Warm Advent greetings to you! The season of Advent begins today, and so does our Advent devotional newsletter. We'll begin each week of Advent with a series of short readings from Scripture to help focus your thoughts on the meaning of Christmas. Some of the devotionals later in the week will reflect back on these readings, which include passages from the Old and New Testament, including Psalms and the Gospels.
This week's Scripture reading:
(click here to read these passages on Bible Gateway)
Romans 13:11-14Matthew 24:36-44
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
"Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" is thought to be a very old Polish carol, of unknown origin. It was published in Spiewniczek Piesni Koscielne in 1908 and speaks of the stable scene-baby Jesus lying in a manger bed with the animals nearby. It also speaks of the hillside where shepherds heard the story from the angels and rejoiced.
The short rhymed phrases move the piece forward, pointing to the final statement and the purpose of the song: "Christ the babe is Lord of all."
With all the presents to buy, parties to plan, and trees to decorate, the Christmas season seems to fly quickly by. Soon, Christmas has passed. And so often, a feeling of sadness creeps in as we leave the parties and put the Christmas decorations away for another year.
But why should we feel sad after Christmas? Sure, the excitement of presents and holiday specials may be over. Yet at its core, Christmas gives us a reason to celebrate all year long. A Savior has been born! And because of that, we have a hope that no Christmas tree or party could ever give us.
Through the familiar words of "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly," we can remember to rejoice-even after Christmas day has passed. For after recounting the story of Jesus' birth, the carol encourages us: "Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, Praises voicing, greet the morrow."
We need not let disappointment creep in after Christmas. Instead, we can keep rejoicing-free from sorrow-because our Savior has set us free from sin. In simple actions such as reading the gospels, singing hymns of praise, or writing a letter of gratitude to God, we can "greet the morrow" with true joy, even when the earthly Christmas celebrations are over.
So if sadness threatens after the holidays, remember that the Christmas story hasn't ended. It goes on-to the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb. And ultimately, the story continues with you, for as our carol joyfully proclaims, "Christ, the Babe, was born for you!"
Lyrics: Traditional Polish Carol
Translator: Edith M. G. Reed
Translation Date: 1921
Music: Traditional Polish Melody
Theme: Christmas, Jesus Christ, Nativity
Tune Title: W ZLOBIE LEZY
Arranger: David Hugh Jones
Arrange Date: 1953
Scripture: Rev 17:14
Copyright © 2011 Center for Church Music
Each Wednesday in Advent, we read a Bible passage that provides context for the meaning of Christmas.
Gospel reading: Matthew 24:36-44
(read on Bible Gateway)
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Gentle Mary Laid Her Child
"Gentle Mary Laid Her Child," a gentle hymn of Christmas, reminds us of each element in the Christmas story through its lovely verse. It is sometimes listed in the hymnals as a children's hymn.
Mary, the manger, angels, shepherds, wise men-each is briefly mentioned in tribute to the glorious incarnation. And yet, in its short verses, the hymn speaks not only of the baby born that Christmas day, but also of the King of Glory. Because of Jesus' miraculous birth, the King is no longer a stranger to the world; Instead, the world now praises his holy name.
With its longing for glamour and glory, our culture doesn't seem to understand humility very well. We talk about humility as though it were a good thing, but it seems to be the proud and powerful who really get ahead. From business to politics to entertainment, it's those who push their way into the spotlight who get our praise.
Jesus' humble birth stands in stark contrast to all this. While we yearn for better homes, he was born in a smelly stable. And while we seek the attention of the popular, God's angels sought the attention of simple shepherds-people who barely registered on the social ladder of their day.
"Gentle Mary laid her Child lowly in a manger." And so began the life of God on earth. Such a humble beginning that the songwriter went on to ask, "can He be the Savior?" And 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. And in a culture where business gurus are admired and superstars are praised today, he's still the humble King who really deserves our adoration.
In this Christmas season, let's reflect on Christ's humility. And when we feel tempted to seek praise for ourselves, or to give our praise to another, let's remember our carol's concluding words about the humble baby: "Praise His Name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!"
Lyricist: Joseph Simpson Cook
Lyrics Date: 1919
Music: Piae Cantiones
Music Date: 1582
Theme: Christmas, Nativity
Tune Title: TEMPUS ADEST FLORIDUM
Arranger: Ernest MacMillan
Arrange Date: 1930
Scripture: Luke 2:7
Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come
When declining health forced Isaac Watts to cut back on his preaching, he turned to another task, Christianizing the Psalms. At the age of forty-five, he sat under a favorite tree on the Abney estate-property of the close friends with whom he lived-and penned the now famous words of "Joy to the World." His 1719 hymnal, Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, included the words under his original title for the poetry: "The Messiah's Coming and Kingdom."
As part of his effort to bring New Testament meanings to the Old Testament psalms, Watts based "Joy to the World" on the last half of Psalm 98: "Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth, . . . Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth." (vs. 4,8).
Psalm 98 celebrated God's protection and restoration of his chosen people. Watts' carol rejoices in the same, as it expresses praise for the salvation that began when God became man. Both the psalm and the hymn also look ahead, to Christ coming again to reign: "He will judge the world with righteousness" (v. 9)
"Joy to the World" includes references to other Bible verses as well, including Genesis 3:17, Romans 5:20, and Luke 2:10. Yet despite its lack of reference to Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men, or the manger, it became one of the most loved Christmas carols. In a season for celebrating our Savior's birth, Watts' hymn beautifully expresses our joy at the coming of our Savior.
It's that time of year again-the time of busy shopping days, holiday baking, and twinkling lights. The time when schedules overflow with parties and events. The time to send out cards to family and friends. It's supposed to be the season of "holiday cheer." But in the weeks before we celebrate our Savior's birth, so often we feel anxiety and stress instead.
Years ago, Isaac Watts wrote "Joy to the World," the well-loved hymn often sung during this busy Christmas season. Ironically, Watts never intended his hymn for Christmas use. Instead, he simply intended to paraphrase the words of Psalm 98: "Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth . . . for he comes. . ." (vs. 4,9).
Amidst his poetry about Christ's second coming, however, Watts also provides fitting words for our Christmas frenzy: "Joy to the world! the Lord is come . . . Let every heart prepare him room." Prepare him room-significant words for any time of year. Yet perhaps we need to hear them the most at Christmastime, when so many things can distract us from our faith. .
This year, as the hectic Christmas season approaches, take the time to prepare your heart. Remember Christ's first coming, as a humble King and Savior. Reflect on the certainty of his return, as Judge over all. And as you think on these precious truths, you'll probably experience the best holiday feeling of all-the joy of knowing "the Lord is come" into your heart.
Lyricist: Isaac Watts
Lyrics Date: 1719
Arranger: Lowell Mason
Theme: Christmas, Christ's birth
Composer: G. F. Handel
Music Date: 1742
Arranged Date: 1836
Tune Title: ANTIOCH
Scripture: Psalm 98
Copyright © 2011 Center for Church Music
Scrooge and His Nephew Debate Christmas
From “The Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”
He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”
“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.
“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.
“Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" is derived from the "Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn" from the Litany of St. James, written during the 4th century. The Cherubic Hymn is to be used at the presentation of the bread and wine at the Offertory. It was incorporated into the Holy Week celebration of the Constantineopolitan Church at some point after the 8th century. It is used on St. James Day, October 23. Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem recite it on the Sunday after Christmas, or as part of the Christmas Eve service. The Greek original is also found in the Liturgy of St. Basil as the Troparion for Holy Saturday morning.
Although the hymn can be used as a communion hymn any time of the year, it is a beautiful advent hymn, pointing us to stand in awe as the King of kings and Lord of lords descends to earth to vanquish the powers of hell.
"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" first appeared in Lyra Eucharistica and The English Hymnal in 1906, with the tune PICARDY, arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 1 John 3:8
Speaking of Jesus' arrival, St. John wrote: The true light that enlightens every man was coming in to the world. John 1:9
After His arrival, Jesus boldly announced: I am the light of the world. John 8:12
And our ancient hymn writer embraces the same theme: The Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.
We are fascinated with light: astronomers study it; poets sing of it; inventors find new ways to capture and share it; children love to play with it. And light became one of the earliest and most common metaphors for God.
Light illumines: no person can see anything in total darkness. So Jesus Christ illumines our minds about the person of God, about what we are, about how we can be reconciled to Him and how we are to live in His light.
Light also brings life: no plant will grow, no flower will bloom and no fruit will ripen if there is no light. So, Jesus came to bring the light which produces abundant and eternal life.
Light cheers. We often hear in Church that real joy does not depend on the weather. That's true, but sunlight does bring joy to a dark day. And so Christ came to bring us joy, even when life is anything but joyful. After five terrible beatings and two horrific stonings, this most jubilant Apostle got up and dusted off the opposition with the shout:
Rejoice in the Lord always. St. Paul speaking in Philippians 4 And light purifies. Mildew exposed to light is destroyed. A stain on my shirt can be bleached away when it hangs in the sun. So Christ came to destroy the evil deeds the devil continually entices us to commit.
A singer in New York City once lamented, "It's been a long time since I liked myself." Perhaps you feel the same way today. But there is good news for him and for you: Jesus the Light of the world, forgives - He washes you totally clean of your sin. And Jesus the Light, will destroy the devil's work.
Jesus tells us that one day there will be a "new heaven and a new earth." God's new creation will be filled only with righteousness - only that which is pure and perfect. But, He can fill you with righteousness right now, if you let Him. For if a scientist can make penicillin out of mold, God can make something good of the singer - and you!
To learn more about how to find the "Light of life", just follow the link: Knowing Christ.
Lyricist: Liturgy of St. James
Lyrics Date: 4th Century
Adapted by: Gerard Moultrie
Theme: Jesus Christ
Composer: French Carol Melody
Music Date: 17th Century
Harmonization: Ralph Vaughan Williams
Harmonization Date: 1906
Tune Name: PICARDY
Scripture: Habakkuk 2:20
Copyright © 2011 Center for Church
Imitate the Shepherds
We must not cease to wonder at the great marvels of our God. It would be very difficult to draw a line between holy wonder and real worship; for when the soul is overwhelmed with the majesty of God's glory, though it may not express itself in song, or even utter its voice with bowed head in humble prayer, yet it silently adores.
Our incarnate God is to be worshipped as "the Wonderful." That God should consider his fallen creature, man, and instead of sweeping him away with the besom of destruction, should himself undertake to be man's Redeemer, and to pay his ransom price, is, indeed marvellous! But to each believer redemption is most marvellous as he views it in relation to himself. It is a miracle of grace indeed, that Jesus should forsake the thrones and royalties above, to suffer ignominiously below for you.
Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder is in this way a very practical emotion. Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship and heartfelt thanksgiving. It will cause within you godly watchfulness; you will be afraid to sin against such a love as this.
Feeling the presence of the mighty God in the gift of his dear Son, you will put off your shoes from off your feet, because the place whereon you stand is holy ground. You will be moved at the same time to glorious hope. If Jesus has done such marvellous things on your behalf, you will feel that heaven itself is not too great for your expectation. Who can be astonished at anything, when he has once been astonished at the manger and the cross? What is there wonderful left after one has seen the Saviour?
Dear reader, it may be that from the quietness and solitariness of your life, you are scarcely able to imitate the shepherds of Bethlehem, who told what they had seen and heard, but you can, at least, fill up the circle of the worshippers before the throne, by wondering at what God has done.
Today's reading is taken from Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotional.