Hello, fifth day of Christmas.

Today is actually, with reference to history, the fifth day in the Twelve Days of Christmas, which begin in the Christian calendar on December 25th and extend through January 5th. This is followed by the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th (commemorating the visit of the magi in the Gospel narratives). My wife broke the tradition and celebrated the nearly two weeks leading up to December 25th as some gift recipients named a “stealthy Christmas angel ninja.”

C.S. Lewis had an interesting thought in an essay, “What Christmas Means to Me” (in God in the Dock, a compilation of essays on ethics):

“Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.

“I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers.”
[Source: Q Ideas]

What happened to the “Christ” in Christmas? Which “Christmas” are we talking about?

A song for the ages, about the King of Everything.

Tonight we will sing a great hymn, a song for the ages, about the King of Everything:

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing [listen]:

Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a worship hymn and Christmas carol written by Charles Wesley in 1739. Charles along with brother John Wesley was a founder of the Methodist church movement, birthed out of the Church of England (Anglican). The younger Wesley requested slow and solemn music for his lyrics and thus “Hark the herald angels sing” was sung to a different tune initially. Over a hundred years later Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed a cantata in 1840 to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. English musician William H. Cummings adapted Mendelssohn’s music to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” already written by Wesley.

A thinking man's Christmas

Ross Douthat has a really good opinion column over at NYTimes.com:
A Tough Season for Believers.” His piece begins:

Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.

In a sense, of course, there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

If we take a step back and ponder our traffic jams, heightened stress, overspending, and ridiculous expectations of family members, we might well laugh a bit at ourselves — or be drawn to despair. How have we missed the essence of Christmas? (Is it really about if some one says “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” to us while we by things we can hardly afford to impress people with gifts we haven’t given much thought about?)

I read Douthat’s column while waiting for a prayer meeting this morning that never materialized. Or should I say, four of us then gathered to pray — I was privileged to join the Father, Son, and Spirit in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and intercession.

Here are some of the themes I prayed: Continue reading

But . . .

The greatest truths often come in simple transitions. Consider:

BUT NOW . . .

[19] Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. [20] For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
[21] But now [Νυνὶ δὲ, nuni de] the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— [22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [26] It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
—Romans 3:19-26

BUT GOD . . .

[2:1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— [3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God [ὁ δὲ θεὸς, de Theos], being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— [6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:1-10

Acclaim: Worship and Fame.

“When you’ve had all the experiences – met all the famous people, made some money, toured the world and got all the acclaim – you still think ‘is that it?’” —George Harrison of the Beatles

Be Thou My VisionSome great reflections on worship as the antidote to idolatry by Jonathan McIntosh (parts 1 & 2).

A few ways to identify if we’re bought into the ‘god’ (idol) of personal acclaim:

  • Jealousy — Do you become easily envious of leaders who have more influence, a larger platform, or a bigger following than you?
  • Despair — When someone’s talent, level of attention, fame or power eclipses your own, does it practically affect your level of joy – even driving you to despair?
  • Self Absorption — Do you find yourself busily preening your public image, Googling your name, obsessing over how many times your sermons or songs have been downloaded, the number of hits on your site, or the number times you get retweeted?
  • Need for Credit — Is it hard for you when others get credit for something you deserve? Do you find yourself constantly needing to set the record straight, mak

A key point, in part two, on repentance and faith:

The antidote begins with worship – to give glory back to God.

Repent: Repentance in this case looks like giving back to God what is rightfully his: worship. Glory. Renown.
Believe: Believe that the glory that comes from God is better, richer, and more lasting than the transient glory that comes from man (John 12:43).

Repent: Be humbled as you realize you have attempted to use the ministry and gifts God has given you to pilfer from him the fame and renown that he and he alone deserves.
Believe: Be lifted up as you realize and experience afresh your unalterable identity as son or daughter of the King who died to make rebels and glory thieves his kids.

Worship to repent. Worship to believe.

Also, some practical suggestions on how to lead ourselves from a desire for personal acclaim to true worship of God:

If acclaim is your idol of choice:

  • Begin the day with worship. Don’t rest till your study, meditation, or prayer leads to adoration.
  • Command your soul to worship. Don’t wait for the music or the feeling. David did this multiple times throughout the Psalms, just look up “O my soul”.
  • Practice being more expressive. Shout, clap, dance. You have to retrain your body, mind, and soul. Learn again the language of adoration. This is a fight for your heart’s affection.
  • Memorize Psalm 16 (“In your presence there is fullness of joy.”) Psalm 42 (“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”) or Psalm 63 (“My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you.”)

A great place to start, right now, is to sing, pray, and meditate on these words from Be Thou My Vision:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Read on: