A Holy Night

My favorite Christmas hymn is O Holy Night. Every time I hear the words “fall on your knees” I get a chill and find myself singing along with the angel voices. O Holy Night, “also known as “Cantique de Noël”) is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, Chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by poet Placide Cappeau (1808–1877). The carol reflects on the birth of Jesus as humanity’s redemption” (Wikipedia).

Most versions use only the first verse, which is the most well-known. As it’s in the public domain and you may not be familiar with the second and third verses, I’m sharing it with you here and hope you can find a version you like to listen to. I’m partial to Josh Groban and Michael Crawford, who both sing the first and third verses. I also enjoy listening to Nat King Cole and Andy Williams.

Merry Christmas to you and thanks for reading my blog.

O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born.
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the Wise Men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend;
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us Praise His Holy name.
Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim;
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

More Than Sharing

Some of us are better at sharing than others. Starting when we’re little, we usually have to be taught to share because selfishness seems to be innate.

One thing we know about Jesus is that he’s good at sharing. God’s plan, from before the foundation of the world, was to share himself with us by becoming one of us. We know how he did this – emptied himself of his omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence (Kenosis of God: The Self-Limitation of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, David T. Williams) to become a human being, while still being God. He retained his love and holiness while humbling himself in submission to both his Father and to humanity.

He continues to share himself with us by sharing his faith, obedience, love and humility. We have very little of any of these and I know from experience that we can’t attain faith, obedience or any other godly attribute on our own or by our own effort. It doesn’t work. We have to trust God to impart these things to us by sharing his power and who he is with us. God continues to be kenotic in both his self-emptying and his munificence to us.   

When Did He Know?

My first memory is of a pink toy washing machine, probably a Christmas present when I was five. Before that, I only know what my parents told me – my birth at a Navy hospital, moving to a farm as a baby, and then moving to another state as a toddler. You probably have a similar experience and I imagine Jesus was the same. He was human after all, which makes me wonder, when did he know? When did he become aware of who he was? I doubt little three-month-old Jesus knew he was God and understood why he was starting life as a helpless baby. But we don’t know, do we?

The first hint we’re given is when Jesus was in the Temple as a 12-year-old. When his parents came looking for him, he told them, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house [or about my Father’s business]?” (Luke 2:49, NIV). Verse 52 tells us he grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Later, we see more indications: his mother’s comment at the wedding in Cana; Satan’s comments in the desert; and of course, in the garden when he told his disciples he could call down twelve legions of angels.

Regardless of when he knew, coming as a baby and having to grow in wisdom was a choice of Father, Son and Spirit to empty himself or fulfill his kenotic nature on earth the same as in heaven. He was no less God when he cried in his mother’s arms; he wasn’t diminished by having to learn the scriptures in the Temple or learning a trade from his dad. Rather he added humanity to himself. Jesus was fully human and fully God, the same as he is today. And his nature remains kenotic – he continues to give himself for us in love.

Thinking About Christmas

How did December get here already? I know many of us are ready for 2020 to be over, but before that happens, we might want to contemplate the deeper meaning of Christmas. Everyone knows it’s not just about giving and receiving gifts, not about getting together with family (if we even can this year) and not even about going to church. It’s about who God is and why he came to earth as a human.

The passage in Philippians 2 might not come to mind when you think of Christmas. Verses 5-8 talk about having the mind of Christ, followed by how God emptied himself to become a slave. The word for this is kenosis, or self-emptying. He set aside the privileges of deity, not counting equality with God as something he needed to cling to or hold tightly or use to his advantage. When Jesus became one of us, he put kenosis into action on earth – he gave up all the “trappings” of being God to become a helpless baby, be an obedient son to human parents, learn what it means to be human and then die as a criminal, with criminals.

Why did he do this? Because that’s who he is. Father, Son and Spirit, as three in one, exist as a self-emptying being. Each empties self or pours out for the other in love. Because of this way of being, God naturally did the same for us in the incarnation. He became Emmanuel, God with us, in the greatest act of kenosis in history. Perhaps we should say “Merry Kenosis”!

Did I Say It’s Easy?

I’ve been thinking about how I said it’s easy to produce the fruit of the Spirit. I’ve decided it’s like everything else when it comes to being a Christian – yes and no, already but not yet, easy but difficult. We are still human and have to deal with our human nature and all that goes along with it.

It’s very encouraging to understand that God plants us in the soil of his love, waters us with the living water of the Holy Spirit and then lets the Son shine his warmth and light on us. But then I remember Paul’s words about wanting to do what is good but doing what is bad. The pull of the flesh is strong and as a friend of mine used to say, even though we walk in the Spirit we are always only one step away from the flesh.

I guess that’s why Paul also said we die daily. Every day, we ask for and rely on God’s grace to give us the will and the strength to continue in this life of already but not yet. We ask for our roots to grow deeper, for the living water to nourish those roots and depend on the light of Jesus to help us stretch up tall and straight in his love. And every day, even though we may not be as patient, kind or loving as we would like, God is still producing his fruit in us, perhaps slowly, maybe even imperceptibly, but it’s growing, nonetheless. No matter what, let’s stay attached to Jesus, holding on to him for dear life, even if it’s by our fingernails.

Producing Fruit Is Easy

Many of us can probably recite from memory, give or take one or two, the nine things listed as fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. But sometimes people look at them as a to-do list rather than the result of life lived in Christ. As I was thinking about patience the other day, I pondered how the fruit grows in us and why some of it sometimes seems small rather than lush.

I’ve owned fruit trees and have watched them grow, bloom in the spring and develop fruit over the course of a few weeks. I’ve chased birds and other critters away, picked the fruit, dried it, frozen it, made crisps and pies and enjoyed, well, not the fruit of my labor, but what comes naturally to the trees. I can’t make the fruit grow. All I can do is plant the tree in a sunny, open space, water and fertilize it and then let it do its thing.

It seems the fruit of the Spirit comes about in our lives in much the same way. God plants us in the soil of his deep, rich love. He waters us with the living water of the Spirit and shines the light and warmth of the Son on us. And just as fruit appears on a tree, it shows up in our lives. All we have to do is stay put, as Jesus said. “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:4-5, NIV

This image of being planted in God’s love, watered by the Spirit and warmed by the Son can help us keep our eyes on Jesus and aware of the fruit he’s forming in us. It’s a joint effort in a way, as we apply ourselves to staying attached to the vine and focus on our roots growing deeper in Christ.

Allowing God In

I’ve noticed some Christian authors use the phrase “allow God to do” this or that in your life. “Allow his goodness to cause thankfulness to well up within you.” “Allow the soil of your hearts to make you receptive.” “Allow Scripture to fill your heart.” “Allow God’s word and his Spirit to teach you.” At first this might seem like a good thing, as God does give us choices in life and encourages us to come to him. But is there a better way to say this? The words we use to describe God and how he interacts with us are important.

To me, allowing someone to do something means I’m giving them permission. It also implies I’m in control and I’ve decided to let them do something for me or to me. That’s how it works between people because we often don’t trust each other. It takes a great deal of good experience and trust to allow people in, to allow them interest or liberties in our lives.

With God, it’s a bit different. He is completely trustworthy. Jesus is my friend and we have a relationship of trust, and yes it has built up over the years. We talk to each other and I share my concerns, questions, doubts, fears and feelings. As I do this, I grow closer to him and trust him more. As my trust grows, he works on my heart, transforming and strengthening me, helping me in my weakness – becoming my strength.

Too much of the time, Christianity is portrayed as transactional – if I do this, God will do that. If I allow him access to my mind and heart, he’ll do things for me. In a relationship of love (he loved us first) what we do together is not a matter of giving him permission or allowing him to do things in me and for me. It’s a matter of love. He loves me, I love him back and in the course and flow of that love, because he always wants the best for me, he works in me to make me more like Jesus.

Another Reason to Pray

People pray for many reasons – help, encouragement, praise, gratitude, desperation. And we’ve probably prayed for all of these, in different prayers or even in the same one. We pray silently, out loud, through tears and sometimes laughter. God listens to all kinds of prayers, said for all kinds of reasons.

Maybe you don’t need another reason, but this quotation might give you something to think about. It sure struck me as worth consideration. “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life).

More than a reason to pray, this is an underlying attitude to a life lived in and for Jesus – surrender of our wills, dying to self and acknowledgment of the sovereignty and supremacy of God. Our time, money and talents all come from him anyway and on our own, aren’t worth much and don’t get us very far. But in the hands of God, they are like the loaf and bit of fish Jesus used to feed the multitudes.

What to Wear

It’s not much of a problem deciding what to wear these days. Besides riding my bike (which won’t happen much now that it’s getting colder), I go to the grocery store once a week and that’s about it. I imagine at some point I’ll need to shake the dust off some of my hanging clothes and wear them again.

Maybe you’ve also enjoyed not worrying about what to wear during this strange year. Instead of thinking about the clothes in our closets, we might want to turn our thoughts to what the Bible says about our wardrobe. At least three verses talk about what to wear: Romans 13:14, Colossians 3:10 and 3:12. I like to read them in different versions of the Bible to get a feel for the full meaning. Romans 13:14 says to put on Jesus (ESV); clothe yourself with the presence of Jesus (NLT); fully immerse yourselves into the Lord Jesus (TPT). In Colossians we are told to put on the new self and to clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (NIV).   

Even if you do spend some time in the morning figuring out what to wear, it’s a good opportunity to think about putting on Jesus with each article of clothing. We could even assign the characteristics in Colossians to our socks and shoes, praying for compassion as we put on the left sock, humility as we put on the right one, kindness with one shoe and gentleness with the other. We can pray for patience as we put on a shirt. As we get into a jacket, think about putting on love over all, “which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14, NIV).

Instead of fussing over what to wear, we can turn that time into a time of prayer and let the Holy Spirit choose how to clothe us. I’m sure he more style than me anyway.

Never Letting Go

For months, a Hillsong praise song about Jesus has been stuck in my head. It’s the one with the words “Jesus, lover of my soul. Jesus, I will never let you go.” It just bubbles up, especially when I’m out riding my bike. Lately I’ve been changing the words to say, Jesus, you’ll never let me go. I know I want to hold on to him, but I know he wants to hold on to me even more, and his “hands” don’t get sweaty and lose their grip.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from God’s love – absolutely nothing. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV).

Nothing can separate us from his love, and nothing is more encouraging than knowing the bond between Jesus and us is unbreakable. “Though my world may fall,” neither of us will ever let go. The Father loved us first, Jesus loves us and the Holy Spirit loves us – and I will sing it forever.