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!

 

The Little Drummer Boy Revisited

Some years ago I wrote this article:

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 and 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 Aaron is angry at life, owning a heart filled with hatred, and is powerfully changed when he encounters the baby Jesus. In the scene where his pet lamb is healed, why not? Jesus heals spiritually and physically. 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.

In the years since I wrote this I keep thinking about the song and the cartoon tv special. It continues to hold a special place in my heart. Sing it, and while singing pledge to give your very best to the King of Kings. Give Him back what He has blessed you with, serve Him with your whole heart.

Come they told me pa rum pum pum pum
A newborn King to see pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum rum pum pum pum
So to honour Him pa rum pum pum pum

When we come
Baby Jesus pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give a King pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you? pa rum pum pum pum
on my drum?

Mary nodded pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

The Christmas Carol That Isn’t A Christmas Carol

I first wrote this 4 years ago. I still feel the same about this wonderful song.

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

A Foundational Truth

Foundational Truths

Many times, whenever I preach or write on various subjects, someone will invariably say, “why don’t you just preach Jesus? No Old Testament stuff, just preach Jesus.” My answer to them? No one can know Jesus Christ as He really is if you only know Him as the Redeemer of the New Testament. We must preach Jesus as He truly is – all of Him – or we preach another Jesus than the Bible speaks of.

Jesus was Creator before He became Redeemer or Savior. He became our Savior dying on the cross and rising from the grave on the third day because of mankind’s sin. Much, if not all, of that sin is mankind’s rejection of God’s Word, the denial of Him being the Creator. One truly “preaches Christ” when he first of all preaches Him as Creator.

The great message of Christianity is that the just shall live by faith, speaking of them that believe, to the saving of the soul. But what is this saving, living faith? The faith of which Hebrews speaks of is outlined in chapter 11. It is the faith of Abel, offering an acceptable sacrifice. It is Enoch’s faith, pleasing God in obedience. It is Noah’s faith, believing and acting on God’s Word. It is the faith of Abraham, stepping out on God’s promises. But, first of all, it is foundational faith. It is the faith by which “we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear”, Hebrews 11:3.

Any meaningful faith for salvation must be founded on God’s special creation of all things. The saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is founded on creation. The very last reference to the gospel in the Bible is found in Revelation 14: 6-7: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,  Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”

The angel has the everlasting gospel and its message is for people to worship the One who made heaven and earth and the sea and the fountains of water. The gospel is much more than the cross and the resurrection, it also includes the coming kingdom and God’s great creation. Without creation, the gospel has no foundation and no logical end. The gospel is the good news that Jesus came to save who? Those who were made in God’s image on the earth and who are now marred by sin. What is the end purpose? So that mankind will live with God and enjoy Him forever in His Kingdom. Death first entered God’s finished creation when Adam sinned. Now that Christ is risen, the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is seeking to assure young Christians at Corinth of the validity of the gospel. He preached to them that which they had believed. In verses 3-11 Paul stresses the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. In verses 12-19, Paul says, because Jesus rose from the grave it guarantees a future resurrection to all who have hope in Christ. But then, Paul goes further, In verses 20-28 he says that Jesus’ resurrection restores man’s lost estate, reverses the consequences of Adam’s sin, conquers all enemies of God and destroys death itself. In verses 29-34 Paul says this promise not only gives assurance of eternal life, but strength for godly living and triumph over persecutions and opposition. And then, in verses 35-49, Paul ties it all back to creation.

Everything is tied back to creation. Biological, physical, human – all aspects are discussed. Every individual creation of God has been designed with its own marvelous structure for its own divine purpose, as it pleased God to make it like He did. Since each individual creation is distinct it could not have “evolved” from any other.

I am so amazed at so-called Christians who accept as fact Christ’s resurrection from the dead but not the Genesis record of creation in 6 days. Jesus said, “from the beginning of creation God made them male and female,” speaking of mankind. Not after 18 billion years of cosmic history or 4 ½ billion years of earth’s evolution but on day 6.

Psalm 115:16 tells us the very purpose of earth’s creation was that it should be a home for the children of men. A person cannot believe Christ’s words and reject Moses’. Listen to Jesus in John 5:46-47, “For had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, because He wrote of Me. But if you believe not his writings, how will you believe My words?” In the book of Revelation, Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The Apostle Peter, not too long before his martyrdom, wrote a remarkably prophetic passage about the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Listen to the words of 2 Peter 3:3-6,

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers walking after their own lusts saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? Since the fathers fell asleep all things glorifying God continue as they are from the beginning of creation.” For this they willingly are ignorant of – that by the Word of God the heavens were of old and the earth standing out and in the water; whereby the world that was then being overflowed by water perished.”

Scoffers arise, those who dismiss the Bible as fairy tales or myths, denying special creation. They replace sudden, special creation by God with uniformity and evolution. They willingly deny a universal flood. Anotherwords, they will deny the Genesis account of creation and the flood and in doing so deny the truth of John 1:3, 1:10 and Hebrews 1:2 which state that God created the world through Jesus Christ.

Creation is a non-negotiable doctrine. What a person believes about creation, about the origins of the earth and mankind, will influence what they believe about the meaning and purpose of life. So many of the great founding fathers of science knew this. Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Newton, Boyle, Breuster, Faraday, Kelvin and others believed that they were glorifying God as they probed and discovered His marvelous works.

Understand this, belief in the Genesis account of creation is necessary for a correct understanding of who Jesus is as the Bible presents Him. To believe in another Jesus, one who did not create the world in 6 days, one who did not create man in His image, one who is not Lord over creation because you believe He was not the Creator, is to send yourself to hell.

Salvation is found in the Jesus of Holy Scripture, not the Jesus of one’s imagination. Salvation is found in believing in Jesus as He is presented in the Bible, not as we wish He was presented. He is either the Creator Lord or He isn’t. You cannot straddle the fence on this issue. The New Testament simply will not allow it. From the Gospels to the letters of Peter, Paul, and John, Jesus is clearly presented as the Creator Lord.

At the beginning, I said that many times I am asked, “Why don’t you just preach Jesus?” I do. I do preach Jesus. I preach Him creating the world in Genesis as part of the Godhead. I preach Him throughout the Old Testament sustaining the world He created. I preach Him in the New Testament redeeming the world He created. I preach Him in Revelation coming back to claim the world He created. What Jesus are you preaching?

 

 

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

I did not grow up celebrating the Advent season. My faith tradition saw Advent as “a Catholic thing” and avoided it completely. My first real encounter with Advent was while visiting Methodist churches during the holiday season and watching the lighting of the candles but I still didn’t understand what it was all about. I did think that an Advent calendar with candies or toys behind each window was cool ( I still would like a Lego one!)

Recently, though, I have been exploring Advent and trying to understand it. This Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent, with the lighting of the Candle of Prophecy or the Hope Candle. The idea is for us to focus this week on the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah and the Scriptures that foretold His arrival. In a world bereft of hope, to a people who were beaten and conquered, the longing for their Messiah was intense. For us today, we can look back and take joy that the Messiah did come just as predicted. We can look ahead to the prophecy of the Messiah’s return, to rescue once again a people beaten down and trying to hang onto the hope of His return.

Traditionally, during Advent, Christmas carols and hymns are not sung. Not until Christmas Eve, anyway. Then, for 12 days afterwards they are sung. During Advent, Advent songs are sung, like Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel or Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Quite a few churches I know sing both during the season though.

Advent seeks to refocus us on the true meaning of Christmas. The coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus Christ. In a modern, secular age where gifts are the focus of the holiday season, Advent calls us back to why we celebrate. A people living in great darkness will see the Light. Historically, the 4 weeks of Advent saw believers focusing on fasting, repentance and hopefully and prayerfully pondering the great gift God has given to us in His Son. Now that I can celebrate. To re-focus on God and His provision, that is a good thing.

I will still sing my Christmas carols prior to Christmas. I like them too much. I will grab some purple, pink and white candles and incorporate them at home, though, as a teaching tool and a reminder to myself. I will seek to understand more about the 2nd candle (Preparation or Bethlehem), the 3rd (Candle of Joy or Shepherd candle) and the 4th (Candle of Love or Angelic Announcement candle). Of course, the White Candle for Christ needs no explanation. I will seek to prepare myself spiritually for celebrating Christmas with even more meaning than before. So come with me on this journey of Advent and let me know what Advent traditions you have or the meaning it holds for you. Enjoy this week’s song lyrics below.

 

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

 

 

The Free Will of God

We have had many people tell us how proud of us they are that we became adoptive parents. There are so many children in the foster care system that need a good, loving, Christian home to be raised in that it is a shameful reminder that the Christian church has largely failed to address this issue. Be that as it may, I have yet to run into anyone who has chastised our family for only adopting one child when there are so many at risk. We certainly could not have adopted all the children in our state, much less the country or the world, but we could have, possibly, adopted at least one more. Does this make us horrible people, to only adopt one? Does this make us sinful, when it was in our power to affect, at least theoretically, one more life? Are we to be commended because, by our free choice, we adopted one or castigated because of our free choice not to adopt more than one?

Why am I asking these questions? Because many people object to the thought of God adopting some people to become members of His family and not everyone. The doctrine is called election and the Bible speaks of God electing some to salvation and not electing others, leaving them to their fate. Is God to be commended for saving some people, by His own free will, from an eternity without Him or is He to be castigated for not saving more or all? Your answer tells what you truly think of God — a wonderful Being that did not have to save anyone yet did or a horrible monster who didn’t save all. Or, perhaps, a willing but unable Deity who desires salvation for mankind but cannot effectively bring it about and depends on us to do what He can’t. There really isn’t any other way to look at it.

The same people who champion the freedom of the human will to accept or reject God do not seem to be willing to give God the free will to accept or reject man. The double standard screams out. People want the freedom to choose but not to give God the same right. It is not as if our Creator owes us anything. He is not beholden to us, we are to Him because all we are is His. In Him we live, breathe and have our existence. We are His creation, for His glory, a glory He will not share with any other.

I get amused at those who want the freedom to choose salvation but the guarantee that the choice cannot be taken back. A salvation dependent on the choice of man but secured by the power of the Savior. I believe in a salvation dependent on a powerful Savior who can and will keep my soul secure. A salvation given by grace because God decided to adopt me into His family like I adopted a little girl into mine. Not because of anything she had done or might possibly do but because I was filled with love toward her. God saved me not because of anything I did or might possibly do for Him but by His love and grace. My hope is built on nothing less than the grace of God my Savior, secured by the blood and righteousness of Jesus and the sealing of my spirit by the Holy Spirit.