Posts tagged ‘Zechariah’

December 25, 2014

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

by Steven Dilla

Daily Reading
Zechariah 12 (Listen – 2:42)
John 15 (Listen – 3:45)

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

— Matthew 1.22-23

“Caesar is Lord,” the people would shout as his ornate chariot traversed the streets of Rome. From viaducts to philosophy, architecture to economy, none surpassed Rome. Their elite culture was the hope of the world — and it spread like wildfire, consuming much of the known world. Because Rome’s cultural dominance gave it seemingly limitless potential, it was stunning when the empire began to decline.

In the end, Caesar proved not only unable to save his empire, but even himself. The fall of Rome was earth-shaking, plunging civilization into what historians have long-called, “The Dark Ages.” For hundreds of years battles raged endlessly, pestilence and plague spread freely, and chaos seemed to gain the upper hand all too regularly. The period isn’t significantly brighter in church history. Scripture was largely inaccessible, starving the Church of sound doctrine and increasing the growth of folk religion, superstition, and far worse. (The groundwork for the devastatingly fractured interpretations of Scripture that lead to the crusades was formed during this time.)

“O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high, and order all things far and nigh,” wrote an anonymous monk sometime before 800 C.E. The words to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” cry out from the depths of the Dark Ages, longing for God’s presence, Emmanuel, to rescue humankind. In more ways than one, the unknown author behind this song is an outlier. The lyrics show intimate knowledge of Scripture in a time of illiteracy, and the author seems acutely aware of humanity’s limits. Even if there were a vision for restoration present, no one on earth would be sufficient enough to bring it to be. 

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

“Jesus is Lord,” is a revolutionary claim. It upends not only global empires, but whatever each of us would enthrone on our own heart to save us from the insufficiency of our world. Christmas day celebrates the coming of an all-sufficient King. He is both the wisdom we long for and the power we need. He is God, and we long for his presence to heal our world and restore our hearts. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Listen: Francesca Battistelli – 4:20)

Verses in italics are less commonly sung.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Refrain

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.

Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Refrain

O come, Thou Key of David, come
and open wide our heav’nly home;
make safe the way that leads on high
that we no more have cause to sigh.

Refrain

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Refrain

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

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December 24, 2014

Silent Night

by Steven Dilla

Daily Reading
Zechariah 11 (Listen – 2:49)
John 14 (Listen – 4:17)

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night”
— Luke 2.8

Christ’s life begins and ends in poverty. Most people understand the depth of pain in the end, where Christ is homeless and stripped of his sole earthly possession moments before being hung naked on a cross. The beginning, however, has been sanitized in a way that conceals the sting of suffering that Christ would know from birth to death.

“Manger” is a generous description of Christ’s bed because it distances our minds from the realities of an infant being laid in a feeding trough. Jesus’ story starts not just in financial poverty, but also relational poverty. It doesn’t appear that Joseph had family or friends in the town of his ancestors, as searching for room in an inn is the task of a foreigner in a communal society. Jesus’ family, like most in the ancient Near East, would have lived at the sustenance level, eeking out enough to eat modestly and own a few personal possessions. While it’s easy to miss all this while we carol, the reality of Christ’s birth was never far from the minds of the authors behind the carols. 

Born into an impoverished Austrian single mother, Joseph Mohr penned the original German lyrics to “Silent Night” around 1816, while he served as the Father of a small village church not far from his grandfather’s home in the alps. He would spend long sections of his life ill, ultimately succumbing to a pulmonary disease at 55. In a letter to the bishop, a local overseer described Mohr as “a reliable friend of mankind, toward the poor, a gentle, helping father.”

Thousands of tourists travel to the Austrian Alps to visit the town where Mohr is buried, but only because it’s a now thriving ski resort. It’s easy to miss the full impact of Mohr’s life because present luxury quickly to overwhelms past reality. Mohr’s story highlights how a Christian with wealth should live not in guilt, but in thankfulness and generosity. Although far from affluent, Mohr also found himself significantly more comfortable than his family had been. In this, he chose to leverage everything he had for others. Mohr died penniless after reportedly donating all his money to children’s education and care for the elderly.

The lyrics to “Silent Night” can easily trick our mind’s eye into seeing comfort and privilege that simply were not present. (This, of course, would have been far from Mohr’s intention.) It is in the pain of poverty and depravity that Heavenly Peace came to the world. Silence and stillness were not present for the same reasons the affluent find them, but because God’s presence filled our barren world with radiant sufficiency. Truly, Jesus was Lord at his birth.

Silent Night (Listen: Sarah McLauchlan – 3:48)

Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven above
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

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December 23, 2014

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

by Bethany

Daily Reading
Zechariah 10 (Listen – 2:08)
John 13 (Listen – 5:23)

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

— Luke 2.36-38

Many Hebrew prophets pointed to the Messiah’s coming. Isaiah, for example, spoke about “a sign” – “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” [1]. Micah, too, prophesied about his origins: “Bethlehem Ephrathah … from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” [2].

Although these prophecies were spoken to Israel, the Hebrew Bible has hints that the Lord had a plan for the world, not just Israel. For example, Isaiah prophesied, “In that day, there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day, Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’” [3].

This is astonishing. The Lord was telling Israel, his chosen people, that their enemies would be called “my people” and “the work of my hands.” Up until this point, only Israel had been described using these tender, intimate words. What was God doing?

In the first verse of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” Charles Wesley celebrates the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecies in the person of Jesus. Written in 1744, this carol is one of almost 9,000 hymns written by Wesley – that is, a hymn every day for almost 25 years. Wesley describes Jesus as the “long-expected” Messiah and “Israel’s strength and consolation,” which is a reference to Luke’s gospel, where Simeon is “waiting for the consolation of Israel” [4]. Yet Wesley, too, points beyond Israel, saying that Jesus is the “hope of all the earth” and the “dear desire of every nation” and the “joy of every longing heart.”

The second verse talks about the purpose of the Incarnation (“to deliver”), the dual nature of Christ (“a child and yet a King”), his ability to save us (“by Thine all sufficient merit”), and the future for which we long (“raise us to Thy glorious throne”).

[1] Isaiah 7:14 ESV | [2] Micah 5:2 ESV | [3] Isaiah 19:23-25 ESV | [4] Luke 2:25 ESV

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (Listen: Christy Nockels – 2:59)

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

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December 22, 2014

O Little Town of Bethlehem

by Bethany

Daily Reading
Zechariah 9 (Listen – 3:04)
John 12 (Listen – 6:18)

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 coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

— Micah 5.2

Phillips Brooks was a Harvard graduate with a struggling career as a teacher. Although brilliant, he was frustrated with his students’ lack of ambition. After turning to pursue a career in ministry, he graduated from seminary in 1859. Two years later, he was called to lead the congregation of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, where he met Lewis Redner.

Together, Brooks and Redner became well known for their music and children’s programs. By 1863, the same year that President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, Brooks began to grow tired. In the midst of the Civil War, his congregation expected him to inspire them. They wanted peace and turned to him for assurance. As the war was drew to a close, Brooks was hopeful that things would settle down, but then the President was assassinated in April 1865. Although Brooks was not Lincoln’s pastor, he was asked to speak at the funeral because of his oratory skills.

Exhausted from the war, Brooks decided to take a sabbatical and set out for the Middle East. On Christmas Eve of 1865, he was in Jerusalem—far from his home in Philadelphia. That evening, he went to the fields outside of Bethlehem and meditated on the birth of the Messiah. He later told his family and friends that the experience was so overwhelming that it would forever be “singing in my soul.”

When he returned, he felt that he was at a loss of words to convey how meaningful his trip to the Holy Land was. He first wrote about it in his journal and then he wrote a poem in 1868. That year, on Christmas Eve, Redner composed music to accompany the poem. They shared the hymn with their friends in Philadelphia and, by 1874, it was published in The Church Porch music collection. 

O Little Town of Bethlehem (Listen: Sarah McLachlan – 3:50)

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 to-night.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep the Angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching
And Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels,
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

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December 19, 2014

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

by Bethany

Daily Reading
Zechariah 6 (Listen – 2:26)
John 9 (Listen – 4:55)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

— Luke 2.8-9

In 1849, Edmund Sears was working a Christmas Eve sermon for his congregation in Massachusetts, but he was discouraged. The debate over slavery was growing in the nation and the dejection of poverty was rising in his community. In addition to preaching the divinity of Christ, Sears also preached and practiced ministry to the lost, helpless, and poor. Thus, the poverty and hopelessness of his neighbors was on his mind as he worked on his Christmas message. How could he write about the light of the world when the world seemed so dark?

Then he meditated on Luke 2:8-9. As he considered the miracle of the birth of the Christ, he wrote a five-verse poem, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” He then recalled another Christmas poem he had written a decade before: “Calm on the list’ning ear of night comes heaven’s melodious strains.” Starting his message with his older Christmas poem, he quickly wrote a short sermon and decided to end his Christmas service with his newest poem.

Although most people consider his poem-turned-carol to be joyful and uplifting, many of its original hearers thought it was challenging. Sears wanted his congregation to celebrate Christmas, but he also wanted them to feed the poor, solve the nation’s social problems, and consider how they could bear God’s image in their daily lives. Nowhere is this message more obvious than in the poem’s third verse.

The poem appeared in the December 29, 1849 issue of The Christian Register. Yet it was not set to music until the following year by Robert Storrs Willis, who studied under Felix Mendelssohn in Germany.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (Listen: Ella Fitzgerald – 3:19)

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

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Weekend Readings:

Saturday: Zechariah 7 (Listen – 2:02); John 10 (Listen – 4:42)
Sunday: Zechariah 8 (Listen – 4:04); John 11 (Listen – 6:48)

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