Gentle Mary – A Timeless Carol

This beautiful song was written by Joseph Cook in 1919.  Mr. Cook was born in England in 1859 but immigrated to Canada where he attended Wesleyan College and McGill University in Montreal.

The lyrics show a progression from wondering if this baby, born to peasants in humble surroundings could really be the Savior of mankind. The answer – just ask those transformed by Him.  Surely the people of Jesus’ day asked this question too. How could a baby in a manger have more power than King Herod, who ruled from nearby palaces and fortresses?

Yet in his humility, Jesus did have more power than Herod. In today’s culture, where the rich are admired and superstars are praised, Jesus is still the humble King who really deserves our adoration. No longer a stranger to the world, people from every nation and ethnic group on earth rejoice at Christmas, singing – “Praise His Name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!”

 Gentle Mary laid her Child
Lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled,
To the world a stranger:
Such a Babe in such a place,
Can He be the Savior?
Ask the saved of all the race
Who have found His favor.

Angels sang about His birth;
Wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth,
Glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight,
Heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night,
All the hills were ringing.

 Gentle Mary laid her Child
Lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled,
But no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth,
Beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth,
Hail the King of glory!

 

Rethinking Advent – Joy

This week marks the lighting of the joy (pink) candle. This is the third candle lit, going from expectation of the coming Messiah to longing for His presence now to joy at His appearing. In this world, marked by conflict and division, anger and turmoil, disappointment and despair, we light this candle to proclaim “Jesus came to give us joy unspeakable and full of glory!” Like Mary, we can sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Each day this week we need to contemplate on what a great gift of grace has been given to us. The Holy Son of God came to take our sin guilt, came to pay the penalty we owed to the Heavenly Father, came to give us a new birth, a new life, a life to be lived in Him. It is for that reason we rejoice. Our salvation has come. We who believe have been given a new spirit and are being fitted for our new home with Christ.

Yes, life remains difficult. Yes, we mess up day by day. We are still on our journey after all; we haven’t arrived yet. But, we are confident that as we confess our sins and repent of them that we will be forgiven and the grace we ask for will be given to us. We will still encounter sin. We will encounter it in this evil ,fallen world and we will encounter it hiding in our own lives. When we encounter it we can bring back to mind the words of the angel, “You are to name him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21”

If you can’t rejoice over that thought this week, then you have nothing to be joyous about. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. He found me. Has He found you?

Rethinking Advent Part 2

Advent, as we said last week, is designed for us to prepare our hearts and minds to truly celebrate the real meaning of Christmas, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is a time for us to reflect on what truly matters – not the glitz, glamour and gift giving of modern Christmas, but the giving of Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. Christmas is a holy holiday but that has sadly been lost in today’s society. I know I cringe when Santa visits the churches around my area during this season. It is sacrilegious to let a fictional fat guy get more attention than our Holy Lord in His church.

This Sunday, the 2nd of Advent, saw the lighting of the Bethlehem candle or love candle (some traditions call this the faith candle.) It is during this week we ponder and meditate on Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. It would be in Bethlehem, where, according to prophecy, the Messiah would be born.

What a journey this must have been. Mary is very much pregnant and roads in 1st century Israel were not very good. Most likely they would have attached themselves to a caravan or group of fellow travelers for protection from bandits. Leaving their home, the journey would have been financially burdensome, but since Caesar had decreed it, they had to undertake the trip. Only 6 miles from Jerusalem, Jesus was born in the shadow of Herod’s fortress.

Today’s Scripture is Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose.”

Also, from Matthew 2 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:  “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,  are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler  who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Phillip Brooks wrote a lovely Christmas carol that we can use this week to help us think about Christ being born in this little town in accordance with Scripture.

1. 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.

2. 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 all on earth!

3. How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.

4. 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!

Burning Bridges Instead of Reaching Out

There are many church signs with cute sayings. There are many with profound sayings, some with ones that are witty and some that show great creativity. Then there are those that are offensive or just downright rude, like the one I saw while taking my daughter to school this week.

What was on the sign? “If Christmas offends you than go to Thailand for 30 days. They don’t like it there either. Grow up or shut up.” I don’t really know why poor Thailand was singled out, as far as I know they have never gone out of their way to ruin anyone’s Christmas in south Georgia, but what bothers me is the attitude portrayed in the sign from a church  with the word “grace” in their name.

The unsaved are not the enemy. They are our mission. To unnecessarily offend them makes it ten times as hard to witness to them of God’s love. Christmas is God showing love to man by coming down and becoming one of us. It was for dirty, sinful, lost mankind that He came, not for the smug religious crowd. As a minister, this sign offends me. It also offends the unchurched in our community.

Wouldn’t it be better to hold a community party to celebrate Jesus’ birth? Maybe they could be proactive and do a food drive or help gather presents for the poor that would show God’s love in action instead of belittling those who have not yet experienced the grace of God. Come on church, live up to your name — show grace, the giving of a gift to someone undeserving of it this holiday season instead of being snarky and strident.  Telling a large segment of your community to “Grow up or shut up” simply shows them how childish and immature you are. Why would they come to your church for answers when their life falls apart?

Lost people act lost because they are spiritually blind and without hope. They are spiritually dead and incapable of acting any other way than what they do. So-called Christians acting the way this church did just shows stupidity. I know that is harsh but it is true. The sign may play well to the frozen chosen inside her walls but it embarrasses those of us going out and meeting people in the marketplace and introducing them to a Jesus who offers grace, mercy and new life. I truly wish that this church would grow up and until that happens, please – shut up so the rest of us can give a message of hope to our town. It desperately needs it.

Caving in to Culture

We all know about the erosion of Christian culture that has taken place in our country over the recent decades. Secularism has pushed many traditions to the side as more and more people get “offended” at anything that references Jesus. Unfortunately, the church has many times given up traditions in favor of cultural expressions that really have no place inside the walls where saints are to be equipped in the work of the ministry.

I cannot believe how many churches in my area bring Santa Claus into the service. This special holiday, where we focus on the great gift God gave us in sending His Son down to live on earth as a human, is muddled together with a mythic, magical person. How can the story of Mary and Joseph compete with flying reindeer? My wife and I visited many churches where pictures with Santa were offered and Santa was the star of birthday parties supposedly for baby Jesus. Young children cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy, especially when fantasy is continually reinforced by trusted figures.

We cry about “keeping Christ in Christmas” and then give them Santa? We try and teach the commandment not to lie and then tell our children Santa is real? What kind of mixed message is that? It is especially infuriating to me when the church is to be the repository of truth. The story of Jesus is so precious, so life-changing it must never be diluted by anything.

If you want Santa pictures go to the mall, schools, city Christmas events. Leave him out of church. I don’t care if adults whine and cry about it being harmless fun, that everyone does it or cannot understand the big deal. Church is to be where truth is proclaimed, Jesus is magnified and God worshiped We are in a battle for the souls of men and women, boys and girls and cannot afford to waste time trying to be cute and relevant.

Parents, I appeal to you, raise your children correctly. Let them know Santa is not real, he is just a story but that all good gifts come down from the Father of Lights. That you give presents to show your love and to reflect the love God has shown you, Pastors, take a stand. Keep Christ in your church and leave Santa to those who do not know Christ, who worship materialism, secularism and self. Ground your people, especially the youngest and most impressionable, in truth and love by grounding them in Christ.

Our God is a jealous God, He will not share His glory with another. Especially not Santa, especially not with His Bride, the church. .

The Christmas Carol that isn’t a Christmas Carol

It is written about a pious duke and doesn’t mention the nativity at all. St. Stephen’s feast day, December 26th is spoken of but not December 25th, Christmas. Yet this carol, set to a springtime dance tune, continues to gain devotees each year. Why is Good King Wenceslas sung at Christmas? One reason is because of the feast of Stephen and the other is because King Wenceslas portrays Christianity at its finest – helping the poor and downtrodden. Jesus came to set the captives free, give sight to the blind, lift up those who were bruised and broken and give them hope. Hope of salvation, hope of a life eternal and hope of a better life here and now. When Christ transforms a soul, they no longer think selfishly but think of others, sacrificing so that they can minister in Christ’s name. Isn’t that what Wenceslas did, in both the carol and real life?

While it is not a Christmas carol in the traditional sense, it does speak of a life that Christ has transformed and isn’t that why Jesus came? He came to transform people from death to life, from selfish to spiritual, from lost to found. Those whose lives have been transformed will seek to do good works so that God is glorified and people are brought to His Son. So sing this sort-of, almost a Christmas carol. Sing it the day after Christmas on the feast of Stephen. Sing it and think of what acts of kindness you can do to reflect the love of God that has transformed your life. Sing it and thank God that He does transform people like you and I, and Wensceslas, into saints.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing 

Thoughts on the Little Drummer Boy

No, he isn’t in the Biblical story. Aaron did not travel with the Magi and was not present at the birth of Jesus. Yet, the way the song is written, he could have been. Originally titled “Carol of the Drum”, the song is about a young boy summoned by the Magi to go with them to present gifts to the newborn King. Upon arriving, the boy realizes he has no gift that is fit to give a king, much less the King of Kings. All he has is his ability to play the drum, so he asks if he can play it for him. As Mary nods permission, he plays his best for the baby Jesus ans is rewarded with a smile from the Lord.

While fiction, the song gives a powerful message. Jesus is the King and is worthy of being honored by us. All that we have to give Him we should surrender to Him. Even our crowns in heaven will be laid back at His feet for He alone is worthy. It isn’t just material things, like gold, frankincense or myrrh, that we can give but also our God-given abilities. All that we give Him should reflect our best effort, like the drummer boy’s song. And a smile from Him, a show of approval, well … that is definitely reward enough. “Well done, good and faithful servant, well done.”

Oh, and in the tv show where the lamb is healed, why not? So watch it with joy, sing along heartily, include it in a cantata. Let the message of giving God our best because He alone is worthy of being praised.