December 2012


One of the most spectacular parts of the Christmas story is that it is not confined to one day out of the year. Yes, we take time to celebrate annually. This practice keeps us in mind of the most comforting of the names given to Christ by the prophet – Immanuel. Isaiah names Him, and Matthew explains the name – “God with us!”

I cannot think of a more powerfully comforting phrase than this. God, who is so far beyond us, has chosen to be one with us. He did it in the act of the first Christmas morning. And He continues to be with us in the moment of salvation and in the living of the Christian life.

As we look back over the year 2012, may we see moments where we actually lived like God is with us.  In looking forward to the New Year ahead of us, let us pray for those moments when we will again experience “God with us!”

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Before you gather ‘round the Christmas tree and begin to plunder the greed hidden there, take a moment to reflect on Christmas. Shall I say CHRIST-mas. Today is the day that we celebrate the moment that the world welcomed its Maker. I like the fairly new Christmas song by Chris Rice (it’s been recorded not only by Rice, but also by the likes of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant): “Welcome to our world.” This is the one thing that is all too often forgotten amidst the reckless abandon with which we practice our avarice on Christmas. We even encourage it with our children trying to bribe them into good behavior with a jolly old elf who will or will not give them all of their selfish desires depending on their behavior.

So this morning as you pour your Christmas morning coffee and settle onto the couch in front of your Yuletide evergreen, take a moment to read the Christmas story (most people choose Luke 2, but there are some other great passages in Matthew and Mark, and I really like John 1 for a thoughtful approach). Then take a moment to say to the Savior about whom we celebrate: “Welcome to our world; welcome to our home; welcome to my life.” And Merry Christmas to one and all.

Surely you have seen the bumper sticker, if not the marquis sign outside a place of worship. It proclaims in a matter of pun: “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace!” As trite as this kind of message seems to be, it brings to mind the message of Christmas “Peace on earth!”

This week as you gather with family or friends around a Christmas table loaded with decadent foods of all forms and fashions, or around a Christmas tree decked out in all the trimmings and loaded with brightly wrapped treasures just waiting to be torn into, take a moment to consider the Peace – the Prince of Peace – who made all this tradition part of your life.

This year as we celebrate Christmas, let our hearts resound with Peace, and let our voices lift with singing about the Prince of Peace.

Words by Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847)

(Also included in the Baptist Hymnal, 1975 ed., Convention Press, Nashville, #8; 1991 ed., Convention Press, Nashville, #32; 2008, ed., LifeWay, Nashville, #2; The Celebration Hymnal, 1997, Word/Integrity, Waco – #1; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, 1986, Word, Waco – #3.)

The Hymn

  1. Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
    To His feet your tribute bring.
    Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
    Who like me His praise should sing:
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
    Praise the everlasting King.
  2. Praise Him for His grace and favor
    To our fathers in distress.
    Praise Him still the same forever,
    Slow to chide, and swift to bless.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
    Glorious in His faithfulness.
  3. Father-like, He tends and spares us;
    Well our feeble frame He knows.
    In His hands He gently bears us,
    Rescues us from all our foes.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
    Widely as His mercy goes.
  4. Frail as summer’s flower we flourish,
    Blows the wind and it is gone;
    But while mortals rise and perish
    God endures unchanging on,
    Praise Him, praise Him,
    Praise Him, praise Him,
    Praise the High Eternal One!
  5. Angels, help us to adore Him;
    Ye behold Him face to face;
    Saints triumphant, bow before Him,
    Gathered in from every race.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
    Praise with us the God of grace.

(Hymn words accessed at Center for Church Music, Songs and Hymns) Stanzas in bold are those used in our sample hymnal. [Note: I have changed the words “Praise Him, Praise Him/Praise Him, Praise Him” to read “Alleluia! Alleluia!” as is consistent with the hymnbooks I have available to me—as opposed to the on-line version above (the change was made early in the hymn’s history). The lines italicized in the last stanza have been adapted as in our hymnal rather than “Sun and moon, bow down before Him/Dwellers in all time and space.” I have included these changes not to discount the collectors on the website, but to keep a consistency with the Hymnals we have and to keep the integrity of the theology of the Psalm from which the words were taken in the original poem. Note: I have left stanza untouched from the website as it is not included in our hymn collection.]

Scriptural Connection

Scriptural connections are much easier to be had when we know the basis from which a poet has taken his words. In the case of this hymn, we find a paraphrase of one of the Psalms that was collected in the early 19th century. Particularly, this is a paraphrase of Psalm 103, so that should be the best connection that we make.

What does it mean?

Yet another hymn encourages worshipers to praise God. We are to pay homage (or tribute) to Him in the form of praise. The call to place this tribute at His feet is a visual phrasing that brings to mind the payment of owed gains (known as tribute) from those who were servants of another. It is a terminology most aptly applied to conquered peoples paying tribute to the conquering king or authority. The tribute that we are to lay at His feet is not a monetary one so much as a payment of praise that is His due because He has conquered our sinful nature and set us free—so we gladly bring this payment.

Those who have not known distress and being set free from an oppressor (like the ancient Hebrews) are to continue to bring this tribute just as their fathers who saw it firsthand. He treats us just as a loving Father would – with loving, gentle hands, but strong in correction. Heavenly beings (angels) as well as “saints triumphant” (those who have conquered sin through God’s intervention) are both called upon to praise Him. Again the first stanza tells us why: He has “ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven” us.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

As with all of the themes of Advent, we must reach beyond the surface to see them become active in our lives. Of course, we can always see evidence of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace as they are played out daily in our lives. But to have the concepts become a reality in our lives goes beyond the surface. As they say, we have to get to the heart of the matter.

And so, if we are looking for Joy this Christmas season, the best place to start is not in the bright and cheery music played in malls and elevators (even when these songs turn our minds heavenward). Nor should we stop with the shiny smiles on little ones’ faces (although the smiles and laughter of the innocents warms our own attitudes). As the children’s song says, we must have the Joy “down in my heart.” Where’s your Joy this Christmas?

Christmas is just around the corner, and so we have dusted off our growing stack of manger scenes. I think I’d leave them up all year long if I thought I’d get away with it. I started a collection years ago (when it was still just me and Jesus) with the Italian fabrication company that makes Fonatanini decorations. On most (with the exception of only a few) years I add another villager or shepherd or angel to gather ’round the manger. It’s a beautiful, growing Christmas decoration with a lot of sentimental and traditional value to me.

In addition, we have a variety of children’s nativities—including the VeggieTales® singing one (with parts missing and Family Life’s “What God Wantsfor Christmas” devotional nativity. We have a world of manger scenes (literally): one from Prague that has seen better days, one from Kyrgistan (Kyrgizia) made out of felt, one from Africa (a gift from my Mother-by-Law), one from Poland made out of corn husks and cloth, a martrushka (nesting doll) version we picked up in Ukraine, one carved into a tree ornament from Middle Eastern olive wood. But I must admit my favorite is the one my Blushing Bride purchased as a gift for me as she was leaving Egypt in order to become my Blushing Bride. I’ve posted pictures and commentary about this Egyptian Nativity previously here and here. (If you read the different posts you’ll see two different angles from which to view the ideas.) So, posting about my Nativity with the “extra Jesus” is becoming another tradition for me.

I love this manger scene best for a couple of reasons: (1) it is one of the first gifts I received from my Lovely Bride. She took time to know that I am a Christmas fanatic, that I love depictions of the Nativity, and she took time to find this in the marketplace of Egypt in the middle of August! (2) I also, love this manger scene because it helps me to focus on Jesus. After all, isn’t that what we should be focusing on during this special holiday celebration? Not just Jesus, but more Jesus. It isn’t “another” Jesus, but some “extra” Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I find that I can always use a little more Jesus. And not just at Christmastime.
Oh, and by the way—when you find that you have some extra Jesus, you can share Him with others. I’ve discovered that when I share a little Jesus with those around me, the little faith that I have in Jesus becomes a little more Jesus in me.

Have a Christmas that is filled with extra Jesus!

 

Words by Edward H. Plumptre (1821-1891)

(Also included in The Broadman Hymnal, 1940 ed., Broadman Press, Nashville – #285; the Baptist Hymnal, 1975 ed., Convention Press, Nashville, #28; 1991 ed., Convention Press, Nashville, #39; 2008, ed., LifeWay, Nashville, #578; Favorite Hymns of Praise, 1967, Tabernacle Publishing Company, Chicago – #7; Inspiring Hymns, 1968, Zondervan, Grand Rapids – #301; The Celebration Hymnal, 1997, Word/Integrity, Waco – #169; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, 1986, Word, Waco – #562.)

It is surprising to me that this hymn is such a favorite among the hymn collectors when I don’t recall having ever sung it in worship. I will also note that collections vary (almost evenly) as to whether they include four or five stanzas.

The Hymn

  1. *+^Rejoice, ye pure in heart!
    Rejoice, give thanks and sing!
    Your glorious banner wave on high,
    the cross of Christ your King.

    [Refrain:]
    Rejoice, rejoice,
    rejoice, give thanks and sing.
  2. Bright youth and snow crowned age,
    strong men and maidens meek,
    raise high your free, exulting song,
    God’s wondrous praises speak.
    [Refrain]
  3. Yes onward, onward still
    with hymn, and chant and song,
    through gate, and porch and columned aisle,
    the hallowed pathways throng. [Refrain]
  4. *+^With all the angel choirs,
    with all the saints of earth,
    pour out the strains of joy and bliss,
    true rapture, noblest mirth.
    [Refrain]
  5. Your clear hosannas raise;
    and alleluias loud;
    whilst answering echoes upward float,
    Like wreaths of incense cloud. [Refrain]
  6. With voice as full and strong
    as ocean’s surging praise,
    send forth the hymns our fathers loved,
    the psalms of ancient days. [Refrain]
  7. *+^Yes, on through life’s long path,
    still chanting as ye go;
    from youth to age, by night and day,
    in gladness and in woe.
    [Refrain]
  8. *+^Still lift your standard high,
    still march in firm array,
    as warriors through the darkness toil,
    till dawns the golden day.
    [Refrain]
  9. At last the march shall end;
    the wearied ones shall rest;
    the pilgrims find their heavenly home,
    Jerusalem the blessed. [Refrain]
  10. *Then on, ye pure in heart!
    Rejoice, give thanks and sing!
    Your glorious banner wave on high,
    the cross of Christ your King.
    [Refrain]
  11. ^Praise God who reigns on high,
    the Lord whom we adore,
    the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
    one God forevermore. [Refrain]

(Hymn words accessed at Hymns.me.uk) Stanzas in bold are those used in our sample hymnal. Italicized stanzas are from Broadman, Inspiring Hymns. *Favorite Hymns, +The Hymnal, ^Celebration. One should also note that occasionally there are word variations and in one case stanzas are in a different order—although all hymnals agree on the refrain.

Scriptural Connection

An excellent connection to make with the Scripture for this hymn can be found in Psalm 32:11, a verse calling those who are righteous and upright to rejoice in the Lord.

What does it mean?

In this hymn we find a very useful tool for worship. It can be used as a call to worship much like a number of the hymns we have already studied. It is also an excellent praise song to sing during a service of thanksgiving—after all, repeatedly the worshiper is called to give thanks—specifically, to “Rejoice, give thanks and sing!”

Perhaps, since it is such a favorite of those who collect hymns, we might dust this one off and renew an interest in the encouragement to rejoice. It doesn’t really matter that the collectors choose different stanzas from the collection, and this wealth of number of stanzas may even lend to our being able to add it to our worship a number of Sundays in a row without singing more than one or two of the stanzas in repetition.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

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