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 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!

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. .

What the Virgin Birth Teaches Us About Salvation

The following is an excerpt from our resource, Dominoes, available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dominos-A-Dynamic-Commentary-Jude/dp/1490334610/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1387327369&sr=8-1-spell

The Virgin Birth starts with God approaching humanity, not humankind approaching God. The same is true of salvation. Salvation is God reaching down to man, not man reaching up to God. The fact of Mary being a virgin obviously disqualifies her from any active part in the conception of Jesus. The Bible goes to great pains to tell us that Joseph did not know her sexually until after the birth of Jesus. Just as Mary was acted on by the Holy Spirit to bring forth new life, so in salvation, the Holy Spirit acts upon us and a new life is brought forth.

In the Virgin Birth, all human autonomy was set aside. Joseph was not consulted until Mary is already pregnant. Jesus is not born of a husband’s will or action but by God.  Joseph’s only role is to provide for Mary and the Child after His birth. Mary, through the angel Gabriel, is told that she has been elected by God to be the mother of the Messiah. She is told that God has chosen her. She is told that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and she will conceive a son. Her permission is never asked. She receives the word and believes but this belief is not of her, but strength given to her by the Lord. She becomes the pattern for our faith.

It is not through our self-will or free-will that we are born from above. We are elected, chosen to salvation just as Mary was chosen, elected to be Jesus’ mother. As she was sanctified through her calling so are we. God sanctifies us. We receive Jesus by faith, belief, but God gives this faith to us, it isn’t produced by our own efforts.

The Virgin Birth is important because it shows the consistency of a Sovereign God who elects things to happen and by His might, what He ordains comes to pass. The sovereignty of God is not merely that He has the power and the right to rule all things, but that God actually does so, without any exceptions at all. God is not a beggar, wringing His hands and pleading helplessly, hoping sinners will decide to choose Him. He is a God who both can save and who does save whom He chooses.

While there are many other aspects of the Virgin Birth that are worth exploring, I trust that just this one part of the doctrine highlights how interrelated they all are. The same holds true about the doctrine of Jesus eternally existing, not coming into existence 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.

Do you begin to see how interconnected doctrines are? To deny that Jesus was sinless from birth is to deny that He is God because God cannot sin. It is a belief that Jesus was not the Divine Son of God come down in human form but a mere man raised to great heights by the power of God. Such a view misses the whole point of the gospel message. Humanity could not save himself. It took God Himself to extricate us from our sinful state. He did this by sending His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, to illustrate from day one how this salvation would come about.

Allowing Grief to take Place

I ran across a quote the other day that speaks volumes: “For those who love life, immortality is no consolation in death” – Simone de Beauvoir. We understand, as Christians, that death has lost its ultimate power over us. We know, from Scripture, that our immortal soul, once redeemed by Jesus, will spend eternity with Him. We are even told that it will be reunited with a new body in heaven. Yet, we still grieve over the death of a loved one. This is appropriate on two levels.

First, if the one we have lost was not a believer in Jesus Christ, we grieve because they are truly gone. There is no meeting them again in the afterlife. Their death, for all intents and purposes, is final for us. That relationship we had with them has been sundered forever. Truly, it is appropriate to grieve for them.

Second, even if the person was a believer, even with the hope we have of being reunited with them in heaven, it is appropriate to grieve the loss. For now, the fellowship has been broken, Things are not the same. While we do not grieve as those who have no hope this does not mean we cannot or should not grieve. Death is an intruder, an interloper. It is not without reason the New Testament calls it “the last enemy.”

We grieve over loss because we have been cut off, at least temporarily, from the ones we love. For instance, we may be glad that a child is doing well at college across the country. We expectantly look forward to Christmas break when we will see them again but it doesn’t mute the emptiness of their bedroom we pass everyday. Death magnifies those feelings because we cannot call them on the phone and hear their voice like we can one separated only by distance.

One of the tragedies of our society, as well as today’s church, is not allowing people to adequately grieve. Because we are embarrassed for them or because we have not processed our own grief, we do not allow them to fully grieve and begin the road to healing. When Lazarus died, it wasn’t just Mary and Martha that mourned. Jesus did too. He knew He could resurrect Lazarus. He knew He was going to resurrect Lazarus and yet He still grieved. Knowing that it was okay for our Lord to grieve should be good enough for allowing His children to grieve also. It is a natural response to loss that must be allowed and there is no right way or wrong way to grieve, nor is there a time frame after which it is not allowable. The only restriction placed on grieving in the Bible is that we are not to grieve without hope, as a pagan might.

Modern psychology doesn’t help either. Since Freud’s time it has looked upon grief as a disease, as though it were a sickness like mumps or chicken pox, easily cured with the right combination of drugs or therapies. Only when we accept that for now, until a new heaven and earth are made by God, that suffering and loss are a normal part of our existence and grief is a normal reaction to loss, will we be able to help individuals cope with grief. We will sit with them, cry with them, wonder why with them and listen to their pain without offering stupid, meaningless platitudes. In short, we will experience their life with them and, in doing so, enrich both ours and theirs.

I leave you with this quote:  “We are told that it is perfectly legitimate for believer to suffer grief. Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Though grief may reach to the root of our souls it must not result in bitterness. Grief is a legitimate emotion, at times even a virtue, but there must be no place in the soul for bitterness.” R.C. Sproul, The Dark Night of the Soul, Tabletalk, March 2008