We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who rejoice in the hope and promise of Jesus Christ said … AMEN!
As Christians we cannot say enough, we cannot overemphasize, the hope that we have, the only true hope, the hope that comes in Jesus and I cannot imagine for the life of me, although we’ve seen it, we know people who are like why any Christian would not rejoice in the hope that we have in Jesus. We are reminded every year of that hope specifically, right now, right this time, every Christmas is the true and eternal promise that we have in a baby, God came to us as a child. The scenario is complete, there is a young, innocent girl betrothed, about to be married to a man who, for his time, is doing well. Mary would have a godly, hardworking faithful husband. They would both care, support and love each other. And then we have the angel Gabriel, the angel who stood in the very presence of God ready to announce God’s Word to wherever the Father would direct him to go. We have the humblest of the respectable. People below the shepherds were not respectable, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, but the shepherds were invited by the multitude of the heavenly host, lesser angels than Gabriel, but still magnificent, who would also attend the birth of Jesus. There are the magi, wealthy and important in their lands. The magi were gentiles, they weren’t Jewish. Jesus was born a Jew, but He came as “true Israel”, the true Israel Isaiah had prophesied about 600 years earlier, where all the nations would come to Israel to Jesus, to salvation. That Jesus is the hope of all the world. All creation; supernatural, Jew, Gentile. Among the greatest and among the most humble are led to the salvation of the world, our Lord Jesus the Christ, Messiah, the One anointed by God the Father to save mankind.
God inspired Zephaniah to write 600 years, before Jesus’s birth. “ESV Zephaniah 3:14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! ESV Zephaniah 3:15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.”
The people of Zephaniah’s time were about to be overrun, killed or at least exiled from their homeland.
The people at that time knew that their time as a nation was about to end. It did not seem like a time to sing aloud or to rejoice or to exalt. It wouldn’t have seemed as if there was much to be joyful or to rejoice about. Yet for us, we who are baptized in the Name of Jesus, reborn into that new life as children of God the Father, we who have the promise of salvation and eternal life in the new world in Christ, how can you not be joyous about that?
Yeah, Christmas is that time with the pretty lights and the decorations and joyful singing, feasting, exchanging gifts, to be with family and friends. Yes we should be joyous, we should celebrate regularly, we have every reason to celebrate, we should. God tells Jeremiah, and ironically we refer to Jeremiah as the weeping prophet, Yahweh tells Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord, behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings. The city shall be rebuilt on its mound and the palace shall stand where it used to be. Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small.” (Jer 30: 18-19)
Who was God talking about to Jeremiah? To us! We Christians. We should sing thanksgiving, we should celebrate. The Father said He will honor them and they will not be small. God does honor us and Christians are certainly not small. Despite some of the popular perceptions these days, Christians are the largest religious group in the world by far. God has multiplied His people, Christians.
Even in those times of trial and certainly Christians are being tried in America right now, times of trial will probably increase going forward. Certainly Israel was being tried in the time of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Isaiah. Even in that we are called to rejoice, to celebrate. We know the world tells us it’s crazy to celebrate when things look bad, when we’re being oppressed, when we’re being tried. What does the world tell us? Be angry, lash out, be bitter. The misery loves company thing. In comparison to the people in Zephaniah’s time, Christians in the United States have so much to celebrate, to be thankful for, to rejoice in. We too often we let those inevitable trials steal our joy, keep us from celebrating.
We restrict our celebrating to the time between Black Friday and Christmas Day, the season does go straight to Epiphany twelve days later. The day after Christmas though, we’re back to the races, fighting tooth and nail through the stores. Grousing because “well Christmas really didn’t turn out the way I thought it should”. What does St Paul say in today’s reading in response to : “Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I will say rejoice …And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4, 7) Yea even in a foot of snow in February, even in the hectic times of life, the trials, the heat and humidity of summer, the lowering darkness of Autumn, so much that the world can drag us down about and God, even in the darkest time, is telling His people to rejoice, exalt with all your heart. You shall never fear evil, rejoice always, I say rejoice.
The short name for this Sunday is “Gaudette”, it is Latin, it means rejoice. We need to be told to rejoice, we need to be reminded, nothing wrong with that. Make it a point to rejoice today! Rejoice knowing that the birth of God the Son, Jesus our Savior, our Creator, our Redeemer, our loving, compassionate, giving, Lord and God is going to be remembered in less than two weeks. At least take this time to rejoice, to stop in the middle of the season and rejoice.
You’ve all heard the Christmas carol “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. Our dear friend Terry Downes posted the origin of this carol. Too often we hear these Christmas carols and they seem kind of gratuitous, platitudes, nice things to say, things we’re supposed to say for days like Christmas and to raise up to God.
More often than note the stories behind the lyrics and the music are the result of genuine trials, pain and grief that’s been endured by others. Pain and grief that should not be minimized. That we should appreciate as real world testimonies of what God has done for us, does for us, even in the most difficult circumstances.
Terry passed on this article by Justin Taylor. The story is about Henry Longfellow, a good Massachusetts boy, and his son Charles Appleton Longfellow, a grandson of one of America’s greatest poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Charles left his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, traveled to Washington, D.C. in order to enlist in the Union Army in the Civil War in 1861 right at the beginning of the war.
He enlisted as a private, but he impressed his fellow soldiers and officers so much that he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 1863. He fell ill with typhoid fever, which was a very common problem at the time because the Army did not have very good hygienic practices. Charles was sent home for three months to recover. Shortly after his return to duty he was shot and nearly paralyzed in battle. Charles’ father Henry traveled to Washington to be with his son. Henry had recently lost his wife, her dress caught fire and she died the next day from the injuries that she received. This man had lost his wife, his son had been wounded and still might be paralyzed as a result of the wound, who was living through all the tragedy and violence of the Civil War. While he was with Charles he was listening to the Christmas bells of the local churches. This is how he was inspired to write the lyrics that we know today.
“I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols played, of peace on earth good will to men. Then from each black accursed mouth, the cannon thundered from the south, and with the sound the carols drowned. And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men. Then peeled the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth He sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth goodwill to men.”
Through the bells God gave Henry the renewed hope and promise of Jesus. Even after the loss of his wife, the serious injury to his son that might leave him paralyzed, he knew the hope and peace in the Lord Jesus that God gives us, the promise knowing that even in the midst of loss and the national tragedy that was going on around him, that God will always prevail. We will be saved, we will be raised up in new life, and to life eternal in Jesus. The same hope on Christmas Day that Henry was revived in 150 years ago he passes on today in the carol that he wrote. The Father gives to us every day in our baptism, in our new birth in Jesus that hope. We can let the world drag us down into bitterness and anger or we can hear the bells on Christmas Day, every day and remember the peace hope and promise that Jesus gives us every day.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom