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Archive for December, 2012

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Among my favorite songs that capture the essence of the Christmas experience is “Mary, Did You Know?” words written by Mark Lowry and music composed by Buddy Greene:

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy
has come to make you new?
And the child that you delivered
will soon deliver you?

Oh, Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would give sight to the blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy
has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby,
you’ve kissed the face of God?

Oh, Mary, did you know—
The blind will see,
the deaf will hear,
the dead will live again!
The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak
the praises of the Lamb!

Oh Mary, did you know that your baby boy
is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy
was heaven’s perfect Lamb?
And the sleeping child you’re holding
is the Great I Am!

But, no, Mary did not know–not at first, anyway, and not fully.

She knew that her baby was special and that he would become the Messiah who would save his people, but she would not comprehend the full meaning of his messiahship until she began her daily walk with him during their life together and until she experienced his death and resurrection thirty-three years later.

She had to see his birth from the perspective of his sacrificial death and resurrection before she could fully know and understand.

And so do we.

Until we accept his grace and forgiveness through his death and resurrection, and begin our daily walk with him, we will never be able to fully understand or celebrate his birth and the true meaning of Christmas.

Only then does the real Christmas come alive for us. Only then are we able to really celebrate his birth.

And as we do, we will discover a magnificence, a glory, and a mysterious divine presence that will touch us in the deepest recesses of our beings–bringing comfort, strength, healing, and peace, no matter how trying and difficult life might become.

Oh, may you know and celebrate–really celebrate–Christmas this year.

********

(To view Mark Lowry’s concert version of this song, please view my December 20, 2010 post of “Mary did you know?”)

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The Gospel of Luke is the only one among the four gospels that tells the story of an angel appearing before lowly shepherds to announce the joyful news of the birth of a child who would become the long-awaited Savior—The Messiah—and to invite them to visit the baby in a nearby stable in Bethlehem.

And then:

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to all whom God favors.’ ”
–Luke 2:13-14, New Living Translation (NLT)

How startling and thrilling it must have been for the shepherds to see not just one angel—but, suddenly, a vast number of heavenly hosts praising God!

“Host“ and “heavenly host,” are military terms used throughout the Old Testament, so the NLT is correct in translating Luke 2:13 as “armies of heaven.”

These angelic fighting forces, with powers like those of the angel in 2 Kings 19:35 who single handedly killed 185,000 Assyrian troops in one night, appeared in the radiance of God’s glory—not to fight that night, but to praise God and herald the Messiah’s birth.

It was customary to have local musicians greet newborns and their parents with songs outside their homes, but Jesus had no such earthly minstrels outside his stable. Instead, his birth was the greatest event in human history and was worthy of a heavenly minstrelsy of millions of God’s angels (as in Rev. 5:11-13).

Their song—a couplet with three parallels in each line: (1) glory/peace; (2) in the highest heaven/on earth; (3) to God/to all whom God favors—gave the highest praise to God throughout the realms of heaven, and proclaimed a message of peace on earth.

However, this was not a universal declaration of peace for all on earth, but only “to all whom God favors.” And whom does God favor? He favors all who responds to his love by believing and trusting in Jesus as their Savior and by being reborn as sons and daughters of God (John 1:10-12; John 3:16).

This is what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples and to those who would follow him, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NLT)

This gift of peace is the presence of the Holy Spirit living within believers, guiding them, comforting them, and strengthening them (John 14:26). This is not the worldly peace that depends on the absence of conflict, but it is the peace of the Holy Spirit who gives the believer the confident assurance of God’s love and abiding presence in any and all circumstances, with no fear of either present or future circumstances and outcomes (Romans 8:35-39).

And so, during this Christmas season and in the midst of the uncertainties of life today—mass killings, drive-by shootings, economic uncertainties and loss of jobs, failing health, wars, and more—the joyous proclamation by the angels that the Christ Child came to bring “peace on earth to all whom God favors” should inspire us to joyfully lift our praises to our heavenly Father.

Not only did the armies of heaven herald Christ’s first appearance, they will also announce his Second Coming when he will finally establish his Kingdom of true peace for all eternity, for as the Apostle John wrote:

“Then I looked again, and I heard the singing of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus:

‘The Lamb is worthy—the Lamb who was killed.
He is worthy to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and blessing . . .’

‘Blessing and honor and glory and power
belong to the one sitting on the throne
and to the Lamb forever and ever.’ “

May Christ’s peace rule in your hearts this Christmas and until he returns.

***

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(This is an excerpt from my memoir, A Jamaican’s Journey to Time and Patience)

After the months of studying for the O Levels and the intense days sitting for the exam, it was a relief to finish the last section of the exam and finally go on Christmas break to await the results in the spring. I got a two-week job in the shoe department of one of the major retail stores on King Street, but instead of repeating the Christmas Eve parade celebration down King Street as I had done the previous year, I chose to go caroling with some friends from Constant Spring Church. One of the young men in the church mounted a loud speaker on top of his station wagon and a number of us piled into the station wagon and drove around Kingston singing Christmas carols.

This was my first Christmas as a new Christian, and it took on a whole new meaning. For the first time, through redeemed eyes, heart, and mind, I began to see and understand what Christmas was all about!

It was not about Santa Claus, shopping, presents, or parties.

It was about the love of God for a lost humanity of which I was a part.

It was about a God who, even before he created the universe, planned it that, at the appropriate time, he would visit us in the form of a human baby who would grow up to reveal the true nature of God, and save us from sin’s destruction.

It was about a poor, frightened teenage girl who was visited by an angel and given the news that she was chosen by God to bear the child who would become the Savior of the world.

It was about dirty, smelly shepherds who, though ignored and despised by their society, were favored by God to be the first to hear heavenly choirs announce the birth of the Christ Child.

It was about three wise men who understood the significance of that baby and brought gifts to commemorate his birth and his future ministry and sacrificial death.

It was about God’s grace, mercy, kindness, and overwhelming love and generosity to me–and every person who lived or will live–in offering us salvation and eternal life.

And so, at eighteen, from the perspective of one who was redeemed from sin and blessed with eternal life, for the first time I understood and celebrated the true meaning of Christmas.

And celebrate it I did–with joyful music, carols, worship, and sweet fellowship with fellow believers.

That Christmas Eve of my eighteenth year found me reveling–not on King Street with the wild, bacchanal masses but–with a group of young Christians driving through the streets, avenues, and lanes of Kingston singing Christmas carols.

Though I had heard many of those carols before, singing them that Christmas Eve night throughout Kingston brought new meaning, significance, and appreciation for their words and tunes.

There would be many more Christmases to come over the decades, but this was the year and the Christmas in which I first fell deeply in love with the Christ Child who became my Lord and who was to shape my life from that point on.

****

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The recent violence at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shattered the lives of individuals and families connected to that school and town, and shocked countless others throughout our nation and around the world.

Amid the grief, sorrow, and horror that we feel over the loss of these students and teachers, there is an urgent longing in the hearts of many of us for a safer society as we struggle to make sense of this violence, especially since it occurred during a holy season in which we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ child who came to bring peace on earth.

For several weeks before the massacre, our choir had been rehearsing music to celebrate the joyful Christmas story, and one anthem in particular had stirred in me a longing for a closer, more intimate relationship with God. In the days following the massacre, the anthem, “The Yearning,” became even more significant to me because it spoke to the grief and sorrow that we’re experiencing.

Written by Susan Bentall Boersma, with music by Craig Courtney, “The Yearning” expresses the following:

There is a yearning in hearts weighed down by ancient grief
and centuries of sorrow. 
There is a yearning in hearts that in the darkness hide
and in the shades of death abide,
a yearning for tomorrow.

There is a yearning, a yearning for the promised One,
the First-born of creation. 
There is a yearning for the Lord who visited His own,
and by His death for sin atoned, to bring to us salvation.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.

There is a yearning that fills the hearts of those who wait the day of His appearing. 
There is a yearning when all our sorrows are erased
and we shall see the One who placed within our hearts the yearning.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.

This anthem resonates with me because it reminds us that in a world in which we are often confronted with pain, sorrow, grief, and death, we have God’s assurance that in Jesus Emmanuel—“God is with us” (Matthew 1:22-23).

It reminds us that the yearnings that we have had as a human race since ancient times have been yearnings for God who alone who can fill the void within our souls.

It reminds us that God took on the form of humanity and appeared to us as a baby who grew up to become the promised One—the Messiah who would sacrifice his life to save us so that we would not have to pay the eternal penalty for our sins.

It reminds us that we yearn for the day when Jesus Emmanuel will appear again, not as a babe in a manger, but as the triumphant “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelations 19:16) to establish a new heaven and new earth for all his redeemed people throughout the ages, a divine Kingdom in which there will be no pain, sickness, sorrow, death, or evil.

It reminds us of Jesus’ promise:

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22: 7, 12-13; NLT, 2007)

And it reminds us that as our nation mourns the death of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook School and debates how to stem the gun violence, we yearn for the promised fulfillment of Christ’s imminent return to establish his Kingdom of peace on earth.

And we echo the Apostle John’s yearning and benediction:

“Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelations 22:20, NLT)

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