happen, restraining other things.”
(Adapted from Ray Stedman)
Prayer: Father, remind us again of the power of Your coming in humility at Christmas. We forget that it is YOU who hold all things together, including every event of history. We exist at Your pleasure and hold together by Your Sovereign power. May we ever worship only You, our Lord, as we consider these things. In Jesus’ powerful Name we pray. Amen.
How do we deal with a theological concept like the incarnation… the mind-boggling idea of God becoming flesh? At Christmas, we sing about it.
Singing about it celebrates the reality, but it doesn’t encompass it fully nor does it even attempt to explain it rationally. We simply utter our affirmations loudly, in hopes that… in the hearing of God… that stands as enough.
Hundreds of years ago, an anonymous monk wrote a song that, though we often hear the tune and music of the carol, we seldom hear the words:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand
Suffer nothing earthly minded
For with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descended
Our full homage to demand.
When we ponder the reality that God became flesh, what is our response? One writer put it this way. “If the distance between the earth and the sun could be represented by the thickness of a piece of paper, then the distance to the nearest star would be a stack of paper seventy feet high. By the same measurement, the distance from one end of our galaxy to the next would be 310 miles. The Bible affirms that He, Jesus, “holds all things together by the Word of His power.” In other words, with a simple word all things hold together (including us) exactly as they are. And you want to ask this person into your life to be your personal ASSISTANT??
No, the devout old monk got it right. “Our full homage to demand.” We can only throw all that we have at His blessed feet and say, “Command me, Lord.”
“He holds all things together by the Word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3a)
Prayer: Lord, as we draw closer this week to the celebration of Your coming into this world, remind me that it is You who hold all things together… including me. In Jesus’ amazing name I pray, Amen.
I’ve heard the critique before. “A lot of the Christmas carols we sing are so… dark and seem even sad.” That, when set against the silliness of “Jingle Bells” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” is possibly a valid commentary.
The carols of Christmas have almost a minor key feeling to many of them. And others do not (“Joy to the World,” “The First Noel,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”). But if we understand the context of Christmas, that makes sense.
A baby born in a cattle stall… a virgin teenage mother and a frightened young father who was NOT the biological father of the baby within his pregnant fiancée… a city and indeed a people who would reject Jesus’ coming… a king who slaughtered babies when he became aware of Christ’s birth… all lend themselves more to minor keys than to cheery, pop-laden music.
Add to this the reality that Jesus’ birth is significant PRECISELY because of His atoning death, and well, how would YOU think it should be sung? There is a darkness… spiritual and historical… that is the backdrop to the magnificent story of the coming of our Lord. “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light…” Isaiah prophesied 700 years before.
As a person who has walked through some months of grief after my wife’s death and now, going through my first Christmas since my mother’s death this summer, minor keys feel appropriate… even preferred.
I’m not anti-happy, Christmas music. Please don’t hear that. But sometimes what matches my soul is not the happy, sappy, holly jolly, Christmas music created by our culture. Forgive me if I don’t want to sing about Santa Claus coming to town.
But if you want to sing about real hope found in Jesus, friend, then count me in!
Prayer: Father, as we come closer to the day of Christmas celebration, we do so mindful that for some, the light has not yet dawned. May it be, our Lord, that this light comes to them in overwhelming splendor through Christ our eternal hope and King. And may it come soon. Through Jesus our Lord we pray, Amen.
Many things are guaranteed to remind us that Christmas is near: tastes of favorite foods that “only Mom” can make; the sweet, thick taste of Egg Nog (unless you’re drinking the Almond Milk version…which in my opinion is sacrilegious); the smell of fresh pine from trees and wreaths that decorate our homes.
But nothing reaches deep into our memories of holidays past like music. Certain songs that we listen to only between Thanksgiving and Christmas have a mesmerizing power over us. But some songs that we sing in church at Christmas truly deserve a hearing throughout the year.
The Wesley brothers (John and particularly Charles) had a way of cramming so much truth and doctrine into their Christmas carols that we need much more than a month to unpack them. “Joy to the World” is one such song.
Though the melody is simple and memorable, the lyrics are deep and theologically rich in their proclamation of our Lord’s birth. In addition they are evangelistically powerful as every heart is encouraged to “prepare Him room,” in contrast to the calloused innkeeper and apathetic people of Bethlehem. As we read in John 1, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”
Make sure to make room for the Savior in your Christmas celebrations. Sadly, it is as easy to forget Him now as it was on the day of His earthly advent. Many have.
But when you do “prepare Him room,” you will find the truth of the remainder of this majestic carol and the joy that is sometimes absent in our Christmas season. Don’t miss it.
Joy to the World… and joy to you as you receive the Savior.
Prayer: Lord of Heaven and Earth, may many this season find the joy your Son’s birth came to bring. And may those who have received Him share this joy throughout this Christmas season and in the year to come. In Jesus’ name Amen.
Christmas is a multi-cultural experience in many ways. It is a holiday that snarls traffic in New York City, Jerusalem, Tokyo and São Paulo, Brazil. Last week in Montreal, one of the more secular cities in North America, Christmas decorations hung from nearly every store window and on every lamp post in a bustling downtown metropolis. Christmas music greeted us in many places.
Wherever Christmas is celebrated, it is usually sung. Songs of Christmas fill the air not only in churches, but in stores, malls, and even bars. Sometimes the song is sung in the language native to the country and sometimes in English. It is an odd experience to walk into a delicatessen in largely Muslim populated Dubai and hear Christmas songs broadcast … in ENGLISH!
Most of us have a heart song that speaks to us of Christmas. If you grew up in the United States, the music of Christmas was unavoidable. For some, the song may be without religious meaning. But for most, there is the story of a virgin, a manger, a baby born to be a Savior, angels appearing, a Gospel proclaimed…and not just Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
My Christmas heartsong is “What Child is This.” The melody of Greensleeves touched something deep within me when I was just a small child. Even when I hear the tune simply performed as a folk melody with no words, I fill in the blanks. Christmas is being sung.
Sing your song this Christmas. It is one of the gifts we are given to help us proclaim with the angels the reality that “unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” (Isaiah 9:6)
Prayer: “Thank You Father and Giver of every perfect gift, for Jesus who came to take our sin, and give us His righteousness. Truly, we have something joyful to sing about at Christmas… and always. Amen.”