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