Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Carol Gospel - O Come All Ye Faithful

The Gospel According to (Christmas) Carol
O Come All Ye Faithful

(Be sure to read the introduction to this series.)

God has been speaking to humanity since Genesis, chapter 1. And I, for one, think it is pretty cool that the first words that man ever heard were "Be fruitful and multiply".

God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses. He spoke the 23rd Psalm into David's heart. He spoke "I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you" to Joshua. God spoke promises to the prophets, assurances to Mary, wisdom to Solomon, church discipline to Paul, and stunning revelations about the future to John. In fact, I believe the whole Bible is the inspired word of God written down by faithful men.

Before going on, give a listen to Acapella's version of "O Come All Ye Faithful"

This week's carol suggests that maybe we should capitalize "Word":
"Word of the Father now in flesh appearing"

You see, when Jesus stepped out of Heaven and into this world, He came as… how can I say this? Well, put it this way, my voice and my words are the expression of my thoughts. Jesus came as the expression of God's thoughts, His Words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1.1, 14)

You've heard of the admonishment, "walk the walk and talk the talk" (or however that goes). Jesus came as the Talk of God walking around.

And something else stunning happened that first Christmas. It is something that God wanted and mankind needed since that incident in the Garden in Genesis. On that day, God drove man not just out of the garden, but also out of His presence. We were created to crave a relationship with God. We need it! When Jesus, the Word of God, appeared in flesh we got back what we had long ago lost – fellowship with God.

Perhaps that is why, of all the Christmas Carols, especially on this wonderful album of carols performed by Acapella, there is one line that means more to me than any other:
"Yea Lord, we greet thee"

I know, we are long removed from that stable in Bethlehem. I was not in the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount. I was not at Calvary that dark day two thousand years ago. I have not seen Jesus face-to-face. But I believe some day I will see him face-to-face. And although I can't sing a lick, I can tell you for sure, some day I am going to enter Heaven and I am going to sing out bright and clear, "Yea Lord, I greet thee".

Now that is Good News!

Bonus: Here is a nice post about the history of several most-beloved carols.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Carol Gospel - Joy to the World

The Gospel According to (Christmas) Carol
Joy to the World

(Be sure to read the introduction to this series.)

First thing, check out this Ford commercial.

Get it? Delivering on the "and" part of the equation is a challenge. Consider the problem posed by our Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag.
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Liberty and Justice? Well, we want bad people to receive justice, not be given the liberty to do more bad acts, right? Again, "and" seems to be the problem.

Let's get a little closer to Christmas with this verse about Joseph's "and" problem with pregnant-out-of-wedlock Mary.
And Joseph [was engaged to be] her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. (Matthew 1:19)
You see, Joseph was a righteous man. Mary's condition called for him to publicly renounce their engagement. But, BUT, he loved her and did not want her to suffer personal embarrassment or public disgrace. So his solution was to let her move in with relatives in another city. Yes, he would lose the one he loved, but he found a way to maintain righteousness and show compassion. Wow, God certainly found the perfect man to be the earthly father of Jesus!

Enjoy Acapella's version of "Joy to the World"

This week's carol gives us one simple, yet troubling, thought to consider.
"He rules the world with Truth and Grace"

Truth grows out of Righteousness. Truth ensures that what is expected is accomplished. For example, God expects us to live without sin. On the other hand, Grace is love-in-action. Grace  loves unconditionally.

"But" and "on the other hand" are easy to do. And, as in "Eat your cake and have it to", is sometimes almost impossible to accomplish. God has a terrible problem. He loves us completely AND He can have nothing to do with sin.

Perhaps the most popular verse in the Bible revolves around this problem of and:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

John 3:16 reveals God's problem – loving the world and also needing sinful man to perish – and it reveals His solution – letting the sinfulness of mankind fall on the shoulders of His perfect, innocent Son. The Apostle Paul describes this transaction in poignant terms:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Let's go back to our carol for one more treasure on this theme:
"And makes the nations prove…
The glories of His Righteousness
And wonders of His Love"

Want to drive this point home? This coming week, don't say "but". Replace it in all your sentences with "and". You'll quickly come to realize how amazing God's "and" solution is.

Next week's carol: O Come All Ye Faithful

Bonus: Here is a nice post about the history of several most-beloved carols.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Carol Gospel - Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

The Gospel According to (Christmas) Carol
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

(Be sure to read the introduction to this series.)

Gospel means "good news". The Good News of Christmas is that, even though we are separated from God spiritually, He still wants to be with us. And how God solves that problem is utterly unique.

Our separation from God began in the Garden of Eden when Adam & Eve ate the forbidden fruit. But let's not put all the blame on them, you and I also have "come short of the glory of God" and deserve our separation from Him.

Before I get to this week's carol, let me share a couple lines from some golden oldies with you.
"I can't live if living is without you"
(Without You, Harry Nilsson)

"I'd rather live in his world
Than live without him in mine"
(Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Night)

The human heart well knows the agony of separation. Separation from the one we love causes a gnawing emptiness, an unrelenting distress and it makes us consider, day and night, how to reunite with our beloved. Well, we are created in God's image, yes?  How do you think He feels about being separated from the ones He loves?

And there is the Good News! Even though we were separated from God, He came to seek and to save us. Those Herald Angels saying "Hark!" call us to consider the profound effort God achieved to be with us again. You see, we were lost. In fact, we were so separated from God that we didn't even know we were lost. So, God came down into our dimension of life.

Enjoy Acapella's version of this carol.

These two lines give me goosebumps:
"Veiled in Flesh the God-head see; Hail the incarnate Deity"
"Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel"

God is spirit (John 4:24) so for the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe to put on the human costume must be terribly uncomfortable and limiting. Consider what the Apostle Paul says Jesus' Godness: For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9) Paul also talks about Jesus' profound humility to lay aside all the rights and privileges of the "King of kings" to walk around the dust and mud, the summer heat, the winter cold of ancient Israel.

But, even in His crude kit of human flesh and bones, we still realized that He is God… God. With. US!!! That's what "Immanuel" means. John writes: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

See, that was the whole point. God loved us so much, and hated being separated from us so much, that He came down here to be with us. He couldn't live without us in His world, so He came to live with us in ours! But even in His human "veil", there was no denying that Jesus fully and wholly embodied the full grace and truth of God in heaven.

And some great day we'll see Jesus without that veil. Maranatha!

Next week's carol: Joy to the World

Bonus: Here is a nice post about the history of several most-beloved carols.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas Carol Gospel - O Little Town of Bethlehem

The Gospel According to (Christmas) Carol
O Little Town of Bethlehem

(Be sure to read the introduction to this series.)

A teen graduating from high school…
A young woman getting married…
A long awaited purchase of a dream car, dream home, dream vacation…

We all have experienced major events in our lives that are the culmination of long years of anticipation. We've rolled that moment over and over in our minds as we slowly progress toward the goal.

For children, each day of December seems as long as the whole year as they watch Christmas decorations go up and presents go under the tree. How many of us, in our childhood, thought there was no way that we could survive the long, long Christmas Eve? "Visions of sugarplums"? No way! We were desperately guessing how the toy we desperately hoped for all year could possibly be in one of those wrapped-and-ribboned packages.

Did you know the first Christmas was as fervently anticipated as any Christmas since?

Our first Christmas Carol tells us the story of anticipation that lay over Israel at that time. Give a listen to "O Little Town of Bethlehem" sung by Acapella.

Did you catch the key phrase?
"The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight"

It's true. For many, many long years, Israel had hoped for a King, a Conqueror, a Liberator who would throw off the shackles of foreign oppression and restore the vigor and dignity of the nation. This hope was personalized by two people who you may never have heard of, but who are essential to the complete Christmas story. Let me take you to Luke 2 and introduce you to Simeon and Anna.

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (v.25)

And there was a prophetess, Anna.… She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers…. looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (v.36…)

Please read all of Luke 2 so you get the full picture.

The point is, good, righteous, and devout people were eagerly expecting the coming of the Messiah who would bring "consolation" and "redemption" to Israel. And they had been expecting Him for years! For centuries, the hopes of an entire nation lay heavily on the unknown, unborn Messiah's shoulders. For centuries, the Israelites feared that their Messiah would never come, or come too late.

Indeed, "the hopes and fears of all the years", the eager anticipation of a whole nation, was answered in that quite night in the stable.

This installment of The Gospel According to (Christmas) Carol reminds us that our timing is often not the same as God's timing. But He is a good and wise God and we are wise to rest peacefully in the confidence that "at just the right time" God will deliver on His promises.

Next week's carol: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Bonus: Here is a nice post about the history of several most-beloved carols.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas Carol Gospel - Intro

The Gospel According to (Christmas) Carol
I love love love traditional Christmas carols. My first, richest memories of carols reach back to the early 1960s in my elementary school. Way back then, we were allowed to celebrate Christmas in the schools. The Christmas pageant would begin with
Our Christmas card photo from 1966.
That's me in the red boots!
a procession of children in white smocks holding battery-powered candles and singing "Joy To The World". It was simply the most beautiful thing I knew.

Now, so many decades later, I appreciate the carols not just for their musical beauty, but also how completely they tell the whole Gospel – The Good News – of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. So, I've added the name Carol alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John… The Gospel According to Carol, Christmas Carol. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Over the next four weeks, as we approach Christmas Day, I'm going to share snippets from four carols that tell the Gospel in a powerful way. I hope you'll read and cherish each post in this series.

And I'm doing a little bootlegging to share with you the soundtrack of this Gospel. The group Acapella has a Christmas CD called, what else, Carols, that is required listening in our house over the Christmas season. I'll share their version of each carol. By way of honoring these fine voices (and to show I'm not a Christmas music pirate), I invite you to add their album to your music collection.

Just a couple more things… If you feel like you need a fresh wind of inspiration in your Christmas gift-giving experience, please visit TheJesusGifts.com. This is our family's original idea that has given us wonderful Christmases for almost two decades now.

And… you might enjoy the Christmas-themed articles previously posted here at Follow Illustrated:

The Day I Discovered My Mom Had Given Me Syphilis (yes, it's really about Christmas)

If you're new to the Follow Illustrated blog, well… first let me welcome you and say "Thanks for dropping by." I am Clark H Smith. I'm a sometimes-pastor, a chaplain, a writer, but most importantly I am the husband of one beautiful wife and the father of four dandy boys. This blog is my effort to write out some of the things that rumble around in my head, specifically illustrations about what it means to follow Jesus. I hope you'll dig through the archives and find more inspiration to follow Jesus closely. And if you're a dad, too, have I got a blog for you. Visit It's Good To Be The Dad and get some encouragement and inspiration for the wonderful journey you're on.

Last thing, I promise. If you're following me on Facebook, show some Christmas spirit and please SHARE SHARE SHARE these posts. You'll bless me and all your friends as well. Thanks!

Bonus: Here is a nice post about the history of several most-beloved carols.