“A Message to Tell” by Pastor Andy Braams

SONG:  I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells. We hear because something is communicating. In this case the bells are communicating. Specifically, the bells are communicating familiar carols. If you live close to this church, you know what this means. A couple of times each day, “our bells” communicate old familiar hymns. If you know the hymn, you typically begin humming or even singing along.

Further in the first verse, the song says, the words repeat. That is, the message gets repeated. The message that is repeated is one that bores many people. But it is a message that should always remind us of the grace of God and the hope we can have – that God offers peace to all men. He offers His good will to all men. His good and perfect will was made known through Jesus, not just in His birth, but in His death and resurrection as well. Yes, the offer of peace and good will is made…but we must receive that offer…that is, we must receive Christ.

The song even gets to this point. In verse 3, we sing that we do not find peace on earth. If you have found the earth to be a perfect peace, you are not looking very hard. Yes, we can have peace…we can have the peace of God, and it can rule in our hearts (Colossians 3.15), but as the songwriter states, “hate is strong and mocks the song…” What song? That God has brought peace to the earth.

But make no mistake, God is still at work. Things will be made right – in HIS time. The fourth verse reminds me a bit of Psalm 73 in which the author, after lamenting about how the wicked have more than the righteous proclaims, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire but you. My flesh and my heart may fail. But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vv. 25-26).

That is knowing peace on earth. That is experiencing God’s good will to men. It is the song of the Bible. It is the song we just song. It is a song that we should never tire of hearing. And it is a song we should have a desire to sing, or to tell, to others.

SONG:  O Little Town of Bethlehem

This past Tuesday evening, several of us went out and sang carols at several homes. As we stood outside Betty J’s home, I turned and look up at the sky. It was clear and the stars were shining bright. The sky was a deep, deep, dark blue with the stars just hanging there. It was cold, but it was beautiful.

I think the scene near Bethlehem might have been similar. We know one star shone brighter than the rest, but perhaps on that night, all of the stars were shining. In O Little Town of Bethlehem, the picture that is painted is one of serenity. The town was asleep; the stars drifted by in the night. But one Light pierced through them all. It was not the stars, or even THE STAR. It was not the moon. Of course, Luke 2 says the shekinah glory of God was present when the angels proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. But it was not the light in the sky that draws our attention; rather it is the One who would later call Himself the Light of the world (John 8.12). As this song says, it was the everlasting Light.

Verse 2 of this song reminds us that the angels came to tell the story. The story of the birth had to be told. We reviewed that concept last week. But when we arrive at verse 3, the idea begins to change. The silent arrival of Jesus that night is given as a parallel to our ability to hear Jesus coming into our lives now as found in the words, “but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him, the dear Christ enters in.”

Here is the reality. Meek souls cannot receive what they do not know is offered. The angels came to proclaim His birth. But we get to proclaim His life. We get to proclaim His death. We get to proclaim His resurrection. We get to proclaim His purpose.

Yes, the story needed to be told in, and around, the little town of Bethlehem that night so many years ago. But the story has not ended, and thus it still needs to be told today in little towns like Fairfax, in big towns like New York, and in all other size towns as well.

SONG:  Good Christian Men, Rejoice

The title of this song is not a statement; it is a command. The title does not say, “Good Christian men rejoice,” although Christian men should rejoice. The title (and song) have a comma after the third word. If we are speaking or reading, the comma implies a pause that is not always evident in music. Thus, the song title is a command to rejoice. It would be better served with an exclamation mark after the word rejoice, such as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice!” Now, each of the verses do start with these words and that first sentence ends with an exclamation mark. So, what the songwriter did was not only command us to rejoice, but we are instructed how to do so – with heart, and with soul, and with our voice!

What that means is that we are to rejoice with passion – with all that we have! Why? Because we know Jesus Christ was born – today, for this, and to save (as each verse says). The birth of Christ has made God’s eternal glory available to us and for that we should rejoice. And by rejoicing, others will hear – that is why we must rejoice with our voice. It is not enough to simply rejoice in our hearts. It is not enough to rejoice in our souls. We are expected to rejoice with our mouths. People should hear our rejoicing. And when they hear, they have the opportunity to join us. That is a major message of Christmas. And it is the message of today. If you have received the message of Jesus, it is not yours to keep. He gave it to you to share with others. And it does not matter how many times you have shared it so far, if you are still here, you still have an opportunity to rejoice…to share…to proclaim the good news of Jesus!

So, good Christian men…and good Christian women…rejoice!

This series has been about helping us see the meaning of Christmas more clearly. It is not just a matter of knowing that Jesus was born – although that is the most important part. The point of this series is to help us consider what we are to do about it. The first week, we were challenged to magnify the Lord as Mary did (Luke 1.46-47). Last week, we were challenged to hear the message with a fresh expectation like the shepherds, who surely never got tired of talking about the night the angels showed up and told them of Jesus’ birth. This week, the challenge is to take what we have heard, what we have received, and share it with others. And to do that, our specific focus in this series is to consider the words and phrases of some of the songs we sing, and some of the words we read in the Bible, in order to better understand the message.

But the reality is that even for those who have heard the message (not this message, THE message of Christmas), the meaning of Christmas will get lost. Life will get in the way and they will miss the meaning of Christmas. For those that have not heard the meaning, we need to share it with them. For those who have forgotten, or become bored with the message, we need to remind them. For us, we need to be reminded too. Because the message of Christmas is not just about a boy who was born, it is about God coming to us. The message of Christmas is about that boy growing into a man who showed us how to live our lives and love God and others. It is about that man who died and rose again. It is about God coming to us, because He was for us, and through His death and resurrection, He now gives us the opportunity to be with Him. That is the meaning of Christmas. Yes, it begins with a baby, but it ends with a Savior.

If we know the true meaning of the season, we can truly sing with heart and soul and voice one other song. That song is Joy to the World. This song was not written as a Christmas song, and this type of song almost got Isaac Watts kicked out of the church for its style and vibrancy.

Joy to the World is not about the first coming of Christ; it is about His Second Coming. We may not see this clearly in the first verse, but in verses 2-4, it becomes evident if we consider what is written. The song was based upon Psalm 98. Take a moment to read Psalm 98.

Verse 2 of the song begins with the Savior reigns. Jesus, as a baby, did not come to reign. He came to die. Jesus spoke of the coming kingdom. He is reigning over that kingdom today, but it is not yet fully realized. One day Jesus will return, and His reign will be complete. That is the joy of which this song speaks.

Verse 3 speaks of the end of sin and the renounces the thorn-infested land. Both of these curses are found in Genesis 3 and continue to this day. Paul speaks of the curse in Galatians 3.10-14. The thorns are more than the literal thorns on the land. They represent all parts of the curse including sickness, disease, death, etc. But the blessings He will one day give to us in His presence will include removing the curse of sin and restore the land as well. Yes, His mercy and grace have defeated sin, but the curse still remains…until He returns.

Verse 4 speaks of Him ruling. Again, He did not come to rule the first time. And the nations certainly do not prove the glories of His righteousness now. But one day they will. Indeed, they will! And not only His righteousness, but they will also prove the wonders of His love.

But that day is not yet. We can experience His Kingdom now, but not fully. So, until then, we proclaim His name. We proclaim His love. We proclaim His purpose. We simply proclaim Jesus. Good Christian men and women, we are to rejoice. Let us rejoice together now as we prepare to close by singing this great song of a joy to come.

SONG:  Joy to the World

“A Message Told” by Pastor Andy Braams

Blog Note: The current series, The Meaning of Christmas, will focus on understanding the various terms and concepts related to Christmas. Some of the terms will come from songs, others from the Bible, and depending upon the time, perhaps some from culture. The first post in this series focused on songs which are listed as we sang them.

In the song, The First Noel, the text says, “the angel did say.” Other songs say they sang. Most will say it does not really make a difference. Those people are probably right, but I will talk more about this idea later in the message.

What is important is that the message of Jesus’ birth was told. That is the theme of today. Events happen every day of which no one ever hears. Jesus was not the only birth on the day he was born, but it is the only one we know happened. However, if the angels had not told the shepherds, and the shepherds had not told Mary, and Mary had not told someone, who told Luke, who wrote it down, well…would we know?

As for the song, The First Noel, we are immediately met with a word that is foreign to most of us – noel, or as in our hymnal, nowell. The word n-o-e-l is truly foreign – it is a French word that refers to the Christmas season. The word may have derived from a Latin word which means birth Christmas carol. Interestingly, it is suggested if the word noel is lower case it means a carol, but if it is in upper case, it means Christmas. In our hymnal, the word is in upper case and thus, it is presumed to mean, “the first Christmas.” However, as I just mentioned, the spelling is n-o-w-e-l-l. This spelling is the English spelling of the word, but it has the same meaning. Thus, the spelling you see will depend upon where a particular songbook or hymnal was published and, perhaps, when it was published.

As for the song itself, let me remind you of something I said last week. I like this song, but the songs we sing are not on par with the Bible. The Bible is truth, but that does not mean that songs based upon the Bible are completely truth. For instance, Luke is the only account of the night of Jesus’ birth and it does not give an account of the weather. While it is true that the time of year was winter (although likely not December 25th), and the area of Bethlehem is on a hill and therefore cooler than in the valleys, at least during the day, we are not told in Scripture that the night was cold. I walked through Bethlehem one evening in early January looking for a Pepsi and did so without a jacket. So, was it a cold winter’s night? Or was Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths because babies need warmth? We do not know, but again, we cannot get our theology from a song, even though most people’s understanding of Christmas comes from the songs they hear on the radio rather than the Word of God.

Like the song, Angels from the Realms of Glory, which we sang last week, this song tells a story. It is a story that began with the angels telling the shepherds. Then the story moves to the wise men, and finally to us. But the key is that a new development in the story happened (God came to earth as a baby). But the story had to be told for people to know. We can and should sing praises, but we have a story to tell as well.

SONG: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

I care about words. I am not perfect in how I use them, but I pay attention to the words people use, the words I read, and the words I say. I began the last segment with the idea of the difference between the angels singing and saying. Most people do not care. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do pay attention because I believe every word in the Bible is inspired. In The First Noel, the angel did say. In this song, the angels did sing. We have a difference in the number of angels and in whether, or not, what was communicated was sung or said. As I mentioned earlier, what is important is that the message was, and is, communicated – however it may be done.

One angel began by talking to the shepherds and then a multitude joined in and together, they were “saying,” according to Luke 2.14. That is, the angels did not sing, “Glory to God in the highest…” they said it. Now, might their voices sound musical? Possibly, but the Bible is never clear that angels sing.* What they do say is important. And it is that message we must consider further.

*The Bible clearly speaks of humans singing (e.g. Ephesians 5.19), but is less clear if angels do. Job 38.7 may indicate singing, but the Hebrew word can be interpreted as loud shouting. Revelation 5.9, 11, and 12 may hint at singing, but again we cannot be concrete. And Luke 2.13 clearly speaks of saying. Now, angels do likely have beautiful voices (cf. 1 Corinthians 13.1), but we cannot say with certainty that angels truly sing.

First, notice the quotes around what the angels proclaim. These words do not match the text of the Bible, but they do match its meaning. In fact, the meaning matches better than most people may realize. In Luke 2.14, the text ends with the idea that God extends His peace to “those with whom he is pleased” (ESV). For instance, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear says, “peace on earth, good will toward men” alluding to this passage. But that is not what the text says. (It should be noted in the text of that song, the principle is communicated that God offers peace to man.)

To be faithful to the text, we must consider with whom is God pleased? Hebrews 11.6 gives us a clear answer – those who have faith. In fact, the verse says that it is impossible to please God without faith. Thus, Luke 2.14 cannot mean that God is pleased with mankind like so many would have us believe. The verse specifically says that peace comes to those who have faith – and ONLY those who have faith.

This idea is foreign to most people at Christmas. The truth is that God did make a way…but we have to choose the way He made, not the path we want to take. Only when we choose God’s way are we truly at peace with God. Undoubtedly, God made peace possible. It was God who originated the plan. It was God who executed the plan. But it is up to us to believe that the plan worked. Without that trust, we cannot have peace…in part, because we are telling God that His plan was not right, or that it was not enough. In other words, we are calling God a liar.

In verse 2 of the song, we find that Christ is adored by heaven. Can you imagine the night of His birth? Can you imagine the angels waiting to see what would happen? Can you imagine them eagerly awaiting God’s command to go to share the message with the shepherds? I can almost see the picture of every angel saying, “Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!” What a scene that must have been! And why? Because Christ was adored in heaven…because Christ is Lord of heaven.

Galatians 4.4 tells us that Jesus was sent at the proper time, but He came in such an unexpected way. First, God came to earth. Second, He came as a baby. And third, He came from a virgin. Glory, indeed, to the newborn King.

Verse 3 of this song is fascinating. First, notice that Jesus is being hailed. He is hailed as the Prince of Peace and the Sun of righteousness. The term Prince of Peace was prophesied by Isaiah some 700 years earlier (Isaiah 9.6). The term Sun of righteousness may surprise you because the word Sun is spelled s-u-n, not s-o-n. Furthermore, the end of the next line says that Jesus is “ris’n with healing in His wings.” I frequently try to help people understand that people do not turn to angels when we die. Angels are created beings. Humans are created beings. It is said that those who follow Christ will one day judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6.3)? We do not become angels. Period. Exclamation point!

So, Jesus did not become an angel, so what is this about having wings? And that about the s-u-n of righteousness. These words come directly from a prophecy about Jesus’ second coming in Malachi 4.2. Take a moment to read Malachi 4.1-3.

The sun of righteousness can mean the sun of vindication. Just as the sun gives light, the verse in the song says that Jesus gives light and life, but in Malachi 4, the light which is brought will be a scorching blaze burning up everything that is unrighteous. The healing in His wings is not because Jesus is an angel; rather, the term is a metaphor for all that are covered by Him. Notice it is healing for those under His wings – or outstretched hands, as He was on the cross. Like a bird covers over her young by stretching out her wings, so, too, does Jesus heal, and then protect, all those who comes under His outstretched arms.

The final part of this verse is amazing.

      • 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.

Jesus laid aside His glory for the sake of you and me. This is captured so well by Paul in Philippians 2.5-11. Jesus humbled Himself and, thus, was exalted by God, and will be exalted forevermore.

Jesus was born so we would not have to die. This phrase does not mean that we will not physically die, but that we do not have to be spiritually separated from God for all of eternity. That is the peace of God which the angels proclaimed. (See Galatians 2.20).

Jesus was born to raise us as children of God. First, we can become children of God (John 1.12). And then, as God’s children so dearly loved (1 John 3.1), we can be united with Him for eternity (1 Corinthians 15.20-23).

Jesus was born once so we could be born again. Again, we have the opportunity to become children of God if we receive what Jesus offers (John 1.12). Being born into the world is not enough. For, what Jesus said to Nicodemus, He says to us as well, “You must be born again” (John 3.7).

What amazes me is the Jesus chose to come knowing that He would die. The plan of redemption was prepared before the foundation of the world was set in place (Ephesians 1.4). But Jesus came anyway.

And, in His birth, He was prepared for death. In Luke 2, the angel gave a tell-tale sign to the shepherds so they would know which baby was the right one. The angel said, “you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

We see this scene as cute as it is often portrayed by children in little pageants. But the scene was horrifying for Joseph and Mary. First, their newborn was born in a manger. This clue tells the shepherds they can avoid going to private residences or buildings to find this child. That is probably good because the shepherds would have stunk and likely would have been unwelcome.

But even more horrifying for Joseph and Mary was that they wrapped their newborn baby in these swaddling cloths. Now, the word swaddle simply means to wrap. But these cloths were almost certainly used to wrap the dead. These cloths were often kept in the caves so when someone in the town died, people would come to the caves, get the cloths, wrap the people and then bury them in the cave or perhaps a nearby cemetery. Therefore, Jesus was wrapped in the same kind of cloth on the first day of His life and the last die of His life. The imagery here cannot be overlooked. The song might say that Jesus was born that man might not have to die. But we must understand that Jesus was born specifically to die. (1)

But Jesus did not stay dead. He had to be born. He had to die. But He is alive today. And that is why we must do now what the angels did then…we must tell the story of Jesus.

CONCLUSION

The beauty of the story of Jesus is that it is still to be told today. In fact, we are invited to tell it in the songs we sing. For instance, in the first verse of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, we are invited to sing with the angels in proclaiming that, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” But that is not the end of our proclamation. Those words fit the chronology of the moment, but now, we know the rest of the story. Therefore, we not only get to proclaim the birth, we also get to proclaim why Jesus came (to die for us), and that the grave could not hold Him! But the question is, are we willing to proclaim?

The JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

It was Jesus who asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s answer that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” was true then, and it is true today as well. Thus, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we must remember that we are celebrating the birth of the King. On that first Noel, the angels appeared and mesmerized the shepherds. Unlike those shepherds, we may have heard the story many times, but the shepherds surely reminded each other of that glorious night many, many times – and never grew tired of hearing it, or thinking about it. Thus, let us make sure that we never get tired of hearing the message of Jesus. Let us continue to be mesmerized at the idea of God coming to live among us, to die for us, and to now live in everyone who chooses to follow Him.

PRINCIPLE:  The story of Jesus has been told, and it must continue to be told today.

QUESTION:  Would you want someone to tell you the message of Jesus if you had not heard it?

OPPORTUNITY:  God has placed someone in your life who needs to hear the true meaning of Christmas. Take time to share the message of Jesus with them.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE. If we truly believe the message of Jesus, we have peace with God. If we have peace, we need to love others enough to share that message so they can have peace with Him as well.

1) See Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s The Life of Messiah from a Jewish Perspective. Paragraph 11 in reference.

“Magnify the Lord” by Pastor Andy Braams

Blog Note: The current series, The Meaning of Christmas, will focus on understanding the various terms and concepts related to Christmas. Some of the terms will come from songs, others from the Bible, and depending upon the time, perhaps some from culture. The first post in this series focused on songs which are listed as we sang them.

It has been said that whoever controls the vocabulary controls the culture. I believe that is largely true. For instance, I have certain pet peeves regarding the English language, but because I don’t have any control over the English language, I have no control over the culture. And frankly, I do not care about controlling culture, but some matters just do not make sense. And perhaps that is because most people either do not know or do not care about the study of the origin of words and the history of their changes which is otherwise known as etymology.

A part of this is true because most people, myself included, often only think about words in their language. In fact, many people do not even consider any other languages. Thus, when a word is heard, it must have originated in that language. And, in reality, what is important is knowing how to communicate in the language around us. It does not make sense for us to know ancient Sanskrit, because few people around the world even study it.

So we hear a word like “fly” and we may have to interpret if the person is talking about a noun (the insect) or a verb (what the fly does in the air; by the way, which came first, the noun or the verb?!?), but in context we can generally figure it out. And we can hear a word like grasshopper and assume that the name is because the insect hops on the grass. But other words may not make as much sense without a little thought. For instance, the word caterpillar. The insect does not look like a cat or pillar (bad pun), but instead derives its name from a combination of cat (and specifically a “hairy cat”) and an obsolete word piller which means to “ravage.” Thus, the word means “the hairy cat that ravages.”

Well, enough about insects. The point is that we often hear and say words that we might not always understand their meaning. And the same is true of Christmas. We sing songs and hear stories and do not always know what the words mean.

So, for the next few weeks, I am going to help us identify some of these words and attempt to explain their origin. In some cases, the words might be understood, but the full meaning might not. So, that is the goal of today and the next couple of weeks.

SONG: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

In the song O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. One of the terms in that song will be seen in a couple of other songs, so I will defer on that term. But the essence of this song is about pleading with God to come and take away the captivity. In many ways, the words will remind us of the Israelites in the Old Testament. Terms such as captive Israel and exile remind us of Egypt, (and later Babylon). The path can help us remember the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Envy, strife, and quarreling were a part of the challenges Moses had with the Israelites and caused a generation to miss out on entry to the Promised Land.

But the word in this song I want to mention is the word DaySpring. Some will hear this word and immediately think of the company that makes Christian cards and gifts. But why?

The word Dayspring was a common term 400 years ago when the King James Version was originally translated. The term is all but obsolete today, except in Christian terminology. It is used in Job 38.12 and Luke 1.78. In Job it is referring the rising of the sun. In Luke, Zechariah uses it to talk of the coming of the Messiah.

In the song, I believe the word has a double meaning. The verse does talk about removing the clouds and the darkness of the night, so in a practical sense, the writer is showing what a sunrise can do. But without a doubt, the term is meant to talk about the coming of the Son, Emmanuel, to be with us and take away the darkness and gloom in our lives. That is the true reason for the term in the song here.

Regardless of the terms, the real question we must ask ourselves in singing a song like this is, do we desire for God to come. Do we expect it? Throughout the centuries people have. The question is, “Do we?”

SONG: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

In the previous song, the term Emmanuel was used. In this song we have the name of Jesus. Now that name deserves a lot of study, but Matthew 1.21 provides the meaning – God saves.

The name for Jesus is actually Yeshua or Yoshua. I mentioned during our year-long study on the life of Jesus. The “J” did not come along for a few centuries and was used interchangeably with the “I” until it received its own sound (“juh”) in 1524. Thus, it is Jesus, or Yeshua, who leads the people into a land of promise, just like Joshua, or Yoshua, did in the Old Testament.

The phrase “Israel’s strength and consolation” is a reference to the Messiah. And this Messiah was born. Notice the word born is used four times in this short hymn – once in verse 1 and three times in verse 2.

In verse 2, it is all about Jesus as King. He was born not only to come and deliver (save), but to rule. Notice the kingly references in verse 2. He is King. He will reign. He has a gracious Kingdom. He will rule. He has a throne. And He, Jesus, has the merit to do so. That is, He is worthy.

He has saved us. He is King. The question is, will we offer our allegiance to the King?

SONG: Angels from the Realms of Glory

This song tells a wonderful story. It does contain one word (or phrase) we need to review, but I want to focus on the sequence first. I enjoy songs that flow from a sequence.

First, you have the angels. They began in the realms of glory. That is, they began above. They were there to sing the story of creation. They have watched God’s plan unfold from just after “In the beginning.”

The story then moves forward to the night of Jesus’ birth. But it also moves from the realms of glory to the fields surrounding Bethlehem. It moves from the awe-inspiring angels to the also-ran shepherds. It moves from those who are abiding with God to those who are abiding with sheep. But the story here says that these outcasts now have a chance to abide with God as well – because of Jesus.

Verse 3 moves back up the social scale. The sages, or wise men, are not on par with the angels, but society would hold them in much higher regard than the shepherds. These sages are to leave contemplations behind in order to seek something, or Someone, greater. This statement is not an indictment against knowledge; rather, it is a reminder that we must act on what we know. Specifically, they have seen the infant’s star and must choose what they will now do.

Finally, the story moves to the saints of all ages. Those saints include us. We are not saints (which means holy ones) because of ourselves. Rather we are like the shepherds in many ways. But God has brought us up in status by coming down to living among us, to live with us. Thus, we bend at the altar in confession and thanksgiving and expectation. We watch in hope and fear as long as it takes. We do so because just as Jesus came once, He has promised to come again.

The phrase is in this song is “desire of nations.” That phrase is found in Haggai 2.7. When we read this verse in the KJV, it appears as if the phrase means the Messiah. But the Hebrew word (khemdah) is a collective plural. That means that many things make up one. The problem is that we only have one Messiah (Christ). Thus, the true meaning of the word relates to wealth (NASB), or treasures (ESV). This idea is made more clear in verse 8 when God talks about the silver and the gold.*

*Some say that this verse has a double meaning and does refer to the Savior. The argument is made, in part, because of verse 9, when God talks about the glory of the house – the temple that is being rebuilt. The NT does call our bodies the temple and God dwells there through His Spirit, so this understanding may also be correct, though reading the context of Haggai 2 is talking about the physical temple at that time.

This phrase (desire of nations) is a great example of why we must not consider hymns as inerrant. The Bible is perfect. Hymns are not…even when they are based upon the Bible. Other than this phrase, the song is good. But with the phrase in question, the song really tells the sages to seek earthly wealth. This phrase is also why we are doing this short sermon series.

SONG: Mary, Did You Know?

The song Mary, Did You Know?, is a very profound song. The words within the song are simple enough, but most are filled with meaning that is beyond comprehension. That is, we might understand what the words mean, but it is nearly impossible to grasp the meaning of what they say. For instance, the phrase, “when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God,” or “the sleeping child your holding is the great I AM,” are absolutely mind-numbing ideas to consider!

But again, the words themselves are straightforward. So, for this song, I am not going to speak on individual words. Instead, I am going to try to answer the question, what did Mary know? Or what could Mary have known? (1)

Perhaps she knew the Old Testament well. We have evidence of this in the Magnificat – Latin for Magnify. Luke 1.46-47 says, “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.’” So, Mary knew God. And God knew Mary. But we do not know specifically what she knew from the Old Testament. In Luke 1, however, we do find some specifics about what she did know because of what the angel, Gabriel, told her.

Read Luke 1.31-35.

What was Mary told?

      • She would conceive. She would have a son who was to be called Jesus.
      • The son would be the Son of the Most High (that is, God). He will inherit David’s throne.
      • He will reign over the house of Jacob (that is, Israel) forever.
      • His kingdom will never end.
      • The Holy Spirit will come upon her and impregnate her.
      • Elizabeth will also have a child.
      • Nothing is impossible for God.

What did Mary know previously?

      • Virgins cannot bear children. (v. 34)
      • Trust what God says. (v. 38)

So, Mary did not know explicitly what the lyrics in the song ask. She certainly would have wondered what it meant to be a virgin mother. She would have wondered what kind of mom she could be to the Son of the God of the universe. And if she knew passages like Isaiah 61.1-3, which she might have, she would have a clue as to what Messiah would do. But I do not think she truly had any idea.

Why do I say that?

Because in Mark 3, she goes to rescue Jesus (Mark 3.31-35, cf. Matthew 12.46-49). As a mother, this may make sense. But Jesus is not a man in need of rescue. He is the man who came to rescue us. And, doing things that only the Messiah could do, things like healing a blind and deaf man and challenging the religious leaders who claimed He was Satan (see Mark 3.22-30, cf. Matthew 12.22-45), were bound to get Him into trouble. But the kind of trouble Jesus was far beyond what a pleading mom could do.

So, while the song is a great song, the answer to the questions is that she probably knew little of what having a son, the Son, could mean.

CONCLUSION

We may not know exactly what Mary knew? But we know that the people longed for Messiah. We have sung songs today that were written long after Jesus came; however, they depict a desire that would have been present for many in the 1st Century. We must consider if our longing is similar. We may not know exactly what they knew or expected. But we can know what happened. We can not only know that Jesus came, but we should understand fully why He came…what He did, and how He did it.

And, then we have a choice. And that choice is to believe and to long for His return. Or to carry on about our business as if what Jesus did doesn’t really matter.

JOURNEY

The JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Immanuel – God with us. Jesus – God saves. And because of that salvation, we have the opportunity to be with God forever – not when we die, but now. God did not come in the person of Jesus so we could be with Him later. Immanuel does not mean God will be with us someday…it means God with us. As in NOW. And that truth is made possible because of Jesus.

Thus, as Mary said, so shall we, “‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior’” (Luke 1.46-47).

PRINCIPLE:  Words matter. People matter. And that is why God came to us to save us!

QUESTION:  Do you know you matter enough to Jesus that He came to earth to save you?

OPPORTUNITY:  Realize how important you, and others, are to Jesus.

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN.  Take time to gain a deeper understanding of the words of Christmas so you can better appreciate the gift that God has given us – and share that gift with others.

1) You can find an excellent article which captures this idea at https://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/what-did-mary-know

“Light of the World” by Pastor Andy Braams

My wife is a big fan of John Williams. John Williams has composed some of the most iconic songs in Hollywood History. Various themes from Jaws, Star Wars, ET, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and so many more were created from the brilliant mind of John Williams.

But today, I want to introduce you to another John Williams. This John Williams was a missionary in the early 1800s (beginning his work at about age 21 in 1817 until his death in 1839). This John Williams was a member of the London Missionary Society and was commissioned to be light to a far-off place – the islands of the South Pacific. This John Williams brought the gospel to places such as Tahiti, Samoa, and the Cook Islands.

John Williams was the first to take the gospel to many of these islands and after returning to London for a period of time to translate the New Testament to help the people in that region, he was commissioned to return for one final trip to another set of islands in what is now called Vanuatu (then known as the New Hebrides Islands.

In November 1839, John Williams arrived at one of the islands called Erromango with another missionary named James Harris.  Their mission was to be light in an area of darkness. For this John Williams, it was another tribe with whom to share the Gospel. These two men were the first Christian missionaries in the New Hebrides Islands. Moments after they arrived on shore, both men were clubbed to death and their bodies eaten.

Today, we conclude our series on how the systems of the human body relate to the church. We have covered eleven systems of the human body – the body that God made. We have done so while considering the term the Body of Christ, a metaphorical body that God made, that Jesus is building, and of which He is the head (Colossians 1.18).

It is Jesus who came into the world to be light. John 1.9 calls Jesus “the true light, which enlightens everyone.” Thus, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8.12). And it was this same Jesus, the one who enlightens everyone (John 1.9) and allows us to have the “light of life” (John 8.12) who told a group on a mountain one day that “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5.16). Thus, Jesus said both that He is the light of the world and that those who follow Him are to be a light to the world as well.

Let me share a few thoughts about light and health as we conclude this series.

We Cannot Be Light if We Are Not Healthy

This series has been entitled, Healthy Body, Healthy Church. If the body is healthy, then the church is healthy. But we are not the ultimate authority on whether we are healthy or not. Let me share two reasons that statement is true.

      1. God is our maker.

Whatever is made is not greater than what makes it. Of course, some people may be better than others, but a person is a person. Some cars may be more valuable than other, but a car is a car. Some may argue that certain cars have more value than certain persons or even groups of people. But that thinking is wrong. Direct to my point, a person designed a car so no matter what we think of a car, it cannot be greater than a person. Likewise, no matter what some might think of God, because God is our maker, no person can ever be greater than God.

      1. Jesus is the Great Physician.

People go to the doctor when they are not feeling well. However, at a certain age, most people start getting check-ups, as we call them. We want the doctor to check us over and tell us if we are ok. We submit ourselves to blood work, stress tests, and other exams in order to have an idea of how we are doing, even if we feel well. We do this because the physician is skilled and understands the body better than we do. Likewise, Jesus, as the Great Physician understands what the body needs. Not only because He is the physician, but because He is the head of that body.

Many churches can look good on the outside and even appear glamorous on the inside, but the church that Christ promised to build is not like the temple of the Old Testament. The tabernacle and later the temple were ornate and beautiful. The Bible goes into great detail on the materials that were used and how it was to be adorned.

But we are now the temple of God. We are now where God’s glory is to dwell. We are to be beautiful, not because of how we look, but because of how we live. God does not call us to be supermodels physically. He is not concerned with our physical appearance in that sense. But He does not want us to be like blots on the skins, or even acne, for His cause. That is, what we do, and how we live, should reflect the beauty and glory of God. We are not to judge a book by its cover. But as Christians, the contents of our lives should be worth reading!

So, we, as a church, must strive to be healthy, in order that we can be light.

We Cannot Be Healthy if We Do Not Have the Light

Yes, this point is essentially the reverse of the previous point. But that doesn’t make this point any less true. If we do not have the light of God within us, we cannot be healthy as the body of Christ. That is certainly true of us as individuals, but it is also true of us as a church.

It is true as individuals because if we do not have the Light within us, we do not have Jesus. If we do not have Jesus, then we are not even a part of the body of Christ, and therefore, we are neither healthy or unhealthy. The Bible describes people in darkness as dead – in their transgressions (cf. Ephesians 2.1-5). Now, physically someone who is not born again, may be healthy, but spiritually they are dead. So, in order to have a chance at spiritual health requires having the light of Jesus in us. And if the light of Jesus is within us, then to be truly healthy, we need to let it shine through us.

Letting our light shine is what Jesus says we must do (Matthew 5.16).

      • We let the light shine not because it is our own light, but because it is His.
      • We let the light shine not for our glory, but so it will bring glory to God.
      • We let the light shine not for our salvation, but as an expression of being saved.

The reality is that some who have the light of Jesus choose not to let it shine. They want to keep it dim. But for such people, it is difficult to know whether the light of Jesus is really a part of them at all. Jesus makes it very clear that a city on a hill cannot be hidden. And people do not light lamps to hide their light. Rather they want the light to shine brightly in order to light the room.

If people do this with light that will soon burn out, how much more does Jesus want us to shine His eternal light through our lives as we live for Him.

When Jesus walked on earth, He not only was the light of the world, but He provided an eternal example of how that light could shine. Today, Jesus continues to shine His light – not to light up a room, but to light up a world. And He has chosen people like you and me to be that light…to live like Jesus…to live for Jesus, for the glory of God.

We Have a Choice

“You are who you want to be.” – John Maxwell

That is, you choose who you want to be. Although it is true that we do not have a choice in everything that happens to us in this life, we do have a choice in how we will respond. And those choices add up, over time, to make us the person we are today…and will be tomorrow. We cannot change who we are today, but we do have a choice of who we will become in the future. That is true for each individual. And it is true for the collection of people known as the church.

What I can say without a doubt is that God loves us. He loves the people of this church. He loves the people of this community. But I also know that He wants more for us…better for us. And better from us too. I must want more for myself. I must want more from myself. And you should want the same for you.

However, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I had created an idol of what this church could be instead of what it is, and that has kept me from loving and leading the church where it is. Again, we should all want more for this church because God wants more for this church. Wanting more for this church requires demanding more from this church – and that means demanding more from each of us.

But that does not mean that I, nor anyone else, has the right to lead without loving who we are currently. As I just mentioned, a series of choices by the people here today and by the people who are no longer a part of this church (whether they have died, moved, or chosen not to come) has made this church what it is today. The choices we make from here will dictate what this church will become tomorrow.

But Jesus said, I will build my Church. And He loves her while He builds her. And I must do the same. As I lead this church, I must better love this church – every person in this church. I must be a better shepherd of this church, as I continue to learn from the Shepherd of all churches. Yes, I want more for this church, but without love, I cannot expect more. (Sometimes that will require tough love.)

So, church, what do we want to be? Do we want to be the church that Jesus wants us to be? Do we want to be healthy? Then we must have the Light. Do we want to share the light and the hope that comes from Jesus? Then we must be healthy. He has a purpose for us. We have to choose our response.

It may not be easy to get from where we are to where we want to be, but if we seek the Light and choose to live by the Light, then we have the promise of the One who is light, that He will build us into what He wants us to be.

CONCLUSION

In 1839, John Williams went to Vanuatu to not only share the light, but to be the light to a people who know only darkness. The tribe was so entrenched with darkness that they ate the two missionaries who had come to share a message with them. It is a reminder of how the people treated Jesus when He came to show the light, to be the light, in the darkened world of the first century.

John Williams may have died that November day in 1839, but his story did not end. Within five years of his death, the London Missionary Society began operating ships named after the martyr. The first ship was named simply John Williams (1844). Six others would follow, with the last being decommissioned nearly 125 years later in 1968.

Additionally, that group of islands in the South Pacific, now known as Vanuatu, now has a motto, “In God we stand.” In 2009, just a decade ago, the now Christian nation asked the great-great-grandson of John Williams (Charles) to come to the island Erromango for a ceremony of reconciliation. Charles, and seventeen other family members, went. As part of the ceremony, a reenactment of the killings took place and then many of the descendants who were a part of the killing of John Williams sought forgiveness from the Williams family. Additionally, the bay where Mr. Williams had got off the ship was renamed Williams Bay.

The light John Williams went to share has left a definite impact even though he never had a chance to share the message he intended to share.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is the full word JOURNEY.

Our life is a journey. We may not be asked to take a trip to present the gospel where it has not been heard, but like Jesus, we are called to take the light with us wherever we go. We are called to shine the light wherever we may go. We are called to be the light wherever we may go. The JOURNEY is not always easy, but Jesus provided a model, showing us the way. After all, He is the Way for the JOURNEY we are taking.

PRINCIPLE:  Having the Light means we can be healthy. Being healthy means sharing the light!

QUESTION:  Will you choose to be healthy? Will you choose to share the Light?

OPPORTUNITY:  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” The opportunity is for us to let the light – His light – shine brightly, in order that God may truly be glorified.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: As followers of Christ, we are the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ, we are to live as Christ would live. Although we will not do so perfectly, we should aim high because it is God who has included us in His plan.