Haste, Haste to Bring Him Laud

Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.

Yes, I did. 

I went to Wal-Mart yesterday and I’ll probably go again today.  I never lived in a town with a Wal-Mart until we moved here seven years ago.  Going to the big store used to be a once- or twice-a-month family expedition.  The list on the refrigerator would get longer and longer.  Then we’d hitch up the horses, take the wagon into town and buy all the kids a penny stick of candy.  Whoa – slipping into “Little House on the Prairie” mode.  I do that at Christmastime.

Anyway, when we first moved to the big city, we went to Wal-Mart every day for the first two weeks.  The novelty has worn off; I only go two or three times a week now.  But there’s nothing like going to the super-store the day before Christmas.  So many people…so much hustle and bustle…so much plastic (toys and credit cards alike).  It’s hard not to get caught up in the hurry and scurry.

When William Dix wrote the words to “What Child Is This?” in 1865, he hit on something profound.  Where should we be hurrying off to?  To the mall?  Ah,no.  To paraphrase, “Hurry, hurry, to bring Him praise!  Hustle to worship and applaud His glory!  Get on over to church tonight and see if you can’t think of some way to lift Him up!  Hurry!”

On that first Christmas, some people might have been asking, “What child is this, that angels would greet him with sweet songs?”

We know the answer: “This, this, is Christ the Lord!”  So come, faithful people, to worship the Messiah.  Get a move on!

We Three Kings

We three Kings of Orient are bearing gifts, we traverse afar;

Field and fountain, moor and mountain following yonder star.

 

In this year’s Sunday school Christmas program, the preschool wise-people brought gifts to baby Jesus.  One came with a stack of presents that were quickly dropped on the X taped on the floor.  Then the mini-Magi hurried back to her place on the risers.  The second king brought a burlap bag of feed for the animals in the barn, but plopped it in Joseph’s lap obstructing his face for the rest of the scene.  The third wise-person presented a birthday cake – a two-layer shiny plastic confection with one candle that kept tipping over. 

It made me wonder: what would be an appropriate gift for such an occasion?  Money is always good (gold); expensive perfume is thoughtful (frankincense); oil for embalming (myrrh), well, that’s a little creepy.

In our preschool version of the Christmas story, the three wise-people walked all around the stage, following the girl holding a big star on a long stick.  They went around in circles and up and down hills until the star finally stopped over the manger. 

It made me wonder: how far am I willing to traverse to worship the Savior?  Would I ride a camel across the desert on a hunch that a star was pointing the way to royalty?  Would I get a passport and leave my country to worship a baby? 

In the big kids performance, King Herod told the Wisemen to let him know when they found the baby because he had a present for the new king.  Then the boy playing mean King Herod pulled out a sword, pretended to cut his thumb on the sharp edge, winced and put his thumb in his mouth.  It was comical moment.

But it made me wonder: why didn’t anybody in Israel get what was going on?  When Herod asked the religious leaders what the ancient scrolls said about a king, they knew exactly where to look.  Micah the prophet made it clear: “Out of you, Bethlehem…will come one who will be ruler over Israel.” (Micah 5:2)  So they knew the answer, but never went to see for themselves.  A bright light was shining over Bethlehem, but they didn’t seem to notice.  Angels filled the sky, but they missed it.  God became flesh, but they didn’t recognize Him. 

The costumes are put away for another year; the gold, frankincense and myrrh are back in the storage boxes.  The manger is up on the shelf; the star is in the back of the closet.  Oh, but kids sure can preach some good sermons.  I hope everyone was paying attention.

Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright;

Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect Light. 

 

 

 

 

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

While shepherds watched their flocks by night all seated on the ground,

The angel of the Lord came down and glory shone around.

 I love the shepherds.  They were just normal guys carrying out their normal routine on a normal night.  I’m not sure what the angel or the glory looked like, but it scared the heck out of the sheep-herders.  The angel’s words might have been a bit unsettling as well: “Unto you is born this day…”  Unto who?  

Shepherd #1:  Hey Fred, is your wife expecting a baby? 

Shepherd #2:  Don’t look at me, I don’t even have a girlfriend. 

Shepherd #3:  But the angel said a baby has been born to one of us shepherds…  

(That’s not in the Bible; I just like to make up imaginary conversations.)

The shepherds hurried off with specific instructions.  Of all the babies born in Bethlehem that night, they were to look for the only one lying in a manger.  That would certainly narrow it down.

Because of their possible contact with dead animals, shepherds were often considered unclean and not usually able to enter into the temple.  But they were able to enter a barnyard, kneel down in the straw and look into the newborn face of God’s Son.  They couldn’t approach God, so He came to them with the first invitation to come and see. 

Because of their low social standing and lack of religious training, shepherds could never hope to witness something as holy as the radiant glory of God.  But as they sat on a hillside outside of town, they saw something even Moses didn’t get to see on the holy mountain, even though he asked. (“Show me your glory.”  Exodus 33:18) 

Shepherds watched over little lambs, most likely creatures that would one day be sold for temple sacrifice.  How fitting that they were the first to behold the Lamb of God, who would one day be the Great Shepherd.

I just love the way God works.

How Silently the Wondrous Gift Is Given

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.*

 

The birth of a royal baby is big news. 

In 1982, when Prince William was born, thousands of people waited outside the palace during Princess Diana’s 16 hour labor.  When the Royal Proclamation of the baby’s birth was hung outside the gate, a roar of cheers went up from the crowd.  They waved British flags in celebration and erupted in “God Save the Queen”.  The soccer games being aired on the “telly” were interrupted with the royal announcement.  Guards at the palace wore special uniforms for 24 hours and there were 101 gun salutes across the English countryside. 

I also gave birth in 1982 to my first child.  There were no cheering crowds outside Methodist Hospital, no gun salutes, no breaking news on channel 3.  Ours was a quieter affair.  In fact, I remember the room being rather hushed and softly lit.  After her first husky cries, my little wide-eyed wonder settled right down to check out her new parents.  Maybe the hospital was noisy, but I didn’t hear anything.  Maybe other babies were being born in the rooms across the hall, but I didn’t pay any attention.  I was receiving this gift that had just entered in; into my arms, into my heart.

Just think of the possibilities of what God could have done to announce His Son’s birth.  Thousands upon thousands of angels could have lit up the skies.  A royal proclamation could have thundered from the heavens, shaking the gates of King Herod’s palace.  Michael and Gabriel could have set off some fireworks.  But instead, the wondrous gift was given on a silent night.  Angels put on a display for a handful of social outcasts and their sheep.  A star was observed by some foreign dignitaries in another country.  Instead of crowds cheering the new birth, cows and donkeys rustled and snorted in their stalls.

God doesn’t go in for flashy displays very often.  He tends to impart His blessings in quieter ways.  This world of sin makes it hard to notice Him sometimes.  But, oh, He delights to enter in our hearts, still.

*O Little Town of Bethlehem

Gloria

During one Christmas season, my big brother dated a girl named Gloria.  Being twelve years younger, I did what all annoying little sisters would do: I belted out the chorus to “Angels We Have Heard On High” whenever he was around.  “Glooooo-Ooooo-Oooooo-ria!”  Although Gloria didn’t last long as a girlfriend, I still love singing that chorus.  The melody makes you want to really let go.

The hymn writers all seem to agree that the angels sang that holy night. 

“The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.”

“This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

“Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation; O sing all ye citizens of heaven above.”

“Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing Alleluia.”

“Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.”

“The shepherds feared and trembled when lo! above the earth, rang out the angel chorus…”

And of course, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains.”

Yup, the angels must have been singing.  Or were they?  I hate to burst any bubbles, but Luke 2:13 states, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying….”  I know.  It just doesn’t seem right.  This is where the “Halleluia Chorus” is supposed to come in.  There has to be music.  Every epic scene has a soundtrack. 

Hoping to find a way to wiggle out of this, I looked up the Greek translation for the word “say”.  I was sure it probably meant, “to say, or sing”.  Alas, the word is the equivalent of “to speak, or tell”.  Not much wiggle room there. 

I have two theories on this:  First, in heaven, angelic voices are so beautiful that their talking has a lilt and a resonance that sounds musical.  My second theory is that the shepherds were tone deaf. 

Going with the first one. 

 

Be Born in Us Today

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.*

I find it fascinating that God chose to send His Son as a baby.  You know, Jesus could have just appeared, walking out of the desert one day as a grown man.  Or He could have descended from Mount Sinai amid thunder and lightning, like Moses.  He could have even busted through the heavens on a chariot, like Elijah.

But the Son of God had to be born, because He has to be born in us. 

Each year, I ask God to give me a new insight on the Christmas story, something to deepen my appreciation and keep it fresh.  I consider it my Christmas gift from Him, and He never disappoints.  This year, my gift came through a friend of mine who said, “Isn’t it something that God trusted us with a baby?”  Oh…my…    Just think of all the things that could go wrong: problems during delivery, ear infections, camel accidents, the terrible twos, teenager trials.  Just think of all the time spent waiting for Him to grow up and begin ministry: 30 years.  Wouldn’t it have been more efficient to send an adult Jesus and just get the thing done? 

But, no.  God trusted the world with a helpless, vulnerable infant who was completely dependent on sinners like me.  *Shiver*  God is still trusting us to let Him enter in and cast out our sin.  Today. 

 

*”O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Let earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare Him room…

In February, I expect to be making some phone calls and announcing, “Joy has come to our family!  Our first grandchild has arrived!”  Then I will hop on the next plane west and hurry to meet the little guy.  I will look into his sweet newborn face and receive him into my arms.  My daughter and son-in-law will wrap their firstborn in blankets and take him home, where there will be a room all prepared for him. 

When Jesus was born, the joy extended beyond the usual family and friends to the whole world.  That’s a lot of joy.  Yet, He didn’t get the warmest of receptions: a barn for a delivery room, a box of straw for a crib and smelly sheep herders for visitors.  It didn’t get any easier as Jesus got older, either.  The church folks hounded Him, the prostitutes and extortionists were His groupies, and His hand-picked band of brothers didn’t understand Him.  A rather chilly reception, I’d say.

Thankfully, every Christmas we are reminded that, yes, Jesus came because God so loved the world, but He really just wants to take up residence in each one of our hearts.  So it’s time once again to see if there’s room in there.  Have I crowded Him out or made Him feel unwelcome?  Have I prepared a place so I can receive Him with joy? 

 

 

Hymns

As soon as Thanksgiving leftovers are stacked in the fridge, we start playing Christmas music at our house.  I love JT’s version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, Down Here’s funky “Good King Wenceslas” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” but my fave’s are the carols found in my old red Methodist hymnal.  I started playing the organ in my small church when I was a sophomore in high school.  Although I never got the hang of the foot pedals, the keyboard was managable and my limited skills seemed to be good enough for our rural congregation.  I spent a lot of time practicing hymns, which was pretty good preparation for my life as a pastor’s wife.

Hymns are funny.  They are familiar and comforting, yet they sometimes use words that are archaic and strange.  For instance, “bring forth the royal diadem and crown him Lord of all” leaves me wondering, “What exactly is a royal diadem?”  And how is a royal diadem different from a regular diadem?  Another example: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come.”  I raise my what?  I mean, mine what?  And not one person I know ever says “hither”.  Why do we talk this way in church?

Yet the hymns have a richness that we often overlook.  In the old standby “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” the phrase “what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer” always gets me.  Prayer is a privilege?  Many times I’ve thought of prayer as a duty or a discipline, but to look at prayer as a privilege gives it a new twist.  And there’s the Methodist hymnal’s famous opener, “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.”  Most of us have enough trouble with our one and only tongue, but Mr. Wesley wished for a thousand tongues so he could use them all to praise God.  What a concept!

Too many times, I just sing along during worship without giving any thought to what the words really mean.  So during this Advent season, I’m going to dig into some of the Christmas carols out of my old red hymnal and see what treasures are waiting there.  You’re welcome to join me!