Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Year's Best Musical Posts

From time to time, I'll post videos with music that I find to be either really good, really funny, or (sometimes) both.  Here are some of those posts from 2010:

Taylor Mali - Tchnically not a song, but a poem.  Either way, well worth checking out again.
Chick-fil-A - Tim Hawkins serenades us with his ode to the chicken sandwich.
I Love His Singin' - One of the funniest things to watch is someone who can't stop laughing...
Hallelujah - A Random of of Culture that is absolutely uplifting.
An Acapella Christmas - A funny, creative, talented group performance from just a couple weeks ago.  If you missed it then, go back and check it out now.

And some selections from the Andrew Peterson Collection:
Dancing in the Minefields - A beautiful song about marrriage.
BTLOG - A couple songs from his fantastic Advent concert, Behold the Lamb of God..
So Long, Moses - One more from Behold the Lamb of God.

Best Books of 2010

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the proliferation of "Best of" lists.  And one of my favorite types of "Best of" lists is "Best Books of the Year."  Different people use different criteria for determining such things, but it's fun to see what others have to say about the books they read this year...and get a jump on creating a reading list for 2011!

Here are a few folks whose opinions I respect:

Kevin DeYoung
Trevin Wax
Keith Mathison
Matthew Robbins
Sam Storms
Collin Hansen, Andy Naselli, and John Starke of The Gospel Coalition
Tony Reinke
Doug Wolters
Jared Wilson

Friday, December 24, 2010

What Christmas Is All About

When I was in fifth grade, I took part in a play at school.  It was a production of A Charlie Brown Christmas and I played the role of Linus.

Ever since then, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been my favorite of all the annual movies and television specials that we see each December.  And my favorite part of all is the same now as it was then: Linus's monologue on the true meaning of Christmas (which is actually a direct quote from Luke 2).  It was quite a bit to memorize when I was eleven, but I suppose that even then, the Lord was preparing me to become a pastor.

Merry Christmas to you all and may you know the joy that comes with knowing the true meaning of Christmas.

Friday Fun...Christmas Lights

Saw this over at Kevin DeYoung's blog a week or two ago and thought it was pretty good.  He had it labeled, "If You Can't Beat Em..."  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sola Gratia Year in Review

As the end of the year rolls around, you always see a lot of "Best of the Year" lists.  Whether it is athletes, movies, songs, or just about anything else, I love "Best of" lists.  So next week I'm going to be posting some "year in review" material, dealing mainly with (though not necessarily limited to) this blog.

Here's where you come in.  I'd love to hear from some of you readers as to what your favorite posts were throughout the year.  Please shoot me an email or a facebook message, or post a comment here or on the blog's facebook page, letting me know which posts you found memorable.  One day toward the end of next week, I will post a list of some of the postings that got the most positive feedback.

Thanks so much for your help and thanks for visiting my blog!  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

"Spiritual pride is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christianity. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. It is the main source of all the mischief the devil introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God.

"Spiritual pride tends to speak of other persons’ sins with bitterness or with laughter and levity and an air of contempt. But pure Christian humility rather tends either to be silent about these problems or to speak of them with grief and pity. Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, but a humble Christian is most guarded about himself. He is as suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The proud person is apt to find fault with other believers, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and to be quick to note their deficiencies. But the humble Christian has so much to do at home and sees so much evil in his own heart and is so concerned about it that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts. He is apt to esteem others better than himself."

Jonathan Edwards

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bizarre Baseball Card Happenings

When I was a kid I used to collect baseball cards. One of my buddies got some 1950 Bowman cards from someone and I traded him a bunch of more recent cards for a few of his 1950 Bowmans. The three cards I got were of Hall of Fame Pitcher Robin Roberts, and two players I was less aware of named Walt Dropo and Phil Cavaretta.

Dropo and Cavaretta were good players in their own right. Dropo won the 1950 American League Rookie of the Year and Cavaretta won the 1945 National League Most Valuable Player. What is so intriguing about the fact that theirs were two of the three old cards I had is the fact that the two of them died within 24 hours of each other this weekend (Dropo died Friday night and Cavaretta died on Saturday).

I'm not quite sure what this has to do with anything other than to say that I found it oddly interesting and I have a blog, so there it is.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Word for Preachers

"Of all I wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, preach Christ, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Saviour, and of the way to reach him. Justification by faith should be far more than it is the daily testimony of Protestant pulpits; and if with this master-truth there should be more generally associated the other great doctrines of grace, the better for our churches and our age."

Charles Spurgeon

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Fun...A Digital Nativity

I saw this video yesterday and found it to be creative and fun (even if not 100% biblically and theologically acurate).  What might it have looked like if, instead of 2000 years ago, Christ had been born in the age of social media?

Friday Fun...Seminary Student Bloopers

As the semester comes to a close at institutions of higher learning, many professors are are in the midst of semester end grading.  As hard as final exams and term papers are for students, I imagine the task of grading them all is just as onerous for professors.

It probably helps if you bring a sense of humor to the task, which is exactly how seminary professor Mike Wittmer approaches it.  He has compiled a list of some of the more humorous "student bloopers" that he has seen including the following (with his commentary in parentheses):
“The power of Christ could not be overcome by Satin’s power of death.” (That 800 thread count is a killer)

“In Arminius’ view, the correct order of the gospel is that God gave His Sin, to whom we respond by repentance and faith.” (This seems to be a stretch, even for Arminians)
Click here to see the whole list.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

"Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God's good world of space, time and matter, and above all God's image bearing human creatures…But if any sense this evil has been defeated -- if it is true, as the Gospel writers have been trying to tell us, that evil at all levels and of all sorts had done its worst and that Jesus throughout his public career and supremely on the cross had dealt with it, taken its full force, exhausted it -- why then, of course, death itself had no more power."

N.T. Wright

Monday, December 13, 2010

Did Jesus Ever Get the Flu?

This is the season of joy and laughter and celebration, but for many it is also flu season.  Over at his blog today, Russell Moore considers the question of whether Jesus ever got the flu.  He concludes that he must have, as the very point of the incarnation is that Jesus became just like us.
It just doesn’t seem right to us to imagine Jesus feverish or vomiting. But that’s precisely the scandal. It didn’t seem right to many to imagine Jesus as really flesh and bone, filled with blood and intestines and urine. Somehow that seemed to detract from his deity. It surely didn’t seem right to many to imagine the only begotten of the Father twisting in pain on a crucifixion stake, screaming as he drowned in his own blood. This was humiliating, undignified. That’s just the point. Jesus joined us in our humiliation, in our indignity.

I hope you don’t get a stomach virus this year, or the flu or the fever or a cold. But, if you do, I hope you remember, just for a minute, in your discomfort that Jesus has passed through everything you’ll ever face. He might have been racked with nausea or chills or aches, just as you are. And then he faced far, far worse.

But, as you lie there, remember the gospel of incarnation and substitution, a gospel that comes, as the old song says, to make his blessings known “far as the curse is found.”
I encourage you to read his whole post here.

An Acapella Christmas

Kevin DeYoung posted this earlier today from Straight No Chaser, a talented and funny acapella group that started at Indiana University. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share it as well. If you like Christmas, comedy, 80s music, or any combination of the three, odds are you will enjoy it as much as I did.

A Word for Preachers...Calvin on the Power of God's Word

"Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the Word of God, of which they are constituted administrators. Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this Word.  Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan's reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose, thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the Word of God."

John Calvin

Friday, December 10, 2010


As Christians we have to be careful not to slip into speaking a sort of Christian code language.  Sadly, this humorous video is not too far off in what it represents...

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Friday Fun...The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride is one of my all time movies. It tells a tale that occurred long ago in a far off land. Here's a take on what it might have looked like had it occurred not just in a far off land, but "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

(HT: Matthew Robbins)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

John begins his gospel by saying, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  This sets the stage for perhaps the most dramatic truth in human history, as described later in that same chapter in verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

John tells us that, amazingly, the Word became flesh...God became a man.  In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul says Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and the second person of the Deity, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

What an act of humility for God to submit himself even to death, and the most painful and humiliating form of death at that.  But even apart from this, the fact that God even became a human being in the first place is the most supreme act of gracious condescension one can imagine.

When John says he "dwelt among us," the literal language is "he pitched his tent" or "he tabernacled" in our midst.  It is an allusion to the fact that before the Temple was built, God's dwelling place in the midst of his people had been in the Tabernacle, essentially a tent-temple that moved with the people.  What John is implying here (and says outright in Revelation 21:22) is that the Christ is the true Temple, the place where God and man meet.

When Moses requested to see the glory of God, God's response was, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live" (Exodus 33:18-20).  But so great is the graciousness of God in Christ Jesus that John can truly say, "we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

I am reminded of what may be my favorite lines from any Christmas hymn:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
May we, with John, look to Christ and his glory.  And may we, with the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn king!"

Previous posts in this series:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

So Long, Moses

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God.  Today I want to share one of my favorite songs from the album, entitled So Long, Moses.  It deals with the longings and desires of Israel over the course of centuries leading up to the coming of Christ, and the fact that the perceived foolishness of God is far better than the wisdom of men.

What I love so much about this song is the fact that it does such a good job at capturing my heart. God has a perfect plan, but I consistently and stubbornly think that my plan is better. I want what I want. I should want what God wants...it is better by far!

Not only is it a great song with a great message, but the video below is quite skillfully made.  Please check it out.  It's worth your time.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Joy to the World (part 2)

In Genesis 3:17-19, we read God's proclamation to Adam of the curse that is a result of his sin.  "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Adam was originally created and placed by God in the Garden that he might tend it.  Work existed before the Fall and it was good.  We might struggle to understand this today, but that is because the very nature of work, just like all of creation, was dramatically changed as a result of Adam's sin.  What once was wholly good, became hard and painful and frustrating.  But this is not where the story ends.

As previous hymns in this series have suggested, God's plan of redemption is not just for the people he has created, but for his creation as a whole.  Often in the Church, we think of the ultimate goal of the Christian life as the escape from this world (to heaven).  But the Bible actually teaches a different thing.  It tells us in Revelation 21:1-3 that ultimately it is not we who will go to be with God in heaven, but rather, it is he who will bring heaven with him as he comes to be with us.

You see, Christ came to redeem his creation, that his redeemed people might eternally inhabit it.  One of my seminary professors, Michael Williams, has written, "To suggest that the sin of man so corrupted his creation that God cannot fix it but can only junk it in favor of some other world is to say that ultimately the kingdom of evil is more powerful than the kingdom of God.  It makes sin more powerful than redemption, and Satan the victor over God."

This Advent, let us remember that Christ came not only that I might be forgiven of my sins, but that I might one day live free of sin altogether.  And he came not to get rid of this creation, but ultimately to restore it to its original functionality, beauty and grandeur.  As Dr. Williams often said in class, God doesn't make junk, and God doesn't junk what he's made.  So it is that throughout Advent, and the rest of the year as well, we look forward to the great day of restoration when the words of the hymn will be realized,
No more let sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse was found,
Far as the curse was found,
Far as, far as the curse was found.
Previous posts in this series:
O Holy Night
Joy to the World (part 1)

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

"Because the promise is historical and God said that every nation would come into that blessing, there is a sense in which we won't see the fulness of all the gospel will have accomplished and all the richness of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done, until we gather with people of every tribe and nation and language and culture and we see the fulness and the richness of a redeemed creation and all the redeemed ethnic diversity of humanity which is a creation reality."

Christopher J.H. Wright

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review - Mile Marker 825

In the spirit of full disclosure, let me say this: Jason Mirikitani is a friend of mine. Last month I mentioned him and his new book a couple times here and here. Were Jason not a friend though, I am quite certain that I would find his story no less amazing, no less compelling, no less inspiring.

Mile Marker 825 is the story of how Jason survived and recovered from an automobile accident that took the life of his wife.  Jason writes in a down-to-earth, conversational manner.  Therefore, as you read the book, it feels more like you're sitting across the table from him, listening to him tell his story.  And as you hear him speak, he tells you of how his recovery was not only physical, but also emotional and spiritual as well.

Jason shares how everything he has endured has been a small part of God's larger plan.  Part of that plan was that he might learn some lessons along the way for the purpose of sharing them with others.  Among these are the fact that Christ's power reaches its perfection in our acknowledged personal weakness and a realization that far too often churches fail to be "suffering-safe" places.

Among the most meaningful passages of the book for me was when Jason points out, "Throughout all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, the most often asked inquiry is, 'How long, O Lord, how long?'...Ironically, though, the most repeated command from God is 'Do not fear' or 'Do not be afraid.'  God does not give a direct answer to the 'How long' question.  Instead, he responds with His own imperative which, in essence says, 'Trust me.  I've got everything under control.'"

This seems to be the heartbeat of Jason's message -- not that bad things won't happen, but that even when they do, our loving God is still in control.  Jason speaks of how he was "scarred by grace" and is convinced that he is called to be "a wounded healer."  Read Mile Marker 825 and you're likely to be convinced as well.

Joy to the World!

In the 98th Psalm we read in verse 4 and verses 7-9, "Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!...Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity."

It is indeed ironic that one of the most loved of all Christmas hymns was never intended by its author to be a Christmas hymn at all.  Inspired by the 98th Psalm, Isaac Watts merely intended to give a more overtly Christian representation of the Psalm's meaning.  Drawing on and making allusions to other passages of Scripture, he penned the now famous hymn which, like many great hymns for Advent, looks forward both to Christmas and the celebration of the Lord's first coming, as well as to His second coming.

In addition to this, similarly to O Holy Night, Joy to the World speaks not only to the joy which humans are offered in Christ Jesus, but also to the joy that all of Creation itself is waiting to express as it longs for its release from bondage.  It points us to that day when this release will be realized, the day when He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.  And on that day, the words of this hymn will be made manifest,
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
May it be said of us that we are a people who sing of the glories of God not only at Christmas, but year round. And may the Creation itself echo back those praises!

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mike Horton Interviews Christopher J.H. Wright

Mike Horton recently had a really good interview with Christopher J.H. Wright on The White Horse Inn radio program.  Wright is highly respected as a scholar and an author, having written many books, including The Mission of God and Living as the People of God.

While we're at it, if you don't already subscribe to The White Horse Inn podcast, let me encourage you to do so.  The weekly program usually runs a little over a half-hour, and Horton and his co-hosts do a great job of helping the listener accomplish the show's tagline: "Know what you believe, and why yo believe it."

O Holy Night!

We read in Romans 8:19-22, "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now."

The Bible is clear that when Adam fell, not only did we fall with him, but so did all of creation.  That is why the world does not work perfectly and why disease and natural disasters can rightly be said to be a result of sin, even when there is evidently no direct one-to-one correspondence.

Christ Jesus came to save us from our sin and to free us from its effects.  On one hand, he did this by paying the penalty we owed for our sin and by making us righteous before God.  But it is also true that he came to free creation itself from its bondage to sin.  We often think of the former but fail to recognize the latter, but if we do recognize both, it brings a new depth of meaning to the words,
O holy night!  the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope -- a weary world rejoices;
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
That new and glorious morn broke when Christ Jesus was born.  The sun of that new and glorious morn continued to rise even as the crucified Son of God rose from the dead.  And now, along with creation itself, we long for the consummation of this day, when when faith becomes sight and sin and its effects are no more!

Previous posts in this series:

A Word for Preachers

"But suppose in our preaching we are careful to demonstrate that the authority with which we preach inheres neither in us as individuals, nor primarily in our office as clergy or preachers, nor even in the church whose members and accredited pastors we may be, but supremely in the Word of God which we expound?  Then the people should be willing to hear, particularly if we put the matter beyond doubt by showing that we desire to live under this authority ourselves.  As Donald Coggan has put it, in order 'to preach, a man must know the authority of being under Authority.'"

John Stott

Saturday, December 4, 2010

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

2 Corinthians 1:3-4a reads "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction..."

God nowhere promises to make your life comfortable free from trials and tribulation.  For the Christian, just as it was for Christ, precisely the opposite is true.  But God does promise that in times of affliction, he will be our comfort.  And we know that this promise is not an empty one because of the incarnation.  The second person of the trinity took on flesh and became a human being, just like you and me.  As a result, God's knowledge of our trials and temptations is not a mere cognitive awareness, but an experiential appreciation.  "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus has experienced every form of temptation we might experience, and he has endured more suffering than we will ever endure.  As a result, he can truly be a comfort to us in all situations, and we can sing, especially in the midst of times of great difficulty and unrest,
God rest ye merry, gentlemen Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
My prayer for you this Advent season is that Christ Jesus may indeed be your comfort and joy!

Previous posts in this series:
O Little Town of Bethlehem

Friday, December 3, 2010

Great Book Giveaway

Zach Nielsen is running a great giveaway over at his blog in partnership with Crossway Books.  Among the books being given away are the following:

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper
Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (RE: Lit) by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears
Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian
What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul Tripp
Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey
ESV Study Bible

Check out the details at Zach's blog, and while you're at it, check out the rest of the blog as well.  His stuff is  top notch!

O Little Town of Bethlehem

In Micah 5:2 we find the prophetic words, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days."

It is the fulfillment of this prophecy that is highlighted in these lyrics:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight
I have always enjoyed the poetic quality of this verse, especially the final line of this stanza.  And I like the fact that it deals with our fears.  In one sense, we are very  right to have fears.  Not one of us is righteous and yet we all stand before a judge who demands our righteousness.  We are rightly to be condemned, every one of us, to the pains of eternal judgment.  And this is certainly worth fearing.

But for those of us who find our righteousness not in our own deeds, but in the holiness of Christ Jesus, these fears are met by hope.  Not an unfounded wish, but a confident expectation that we will be spared this judgment.  We will be spared it because the holy One of God is not just a mighty ruler and the Ancient of Days.  He is also the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and he has faced the judgment that we deserved.

And so it is that even in the dark streets of the little town of Bethlehem, a light shined on that night so many years ago.  It was no ordinary light, but an everlasting one, and so it shines on today.  As such, just as truly as Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds could have said it then, we can say it now, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!"

I pray that this Christmas your fears might be met by the hope that is present in Christ Jesus.

Previous posts in this series:

Friday Fun...Christmas Vacation

We'll be putting up Christmas decorations at my house this weekend, and it's scenes like these from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation that make me thankful we have an artificial tree.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Gets You Excited?

Far too often, we get excited about the wrong things.  As a big sports fan, I know I can certainly be guilty of this.  Jared Wilson offered a helpful corrective over at his blog the other day:
What is the message of the gospel?
That the greatest good (God) offers the greatest action (love) to the greatest need (wrath-owed sinners) by sending the greatest treasure (Jesus) in the greatest invitation (to everyone) into the greatest life (everlasting).
How is this not exciting?

Sing to the Lord a New Song!

Congrats to my friend and fellow pastor, Zac Hicks, who recently won the Church of the Servant 2010 New Psalm Contest.  Zac's new arrangement of the 100th Psalm "All People That on Earth Do Dwell" was deemed tops among entries submitted from around the world.

Zac is the Associate Pastor of Worship & Liturgy at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church near Denver.  He is a talented musician and composer as well as a deep and biblical thinker when it comes to liturgical matters. Along with the worship team at Cherry Creek, he produced the album The Glad Sound, which is a collection of ancient hymns reset to new melodies and modern instrumentation.  Their second album, Without Our Aid, is slated to be released next September, and will include "All People That on Earth Do Dwell" as one of its songs.  In the meantime, you can check out what Zac terms "a crude demo" of the song here.

For more information, check out Zac's blog post about the award.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (part 2)

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 reads, "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Yesterday, in discussing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I made the point that Christ came not just to keep us from being lonely, but to free his covenant people from bondage.  This bondage can be to many things, but ultimately it is to death.  That is why the Immortal clothed himself with mortality and allowed himself to be laid in a feed trough…that we, his children, might one day put on immortality.

I love the confidence that knowing this gives a believer.  We can boldly (almost tauntingly) proclaim to death that it no longer holds sway over us.  This is exactly what Paul does when he proclaims, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” and it is what the English poet John Donne did when he wrote,

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.

And it is that same hopeful, longing confidence with which we can sing
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
For when Christ took on human flesh, he did so with a plan.  And according to that plan (to borrow the words of another hymn) he died, eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.  May we all rejoice in this fact throughout this Advent season and beyond!

Previous posts in this series:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Hymns...Some Thoughts for Advent (1)

The other day I was listening to some Christmas hymns and it occurred to me how theologically rich the lyrical content of many of these songs is. Unfortunately, it has often been my practice (and I assume the same is true for at least some of you) to be so familiar with these songs that I sing them without actually thinking about the words I am singing.

As a result, I thought it might be a nice idea to write short reflections on certain lines and verses throughout the season of Advent. My primary goal in this is to help ensure my heart and mind are in the right place of worship as Christmas approaches. I hope you will benefit as well.

Isaiah 7:14 reads, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." These words were given to the people of Israel on the virtual eve of their being carried off into captivity by Assyria. As they were in exile, it is easy to imagine them singing,
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
The name “Emmanuel” is a Hebrew phrase which translates literally as “God with us,” so what is represented here is a desire for God to come be with us. But the desire is not just that he might come be with us so that we’re not lonely. Rather, the purpose of this coming is that he might “ransom captive Israel, that is, the covenant people of God.

It is interesting how a number of Christmas hymns “work” not just at Christmas, but year round. We often see ourselves as those who are comfortable and at home in the world around us. If we are to think biblically though, it would be more proper to see ourselves as lonely exiles, awaiting deliverance by the hand of our great king (Philippians 3:20).

You see, just as we normally think of the Lord’s first coming when we sing this song, so too we should really be longing now for the second coming of Emmanuel. As Trevin Wax has suggested, perhaps that is why it opens with the two-fold, “O come, O come…” Certainly, this Advent we ought to look forward to the day we celebrate the birth of Christ.  But how much more ought we to look forward to the day he actually returns!  For, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

"If you're approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you're not really approaching Him at all."

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed