Category Archives: Christmas

The Christmas Spirit

Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 Phillips)

J. I. Packer’s 1973 book Knowing God has been formative for many, many people in their understanding of what the Bible teaches about God. In chapter five of the book, “God Incarnate,” Packer gives a thorough study of the meaning and implications of our Lord Jesus Christ – God the Son – becoming a human being. Packer’s thoughts, along with the stanzas of the Gospel hymn “Thou Who Wast Rich” by Frank Houghton, give us much to meditate on as we ponder the miracle and wonder of God’s grace in Jesus that we celebrate at Christmastime, and the impact it should have on us all year long.

Packer writes, “The key text in the New Testament for interpreting the incarnation is . . . 2 Corinthians 8:9: ‘Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.’ Here is stated, not the fact of the incarnation only, but also its meaning; the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should set it before ourselves and ever view it – not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace.”[1]

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender, sapphire paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake becamest poor.

Packer continues, “How are we to think of the incarnation? The New Testament does not encourage us to puzzle our heads over the physical and psychological problems that it raises, but to worship God for the love that was shown in it. For it was a great act of condescension and self-humbling. ‘He, Who had always been God by nature,’ writes Paul, ‘did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as a mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal’ (Philippians 2:6 ff., Phillips). And all this was for our salvation.[2]

Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising, heaven-ward by Thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake becamest man.

Packer concludes, “We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity . . . But . . . the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of Him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round . . . The Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow men; giving time, trouble, care, and concern, to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.[3]

Thou who art love beyond all telling, Savior and King, we worship Thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling, make us what Thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling, Savior and King, we worship Thee.

Follow this link to enjoy Steve Green’s lovely and worshipful rendition of this hymn.


[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 51.

[2] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 50-51.

[3] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 55-56.

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CHRISTMAS DAY: “The Joy That Christmas Brings”

Joy Has Dawned[1]

Following a night of confrontation with the spirits in Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge experienced a joyous Christmas morning.

“Running to the window, he opened it and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; golden sunlight; heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!
‘What’s today?’ cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
‘Eh?’ returned the boy with all his might and wonder.
‘What’s today, my fine fellow?’ said Scrooge.
‘Today!’ replied the boy. ‘Why, Christmas Day.’”[
2]

Scrooge was a changed man after his night of struggle. He felt he had a new lease on life. His outlook on life was changed. He experienced joy.

Joy is found throughout the Christmas story. It was promised to Zechariah that the birth of his son John the Baptist, the one who would introduce Jesus to the world, would bring “. . . joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth . . .” (Luke 1:13 NRSV). His wife Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, felt that the child in her womb “leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44) when Mary came to visit her. The angelic messenger told the shepherds that he was bringing them “. . . good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10 NRSV), and after they had found and worshiped the infant Jesus, the shepherds returned to their flocks “. . . glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen . . .” (Luke 2:20 NRSV). Even the Magi who came later to visit the newborn King were “overwhelmed with joy” when the star led them to find Jesus (Matthew 2:10).

The apostle John wrote that the message of the coming of Jesus to the world was a message that brings joy in the telling.

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4 NRSV)

What is it about the message of Jesus – the message of Christmas – that brings us joy? Timothy Keller writes that “. . . the joy that Christmas brings, the assurance of God’s love and care, is like a subterranean river of joy, a fountain of mirth, that will always reinvigorate you no matter the circumstances of your life.”[3] You and I can know a deep and lasting joy when we come to know Jesus and receive the new life He came to bring.

Keith and Kristyn Getty are modern hymn writers who are giving the church many new songs that are musically beautiful and theologically faithful to Scripture. Their song, “Joy Has Dawned,” is a wonderful retelling of the Christmas story, and affirmation of the joy we know when the message of Christmas truly fills our hearts.

Joy has dawned upon the world, promised from creation –
God’s salvation now unfurled, hope for every 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, vulnerable 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 mystery!
Once a babe in Bethlehem, now the Lord of history.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6 NRSV). Jesus was born. He lived and died in our place for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead and is reigning as King in heaven today. By his Holy Spirit He is present in the world today and within everyone who receives Him as Savior and Lord. May the message of Christ and the presence of Christ give you great joy this Christmas day and every day.

Follow this link to hear the Gettys and their band present this wonderful new Christmas hymn.


[1] WORDS AND MUSIC: Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend. ©2005 Thankyou Music. https://youtu.be/ibe5zRch8bU

[2] Charles Dickens, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, (Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family Publishing, 1997), p. 88.

[3] Timothy Keller, HIDDEN CHRISTMAS (New York: Viking / Penguin Random House, 2016), pp. 137-138.

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CHRISTMAS EVE: “All We Really Need”

On Christmas Night All Christians Sing[1]

In his book Hidden Christmas, Timothy Keller draws a comparison between receiving advice and receiving news. “Advice is counsel about what you must do. News is a report about what has already been done. Advice urges you to make something happen. News urges you to recognize something that has already happened and to respond to it.”[2] Keller then applies this distinction to the biblical narratives of Christmas. “There is no ‘moral of the story’ to the nativity. The shepherds, the parents of Jesus, the wise men are not being held up primarily as examples for us. These Gospel narratives are telling you not what you should do but what God has done.”[3]

One evening some two-thousand years ago, a celestial news broadcast gave a few select men on a Judean hillside a message about the greatest event in human history. It was an up-to-the-minute report about a birth that had just happened that night. The news was delivered by angelic messengers who had come directly from “the Source” to report about the event.

I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12 NRSV)

All that remained was for the shepherds to respond to the news, find the Child, and worship the newborn Savior. The traditional Sussex Carol calls on all Christians to likewise join in the response of adoration and praise.

On Christmas night, all Christians sing to hear the news the angels bring.
On Christmas night, all Christians sing to hear the news the angels bring:
News of great joy, news of great mirth, news of our merciful King’s birth.

When we respond to news we receive, the nature of our response usually matches the message we received. To a tragic occurrence the response is sadness or sorrow. But to “good news of great joy” – the news that our bondage to sin has been broken – there can be only one response – gladness and joy! There is a Puritan prayer which calls on God to hear the intercession that Jesus makes in heaven today for us and to “. . . whisper to my heart, ‘Thy sins are forgiven, be of good cheer; lie down in peace.”[4] The forgiveness of our sins is the true gladness that replaces our deep sadness. On this Christmas Eve, we respond with joy to the news of the arrival of the One who delivers us from our bondage – redeems us from our slavery – to sin.

Then why should men on earth be sad, since our Redeemer made us glad.
Then why should men on earth be sad, since our Redeemer made us glad:
When from our sin he set us free, all for to gain our liberty.

When sin departs before Your grace, then life and health come in its place.
When sin departs before Your grace, then life and health come in its place:
Angels and men with joy may sing, all for to see the newborn King.

The same Puritan prayer continues, “Unsought, Thou hast given me the greatest gift, the person of Thy Son, and in Him Thou wilt give me all I need.”[5] Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, understood that the coming Messiah would address every human need, and offered his praise to the One whom his son would “prepare the way” for.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79 NRSV)

Why is this night so special? We have been given spiritual life and health to heal the disease of sin in our lives – light to dispel darkness as a “tender mercy” from God – deliverance from a life characterized by death and into a life of peace. Why on Christmas night should all Christians sing? Because God has done this by giving us a great gift – the greatest gift – the gift of Himself – our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ – and He is all we really need. May praise fill our hearts and minds and flow out of our voices because of this “good news.”

All out of darkness we have light which made the angels sing this night.
All out of darkness we have light, which made the angels sing this night:
“Glory to God and peace to men, now and forevermore. Amen.”

Enjoy this rendition of Sussex Carol by the King’s College Cambridge choir.


[1] WORDS: Traditional English Carol. MUSIC: SUSSEX CAROL, traditional English carol arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1919). https://youtu.be/oqsnfgVQuyk

[2] Timothy Keller, HIDDEN CHRISTMAS, (New York: Viking/Penguin Random House, 2016), p. 21.

[3] Timothy Keller, HIDDEN CHRISTMAS, p. 22.

[4] The Valley of Vision, “The Prayer of Love,” p. 149.

[5] The Valley of Vision, “The Prayer of Love,” p. 149.

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FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT: Scripture and Song

Of the Father’s Love Begotten[1]

The best songs are those which amplify the words of holy Scripture. We see this so beautifully in the songs we sing during Advent and Christmas, and an excellent example of a song drawing on the Bible for its lyrics is the Advent hymn, Of the Father’s Love Begotten. This 3rd century text, set to a 12th century plainsong melody, brings together the scope of scriptural truth about the foretelling and the coming of Jesus Christ the Messiah. Let’s let the words of Scripture and song aid us in meditation on the advent of our Lord. The Scriptures come from the New Living Translation.

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes (Ephesians 1:4 NLT).

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13 NLT).

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him (Colossians 1:15-17 NLT).

O that birth forever blessed, when the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race;
And the babe, the world’s Redeemer, first revealed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore.

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel – which means “God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14 NLT).

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31-35 NLT).

This is He whom heaven-taught singers sang of old with one accord,
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines the long-expected; let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT).

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:10-14 NLT).

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11 NLT).

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore.

Enjoy an a cappella rendering of this Advent carol.


[1] WORDS: Aurelius C. Prudentius (348-413); translated by John M. Neale (1854) and Henry W. Baker (1859). MUSIC: DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, Plainsong, 12th century. https://youtu.be/cOF9JLJkPis

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SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT: Looking and Longing

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus[1]

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 NKJV

The season of holidays that begins with Thanksgiving and continues through Advent, Christmas, and the New Year is filled with moments of anticipating an arrival; like the one sung about in the traditional children’s holiday song written in 1844 by Lydia Maria Child:

Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river and through the woods to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top for ‘tis Thanksgiving Day.

Gathering with our families for a special celebration can be a joyful time, and the anticipation creates a longing and desire for it. If we have such great anticipation for the “advent” of special people in our lives, imagine the longing and yearning of the ancient Hebrews for the advent of their promised Messiah to fulfill the promises God had made to them for centuries through patriarchs and prophets. An overarching theme of the Bible is that the Lord Jesus Christ was the Messiah that Israel looked for. Charles Wesley, in his hymn Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, combined the truth of Jesus as the Messiah with the yearning of Israel for Him to come.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Jesus was born through the miracle of the incarnation – God the Son becoming a human being.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NKJV)

Jesus was born to bring hope to his people.

. . . we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NKJV)

Jesus was born to set us free from fear of God’s judgment because of our sin. As Pastor Rich Villodas writes, “The good news, simply stated, is the recognition that Jesus is Lord over all things and invites us to a life free from the shackles of bondage.”[2]

. . . He Himself likewise shared in [flesh and blood], that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15 NKJV)

Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, whose Kingdom comes now in the hearts of all who believe in Him but will one day come in its visible fullness on earth.

. . . The Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:4 NKJV)

Jesus satisfies the deepest yearnings and desires of everyone everywhere. As Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[3]

The ancient Israelites looked faithfully for their Messiah’s advent for centuries. Even so should followers of Jesus faithfully look for his return – his second advent. “One of the earliest recorded prayers of the Church is the Aramaic word Maranatha, which literally means, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). The Latin word adventus means the same thing: ‘come.’  Advent is a season of waiting and wanting, looking and longing, inviting Christ to come once more into our lives and into our world.”[4]

Thank you, Father, for loving us so much that You sent Your Son to save us. Maranatha! May Jesus be born again amongst us this Christmas.
Thank you, Jesus, that You came before, and You are coming again in glory. Maranatha! We long for You to return and make all things new.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for filling our lives. Maranatha! May the Lord Jesus Christ be born again in us today.[5]

Sing along with the worship band Lexington Road’s presentation of this hymn by clicking on this link – https://youtu.be/p8E9G763Ibs


[1] WORDS: Charles Wesley. TUNE: Rowland H. Prichard. https://youtu.be/p8E9G763Ibs

[2] Rich Villodas, “The Deeply Formed Life,” (Waterbook / Random House Publishers, 2020), p. 211.

[3] https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/ourheartisrestlessuntilitrestsinyou/

[4] LECTIO 365 devotional for November 28, 2021. www.24-7prayer.com

[5] LECTIO 365 devotional for November 28, 2021. www.24-7prayer.com

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A Prayer Thanking God for Coming at Just the Right Time

Alleluia!  Alleluia! We praise you, Lord!

Blessed Savior, our Redeemer!
You are the Savior of the world, Lord Jesus!
You came to us at just the right time – when the course of world empires intersected the path of divine ancestry – it was just then that you were born a human baby!

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  We praise you, Lord!

King of kings, Lord of lords – the one to whom every knee will bow one day in humble, adoring worship.
You are the highest name of all –

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  We praise you, Lord![1]

Because you have come to us, Lord Jesus, now all is well – all is well.
We rejoice because in your coming darkness fell – darkness fell as the glorious light of the Son of God began to shine on earth.

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  We praise you, Lord!

And because you continue to come to us moment by moment through the Holy Spirit –Because you have promised your unfailing presence –
Because we experience your deep, deep love –
Because you daily cover us with amazing grace and mercy –
All is well – all is well.

No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.

There is no longer a barrier between us and you –
Peace has replaced adversity –
Peace has replaced animosity –
Peace between people is now possible –
Peace on earth, good will to men.

And now it is our turn –
We must pick up the mantle of the shepherds –
We must go and tell –
We must lift our voices and cry out –
“Christ has come!”
Hope is come – Life is given – deliverance from bondage is possible –
All through the one whose first cries came from a manger.[2]

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel

 Emmanuel, Emmanuel, His name is called Emmanuel . . .
God with us, revealed in us, His name is called Emmanuel

 We know you are with us –
Now may you truly be revealed in us –
And through us –
May the beauty of Jesus be seen by all who see us

Because you are worthy to receive all honor and praise –
You do all things well –
You have made all things well –

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  For this we praise and thank you, Lord Jesus!

Amen!

[1] A Christmas Alleluia. (C) 2015 sixstepsrecords/Sparrow Records
[2] Michael W. Smith / Wayne Kirkpatrick – All Is Well lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group

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An Advent Prayer of Praise as a Child of God

With all the angels who filled the sky so long ago, we lift our voices, our Father, to proclaim your praise and say, “Glory to God in the highest heaven!”

You are worthy of praise because you are the everlasting Lord.

You are worthy of praise because you are the King that outlasts – and is far above – all earthly rulers and leaders.

You are worthy of praise because you do great and mighty things for our good and your glory.

Lord Jesus, you have taken on yourself the weight and shame of our lostness and sin and delivered us from it by your great grace.

You are worthy of praise because you give us life and all the good things that go with life.

  • Treasure – a treasure greater than the gifts of the wise men – Jesus, you are that great treasure to us.
  • Mercy – undeserved but without which we would be doomed – Oh God, we have life because of your mercy.
  • Peace – O how we thank you for peace – in the midst of our storms – no matter how desperate our circumstances – Jesus, you give us peace as you give us yourself.
  • Joy – joy that we have hope beyond the trials of this life – joy that comes in knowing the hard times here have meaning and purpose – Jesus, you are the giver of true joy.
  • Love – real, genuine, self-sacrificing, never-ending, love – not matter who we are or what we have done – O God, how we are amazed by your love.

You have given all who believe in you the privilege of being your children.

Born to raise the sons and daughters of earth
Born to give them second birth

We are children of God – yes, we are!
We are chosen and not forsaken
You are for us and not against us 

You have given us a true home – a place in your house – in your kingdom – so how can we not shout with a loud voice from a full heart –

  • “Let us adore Him!”
  • “He alone is worthy!”
  • “We’ll give you all the glory.”

Father, thank you for sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world.  Thank you for receiving us as your children. 

Jesus, thank you for coming to be our Savior and help us know the truth about God.  Thank you for living the life we could not live and paying the debt we could not pay.

Spirit of God, thank you for helping us to know our Messiah Jesus, and to receive Him as our Savior and Lord and Treasure.

We celebrate this season because of you!

Amen!

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Feelings and Facts at Christmas

The Christmas season can be tough.  For many people, the sights, sounds, and aromas of Christmas can resurrect painful memories of heartache, disappointment, or loss.  The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, or the “perfect” Christmas kiss at the end of a favorite Hallmark movie, may cause some hearts to flutter, but will bring tears of pain or guilt or deep sadness to others.

I’m one of those people for whom Christmas brings a mixture of emotions.  I have some great memories of Christmases past, especially of the Christmas music concerts of my church and high school and college choirs.  Before the “advent” of CDs and digital downloads, I always looked forward to pulling out the Christmas records (remember those?) and playing favorites from Bing and Frank and Dean and Burl.  During my years in radio, I loved it when we began playing all Christmas music right after Thanksgiving.  When my kids were small, I enjoyed taking them riding to see the lights around town, and still enjoy doing that with the grandkids.  Christmas can indeed be filled with joy.

But some of my most painful memories are also of Christmases past.  I remember a year when a family crisis stretched from Thanksgiving through Christmas into the new year.  While that was over 25 years ago, the memory still haunts me.  There is also the memory of a Christmas with a 4-year old and a 1-year old, and the only presents we could afford were the cheapest things available at K-Mart.  When my son brought a toy identical to one of those cheap ones (a plastic bowling set) on vacation a couple of years ago for his kids to play with, just the sight of it brought tears to my eyes – 30 years later.  Christmas can truly be filled with pain.

The pendulum of emotions swings widely this time of year.  What is a person to do if the inner response to all the joyful sounds of Christmas is a painful groan in the soul?  I don’t have a formula which will take away the pain, but I do have a suggestion that I think will help all of us work through it.  Let’s spend this Christmas season giving focused attention to the life truths that we learn at Christmas, especially in our moments of pain.

You see, Christmas teaches us that the God of the universe – the God who gave us the breath of life – loves us.  We may feel that no one really loves us, but the fact is that “. . . God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16 ESV).  Because of His great love for us, God the Son took on human flesh in order to take care of our greatest problem and greatest need – our sin.  We may feel that no one really loves us, and this season may create feelings of loneliness, but the fact of Christmas is that we are never alone, we are infinitely loved by God, and we celebrate Christmas as proof of that love.

Christmas teaches us that we don’t have to be good enough to earn or merit any blessing from God.  In fact, we can’t.  Sure, we’ve made some messes in our lives – some of us a complete mess.  But what matters to God is that Jesus’ life was perfect, and when we trust Jesus as our Savior, God credits His perfect life to us.  “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21 HCSB).  We may feel condemned by others, but the fact of Christmas is that, in Christ, we are accepted as God’s children.  Christmas celebrates that God is on our side.

Finally, Christmas teaches us that God is never late and never forgets.  We read in Scripture that “. . . when the right time came, God sent His Son . . .” (Galatians 4:4 NLT).  Think of the long centuries that faithful Jews had looked and hoped for their Messiah to come.  God had promised, and God is never late.  He is right on time.  No matter how we feel, the fact is that God sovereignly controls His world, and whatever comes – or has come – or will come – into our lives comes to accomplish His good purposes for us.  The fact of Christmas is that in the fullness of time the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.  And we can trust that, at just the right time, God will be right there with us – no matter where we are or what we are feeling.  At Christmas, we celebrate God with us!  Emmanuel!  Merry Christmas!

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An Advent Prayer Praising God for His Faithfulness

Mighty God, Loving Father, our Sovereign Lord,

We exalt you!  We give praise to your holy Name!

The awesome things that you do are wonderful, and in this special season we remember and celebrate the plans and promises you made so long ago – plans for our redemption through the promise of a Savior – plans and promises you completed in perfect faithfulness.

We take comfort in the truth that our Lord Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. There is no heartbreak, sorrow, misery, grief or loneliness that we experience which is beyond your understanding.  Lord Jesus, you lived on earth as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  You experienced the loneliness of Gethsemane.  On Calvary’s cross, you bore our sins and carried our sorrows, and you continue to carry them today as we yield them to you.  Truly, “no pit is so deep that you are not deeper still; with you, even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.”[1]  In this season where lives are empty and sadness of heart runs deep – even with all the glitz and superficial gladness – teach us to run to the comfort you offer in the midst of the struggles we face.

We are moved to worship because our Lord Jesus is the Mighty God.  God incarnate – the Word made flesh – one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit – revealing the glory of God – worthy of all worship and praise.  The angels sang of this to the ancient shepherds, and what a wonder that the greatest announcement ever made – the greatest news coming directly from heaven – was given first to the must humble and despised of people.  How amazing that your glory is best seen not in places of wealth and power, but in hearts and lives of faith and humility.  Oh, how we want people to see you in us.  We want to faithfully display your glory!  Help us, O God, to live and reflect you as you truly are.

We also have great confidence because our Lord Jesus is one with the Everlasting Father.  You are truly a father who never leaves us – never forsakes us – never fails us – always acts toward us in love.  You know every need we have.  You know every problem we face.  You are present in these things doing good for all who love you.  Your care for us is beyond understanding, and because of this we can face life with the confidence that we are never alone.

Which is why we rest in the truth that you, Lord Jesus, are the Prince of Peace who gives us peace that passes all understanding.  Peace – rest – the Shalom you promised your people of old – peace that means more than just an absence of conflict.  You are at work to make everything like it should be – to replace the things in our lives that are missing – to bring our lives and this world to the completion of your plan and purpose.  You have restored our relationship with the Father and one day you will restore all of creation to your original design.

And this gives us hope!

As the ancient Hebrews waited with anticipation and expectation for the coming of Messiah, so we wait with anticipation and expectation for your return to make all things new.  We look forward to the time when things will be better than they are today – but not just at the end of time.  We anticipate what you will do today.  We live in eager expectation of your faithfulness tomorrow.  And our hope in you continues day after day after day, because the wonderful plans you formed long ago – the wonderful promises you made long ago – Father, you fulfilled them with perfect faithfulness in Jesus – and you make our lives complete through your perfect faithfulness to us every day.

And for that we humbly offer our worship and praise!  Amen!

[1] Corrie Ten Boom

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