Weddings do hold a great fascination for human kind. They consist of great joys, traditions, promises, losses and gains, endings and beginnings. They transport us through time, looking back, looking forward, remembering those who have gone before and those yet to come. They tie us to our families and they unite what once was separate. They provide hope as we express faith and love. They amplify our faith to the witnesses who gather, as we are reminded of the Great Designer’s plan for human kind to be joined as one, to live in love and commitment to one another. At my daughter’s wedding yesterday, I was reminded by the best man (in his humorous yet poignant speech) that a wedding day poses a great question to Christian couples: will this relationship honour Christ? The day is the question. The marriage is the answer.
“When our musicians, instruments, lighting, and technology aren’t impressive, we can wonder why people would come to our church. They come because we have something the world doesn’t: the amazing news that Jesus Christ died in the place of lost, rebellious sinners to reconcile them to God. Music, no matter how great it is, can’t raise a dead soul to life. The gospel can and does. Your church may never come close musically to what the church down the street does or what people listen to on their iPhones. That’s okay. Faithfully preach, sing, and explain the gospel and you’ll see lives changed.“
“If you really see and feel your helplessness and God’s deliverance, you will be amazed that you are a Christian. You will be amazed that your heart inclines to the beauty of Christ. You will be amazed at every good resolve, and every impulse to praise, and every good deed.”
Missed this for Christmas 2016, but will save for 2017. Happy New Year!
At this time of year many people write and share a recount of the year that has been. They assemble great photos to illustrate their ventures, and list the things they and their family have achieved at work, at school, at home, at church, the house renovations and holidays.
While it is great to reflect on and share all these blessings, in thankfulness to the God who grants them, I can’t help thinking the ‘rosy Christmas letter’ can be somewhat discouraging to others, to people who consider their own personal achievements as nothing but disappointing by comparison. Perhaps their circumstances and God’s plans have taken them down a more difficult and lonely path. (And if I am being honest, such loneliness occurs even in the midst of a busy household at times.)
So, if I were to write an honest Christmas letter about the struggles of the year, here are some of the things I would like to share – to help others know they are not alone. Life is hard and being a Christian doesn’t magically end the difficulties, but God is good and there is joy to be found in Christ amidst the difficulties.
* I have faced ongoing challenges as a parent, spouse, home owner and friend. I have fought to love my children and husband, to serve selflessly.
* I have faced various mysterious and apparently unrelated health issues, which have shown only slight signs of improvement. These challenges will continue in the New Year.
* I have fought the discouragement of watching others pursue fulfilment apart from Christ, and disappointment with myself for not knowing how/being willing to challenge others for such attitudes.
* I have fought to acknowledge the reality of God and his grace in my own thinking about the circumstances of day to day living.
* I have fought disappointment with myself when I see pride or envy, or any of the things Christ died for, rising up in me again.
* I have worked hard as a teacher, with many many unseen extra hours of toil. While this brings some moments of great joy, largely it is draining and I see little gain for all my efforts.
* I have sometimes been cold to others and showed little genuine concern for them.
* I have become more aware of my own sin and selfishness.
* I feel like I have aged more and had worse quality sleep this year than any to date. The ‘days of trouble’ that the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of have certainly arrived (or at least made an appearance).
* I have been hooked on checking my phone notifications and other comforts that I selfishly enjoy.
* I have battled against staying up later than I should, mindless television and being more excited about things that have no eternal value than I should be!
But all these things do NOT bring me to a point of despair! (Sorry if it sounds that way.) These struggles prove that Christ is at work in me and this is the main reason I can be joyful this Christmas!
As James says (1:2-4): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
The ‘World’ just doesn’t get this. They think we have bought into a big fat lie which only brings us guilt and hard work.
But we have met the risen Saviour, we have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ, God with us, Immanuel!
What else can we do but follow him?
Blessings to you this Christmas,
At Christmas we remember the coming of the infant King of Heaven, Jesus Christ. God could have sent him as a fully grown man, and provided a grand entrance with enough pomp and circumstance to rival any contemporary celebrity. Yet God chose for him the womb of a virgin and a lowly cave/stable as his first resting place on the planet. Jesus shared the growing pains of our humanity so that he could be our perfect counsellor, Saviour and Lord. This King of Heaven is coming again and we probably should spend a lot more time praying for such an outcome, rather than sitting comfortably in the limitations of our mortality.
Paul Baloche’s KING OF HEAVEN (2012 – “The Same Love” album) is a song which captures something of the longing we (should) have for Jesus’ return. Here is his Christmas version of the song combined beautifully with Hark the Herald Angels Sing:
And here is the original song, performed with All Sons and Daughters: (don’t mind the 40 seconds of silliness at the start – the song officially gets going around 45 secs. I’m determined to included KING OF HEAVEN as one of our congregational songs next year.)
KING OF HEAVEN
Jesus, let Your kingdom come here
Let Your will be done here in us
Jesus, there is no one greater
You alone are Savior, show the world Your love
King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign shining light the day
King of Heaven come
King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King of Heaven come
We are children of Your mercy
Rescued for Your glory
We cry, Jesus set our hearts towards You
Every eye would see You lifted high
Ooh, ooh, ooh, King of Heaven come
Ever since the Roman church fixed Christmas on December 25 (440AD) there have been a vast array of opinions about whether or not we Christians should in fact be celebrating Christ’s birth in this way. Some people wholeheartedly support it, and go all out in their celebrations. Others try to avoid it, and mock or despise those who do celebrate Christ’s birth at the time of an old Pagan Sun-god festival. Some families I know refuse to partake in the gift giving of the day (with much sadness for their children).
In 1647 Christmas was abolished in Britain by Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan parliament. December 25 was a working day from 1644 to 1656. There were riots across the country. Christmas church services were broken up by armed soldiers. Shopkeepers came off the worst: if they closed then soldiers forced them to open; if they opened, the rioters forced them to close! Christmas decorations in London were torn down and burned by the mayor. Christmas puddings were banned.
In America the Puritan leaders followed suit and banned Christmas in some states (1659). A New England state law said:“Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas shall pay 5 shillings as a fine.” And you could buy a lot for 5 shillings! The Christmas ban was dropped in 1681 but it wasn’t until 1836 that Alabama said 25 December was to be a holiday, then everyone in the USA copied them. By then people in Victorian Britain had lost interest in Christmas, but when Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 they decided Christmas was a wonderful idea.
For me Christmas has always been a wonderful time of year, full of family fun and traditions – but does that justify the celebration? While the commercialism is distracting (and the concept of an jolly Father figure who rewards us according to merit is in total opposition to the forgiveness and grace found in Jesus) I do think there is a case for celebrating wholeheartedly as Christians.
And it all comes down to remembering.
Throughout the history of God’s redemptive intervention into our fallen world, He told us to keep remembering what he has done. For example, it was on the basis of covenant promises, given to Abraham, that Israel was rescued from slavery through Moses – slavery to both Egypt and sin. The Passover Lamb which saved them from death (well, God saved them!) was so important to remember that a whole special menu plan was devised. As people ate they would remember and teach their children to remember what God had done. When the new generation of Israel emerged from the wilderness wanderings (their parents caused), Moses spent a whole book (Deuteronomy) explaining how important it was to remember and obey all the laws God had given, to guide and direct their new lives in the Promised Land. They were to live lives worthy of their God and show the world what he had done for them. He rescued them into a covenant relationship, for the glory of His Name.
So why wouldn’t we remember the one event which reminds us of the time God stepped into human history Himself. This is when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, to save us! While the Cross is the thing that saves us, we must remember the beginning of that journey to the Cross: Christ born as a helpless baby, fully God and fully man, in such lowly circumstances. He was born, destined to be despised and rejected, for our sake.
What a great opportunity we have at Christmas time, when even non-Christians are willing to celebrate the birth of a Saviour whom they do not know! They are remembering, even though they don’t fully understand. We have the full story to share – to explain to them what they are really celebrating! Let’s open the dialogue at every opportunity, even in those long line-ups at the checkout! Let’s show them how to remember in thankfulness and awe the Incarnation of God’s son, sent to save.
May the glory go to our great God this Christmas – as we remember!
You may also enjoy:
This post comes from John Piper at Desiring God. It is a really helpful explanation of the reason for the season.
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15)
Hebrews 2:14–15 is worth more than two minutes in an Advent devotional. These verses connect the beginning and the end of Jesus’s earthly life. They make clear why he came. They would be great to use with an unbelieving friend or family member to take them step by step through your Christian view of Christmas. It might go something like this…
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood…”
The term “children” is taken from the previous verse and refers to the spiritual offspring of Christ, the Messiah (see Isaiah 8:18; 53:10). These are also the “children of God.” In other words, in sending Christ, God has the salvation of his “children” specially in view. It is true that “God so loved the world, that he sent [Jesus].” But it is also true that God was especially “gathering the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52). God’s design was to offer Christ to the world, and to effect the salvation of his “children” (see 1 Timothy 4:10). You may experience adoption by receiving Christ (John 1:12).
“…he himself likewise partook of the same things [flesh and blood]…”
Christ existed before the incarnation. He was spirit. He was the eternal Word. He was with God and was God (John 1:1; Colossians 2:9). But he took on flesh and blood and clothed his deity with humanity. He became fully man and remained fully God. It is a great mystery in many ways. But it is at the heart of our faith and is what the Bible teaches.
“…that through death…”
The reason he became man was to die. As God, he could not die for sinners. But as man he could. His aim was to die. Therefore he had to be born human. He was born to die. Good Friday is the reason for Christmas. This is what needs to be said today about the meaning of Christmas.
“…he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…”
In dying, Christ de-fanged the devil. How? By covering all our sin. This means that Satan has no legitimate grounds to accuse us before God. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect, it is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33) — on what grounds does he justify? Through the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:9).
Satan’s ultimate weapon against us is our own sin. If the death of Jesus takes it away, the chief weapon of the devil is taken out of his hand. He cannot make a case for our death penalty, because the Judge has acquitted us by the death of his Son!
“…and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
So we are free from the fear of death. God has justified us. Satan cannot overturn that decree. And God means for our ultimate safety to have an immediate effect on our lives. He means for the happy ending to take away the slavery and fear of the Now.
If we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything. We can be free. Free for joy. Free for others.
What a great Christmas present from God to us! And from us to the world!
Here are two new albums I found recently. They contain some great new favourites from artists who reliably point us to Jesus, the living Word of God, Emmanuel! Matt Redman’s Christmas album is refreshingly original with beautiful lyrics to inspire. You may find something special here for your Christmas program. Blessings to you!
MATT REDMAN – These Christmas Lights (2016) Listen on iTunes
Here is a lyric video which could be used at a Christmas carols night: http://www.christiansongtracks.com/worship-tracks/62398/these-christmas-lights-
CASTING CROWNS: The Very Next Thing (2016) Listen on iTunes
“Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”