Archive for category Christmas
Christianity has in its favour the greatest hymns ever written.
There is no denomination in Christendom that has more superb catalogue to its credit than Anglicanism. So it is with the timeless Christmas classic “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Originally published as a Christmas Day hymn by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), it was included in John Wesley’s Collection “Hymns and Sacred Poems” in 1739. The previous year Charles had experienced a conversion in London on 21 May, 1738 and felt renewed in his faith. Soon he began to spread the good news of the Gospel and write the great hymns he is known for. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” displays that now bygone era and captures Wesley’s new found zeal. It is a glorious hymn.
When I was a boy I used to love listening to it on the opening credits of the 1951 version of Scrooge with Alistair Sim. It has never left me to this day. Unlike many of the shallow and theologically bland chorus’s sung in many independent congregations around the world, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” upholds the fabulous dignity of Biblical splendour. It presents in a glorious array the celebratory narrative of the Incarnate Christ. Inspired largely by the King James Version, Charles Wesley’s original lyrics read like so:
“HARK how all the Welkin rings
“Glory to the King of Kings,
“Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
“GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!
Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies,
Universal Nature say
“CHRIST the LORD is born to Day!”
These words were adapted in 1758 by George Whitefield (1714-1770), and read like so:
“HARK! the Herald Angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
God and Sinners reconcil’d.
Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumphs of the Skies;
Nature rise and worship him,
Who is born at Bethlehem.“
Whitefield’s version was published in 1782 in Tate and Brady’s New Version of the Psalms of David. But the story doesn’t end there. In 1855 musician William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915) gave the song a new lease of life by adding music by Mendelssohn (1809-1847). This is generally the hymn tune we sing today.
Wesley wrote, “Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild, “GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!“. Those original words by Charles Wesley proclaim the pure truth of the Gospel and rightness of the One and only person of Jesus Christ. The only peace that can ever be attained on this earth is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Remember this and never forget, works that have begun, do not always end there. They can go on to future generations and never be forgotten.
This season, go and find yourself a great carol service and sing your heart out until the place becomes unglued. Let the false teachers commence. Let them argue their way into apostacy. Let the world turn in on itself. Let the weak try and rule the strong by fear. Let them try and take away your freedom and right to think. But you, keep yourself unspotted from the world and know that they can never take away your right to sing!
Keep warm this Christmas and sing!
2020 has been a very difficult year. I’m sure by now many people are tired and weary. 2020 has been a disruptive year and I’m sure many will be glad to see the back of it. But we should never assume 2021 will be any better. Times do not change because Big Ben strikes twelve. Time is a flat circle and evil, fanaticism and sins are forever busy.
In my opinion, we do not live in a good era. Attacks and destruction are becoming too common. Massive earthquakes, floods, homelessness, deadly pandemics are slowly becoming over familiar. There is a lot of suffering out there and I would rather live in the past. Although there are some things of modernity that I am fond of, the world has become a very dark and cruel place, where people are trapped in a marred lens of imposing worldviews. Governments are proposing a Covid-19 vaccine, yet there is a continuous air of mistrust. Times are sneaky and untrustworthy. Everything is up for grabs. People are starving, while grab and greed are running amok.
Although England is an intrinsically peaceful country, things are changing and nowadays, she too seems to be running amok. Political chaos, and division. Riots, protests, lockdowns, corruption and deceptive conceit. It seems that everybody has an opinion yet few want to be challenged. Everyone is right in their own eyes. Many people are becoming aggressive toward any challenge of their beliefs and discussions are being restrained. Many fear that ‘freedom of speech’ is under attack. Maybe it is.
I’ll not rant, but it seems as the saying goes, the world has gone mad and I’m inclined to agree.
The ancient Greco Roman world was, (in my opinion), a much more safer world to live in. I say this because things were much quieter back then and the air was clean. For certain, dictators existed, and the powers that be, but they were fewer in number. People thought more and spoke slower. Communities were proper. Although I admire past times, I am fully aware the ancient worlds were not without their troubles and monstrous evils. If we focus upon the ancient Biblical lands, King Herod was by all accounts a wicked person. History purports, ‘Better to be one of Herod’s pigs than his son‘. Matthew 2: 16-18 claims it was Herod who ordered the slaughter of the innocents around the birth of Christ. This, by all accounts is entirely accurate and the type of thing that Herod was capable of ordering. Josephus records that Herod ordered ‘nobles’ executed at his death to ensure mourning.
The ancients didn’t celebrate Christmas as we do today. Studies show that it is very unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25. In a previous article I demonstrate how the Messiah was probably born at Nissan. In another previous article I have offered discussion concerning the historic possibilities of St. Luke’s references to the Census of Augustus and its whereabouts in his ancient world. These studies offer more insight for us to consider and can present a very real view of a very real world that once existed. The world of the New Testament was as real for the Gospel writers (and the Apostles) as today is for us. Consciousness was no less real for ancient persons than it is for each one of us. Evil has always been a very real existence. Yet Matthew and Luke’s Gospels communicate that as the Christ-child was born God was doing a great thing. The world was being redeemed and the Saviour was born to bring peace on earth and goodwill to mankind (Luke 2: 14). This is in the context of mankind being offered peace with God. But all around, things were all but peaceful. Matthew’s Gospel references the story of the wise men and the Massacre of the Innocents (by order of Herod) of all new born babies up to the age of two. Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165 AD) claimed these wise men (Magi) were from Arabia (c. 160, E, 1.237). Matthew claims the wise men were warned in a dream that they “should not return to Herod” (Matthew 2: 12). Herod then viciously ordered a Massacre of all the male children and this evil happening was an angry response (from a wicked ruler) to the wise men who had deceived him.
Matthew puts it this way:
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” (Matthew 2: 16. NKJV)
Yet although things seemed dark, God was at work. Matthew records the famous “star” that appeared around the Messiah’s birth was seen in the East. In a previous article I discuss what this star could have been? Whatever it was, be it an actual star or the glory of the Lord, this light shone in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. Herod did not see beyond the narrow limits of his own mind and his own self-governed materialistic worldview.
Today, historians and astrologers know full well this star was not a tale of fiction. Ancient Greco Roman coins from Antioch, Syria from the time of Augustus affirm the star was a historically verifiable event.
“How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars. The light from this star was inexpressible, and its uniqueness struck men with astonishment.” (Ignatius. c. 105, E, 1.57)
What is clear is that the world is, and always has been a mess. Ever since Cain murdered Abel, this wretched world awaits a day of reckoning. That day will come, and although I confess, there are a lot of good and nice things in this world, (and I paint a dim picture), can you not see that evil is and always will be. Light cannot exist without darkness. Just as evil needs exist in order for good to triumph and yet through it all, God is speaking.
Regardless of the enemies of Christianity, or coronavirus, politics, cancel culture, or dates, times or seasons, Christmas exists in the heart. It is not a time, it is a state of being. Nothing can take that away from you. So regardless of what this world throws at you, be good to one another and remember that Jesus said “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)
Can you not hear His voice?
Well, the Christmas season is upon us! Yet recent months and hours have been a strange time for the people of Britain. England is politically divided and chaotic, the country appears to be tearing itself apart and it is difficult for the average person to see any bright future? However, I have repeatedly stated that an East Wind is coming, and I believe it is. But I know that God is in control.
Sometimes in this wicked world, it is necessary for a person to set himself apart and come away a while. In November I visited Rome. This was my third visit. Rome is a bustling busy city, and being there is like walking through an outdoor museum. The streets are filled with ancient rubble. A person who visits Rome is walking in the footsteps of historic giants.
The Roman Forum is by far one of my beloved areas of Rome. Here I can bathe myself in Biblical history and bring myself back to what really matters. Biblical Truth! Here stands The Arch of Titus, The Temple of Caster and Pollux, The Curia Julia, where Paul stood trial. The location of the conflict between Peter and Simon Magus. The Mamertine Prison, where tradition claims Peter and Paul were imprisoned.
Across the way from the Mamertine, there stands the remains of the ancient Forum of Augustus. This forum was inaugurated in 2 BC by the man who decreed the census to be taken around the time when Jesus was in the womb of Mary.
In Luke 2: 1-2 it reads: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.” (NKJV)
By Luke’s reference to “all the world” I take that to mean all the Roman world. The Greek (G3625) is with special reference to a part of the globe, “specifically the Roman Empire”. However, the facts surrounding the census are still a matter of much debate.
Yet in The Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome, there once stood Bronze pillars which had an engraved reference to a Census of Augustus. This funerary inscription is known as “Res Gestae Divi Augusti“. It was upon this inscription where Augustus recorded the achievements he had made during his life. One such achievement reads “CENSVM-POPVLI”. This when translated reads ‘I did a census‘.
Dates for this census are well established, but my question is; could this reference be remotely related to the census written about by St. Luke? After three visits to Rome I have concluded that Luke probably wrote his Gospel from this ancient City of Seven Hills. However, some modern scholars claim there is no historic evidence for the census of Luke 2: 1-2. Yet in claiming this they assume Luke’s narrative is not a reliable source. Likewise, they sometimes fail to explore the possibilities of other arguments and views that differ to their own. They often likewise ignore the possible translations issues concerning the correct rendition of (G2958) and the possibility of a continued or repeated census.
In a pause of reflection, what strikes me about Augustus and the “Gestae Divi Augusti” is how historically absolute it is that this Roman Emperor was distinctly associated with a census. Whichever way we look at it, we cannot dismiss that Augustus was known for a census of the Roman world.
What Luke was communicating was a fulfilment of the Scripture that a ruler over Israel would come out of Bethlehem (Micah 5: 2). That the ancestral home of Joseph was Bethlehem. Yet, when Augustus Caesar did his census, he thought he was bringing this about of his own power. But Luke was communicating that it was God who was bringing it to pass, not man.
Here we can learn. The world is a mess. People are sinful and depraved. Does that mean that Christ is not reigning or a Ruler? Has God lost control of His universe? On the contrary. There is no greater way to cause people to change their ways than pain. In the Scriptures God often hands nations over to corrupt leaders to teach them and bring them to repentance. Yet He must have been reigning in order to have done such things.
It is Christ who holds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1: 3) there is no governing power outside of Him. By bringing about a Census, Augustus was doing the will of God, not the will of man. We all must learn from that. Christ is in control.
Christians are divided over issues concerning the Christmas tree. Many regard the tree as part of a pagan celebration and not Christian.
Some Christians also claim that Jeremiah 10: 1-10 speaks against the Christmas tree? But I doubt that the text is speaking of anything like that, for the context of Jeremiah’s passage speaks more against the idol worship that then existed and cannot rightly be connected to a mere celebration of Christmas which did not begin until many centuries later.
There is a 16th or a 17th century claim made by the early Lutheran church that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first one to come up with the idea of having a Christmas tree in the home.
The story goes like this; Luther was one day in the woods and he saw the trees amongst the snow and thought it would be a good idea to cut down a tree and put candles on it to remind people of Christ’s birth?
The story itself has no actual historical evidence to support it, but really, I don’t see what evidence a person can find for such a claim. What would it matter anyway?
I think what I personally see from the Christmas tree is a reminder of Christ, who is the light of the world, crucified on a tree (1 Peter 2: 24) and that all His people who are crucified with Him and have died to self and are the light of the world (Matthew 5: 14)
That is what I see when I look at the Christmas tree, just a simple reminder of what Christians should be and a simple reminder of Christ who died for us.