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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ A New Christmas Carol ~

Jesus the Christ never had a birthday. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through Him all things were made…" (John 1:1, 3a, NIV). While "in the Spirit," St. John observed an exalted order of angels worshipfully and unceasingly exclaiming, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come" (Revelation 4:8b, NIV).

That last line in the angelic praise is the longer form of the name by which God wanted to be known in Israel: I am (Exodus 3:14b, NIV). Picking up stones to kill Him for blasphemy, the Jewish religious leaders perfectly understood Jesus when He declared,  "Before Abraham was, I am!" (John 8:58b, NIV).

Christ is God, but always understood and expressed incarnationally. Christ is the Personhood of the triune Godhead Who fused flesh with Spirit, so to speak. Thus not only "all things were made" through Him, Christ is the "Lamb [sacrificial Incarnation] that was slain from the creation of the world" (Revelation 13:8b, NIV).

So Christmas is really Incarnation Day. The historical month and day is a trivial point of contention, except to commercial enterprises, workers and school children who get vacations, and, unfortunately, the schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, the debate in which the date played a small part centuries ago. Evidence points to a spring time Incarnation Day. But living in a land where all four seasons are well defined and in the Northern Hemisphere where, unlike, for some of our readers, Christmas is a winter day, I like December 25.

 
The magic of the Christmas season with its winter-flavored carols, images and moods (for those of us north of the equator) still excites my soul. Hot chocolate, cinnamon spiced hot cider, quiet fires, blinking lights, pine and balsam fragrances, whistling wind, fluttering snowflakes and joyful melodies punctuated with laughter of loved ones blend together into a wondrous cadence of a dancing heart and happily resting soul. However delightful, all that, isn't about the awesome and mind boggling event of the Incarnation of the Almighty God.

Making a birthday cake for Jesus, as some have the custom, and singing "Happy Birthday" is cute and fun for children, and the adults who video tape this ritual for their viewing pleasure. Sadly, though, this, and other cute things adults do, teach our children to belittle the holy reverence and majestic worship due our God. Being "merry" can mean being silly for unredeeming entertainment or being sacredly silly for our Lord, a worshipful giddiness. Imagine how the "multitude of heavenly hosts" or powerful, merry angels, sang to the shepherd children on the hillsides of Bethlehem! (Shepherds, in those days, were typically young teenagers.)

"Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000 who had His name and His Father's name written on their foreheads" (Revelation 14:1,NIV). They were singing a new song, but no one else could learn it! (Revelation 14:3b). One could hear the song, but not learn it. One could understand it, but not learn it. Do you know of such a song? Have you ever heard one like it?

In the Psalter and book of Revelation many references to "new songs" are found. These are associated with events of delivery and new beginnings. Foremost among them is the celebration of the Incarnation, the Christmas mystery of the Immanuel or the "God-with-us."

King David captures the distress of a soul longing for the Immanuel: "I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand" (Psalm 40:1-2, NIV). In addition to the firm place, David had a new song. It was not a song he learned, however, and I believe it was not a song he could learn. A powerful song it was, for it was "a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:3b, NIV). David adds, "Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders You have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to You; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare…I desire to do Your will, O my God; Your law is written in my heart…I do not seal my lips, as You know O Lord. I do not hide Your righteousness in my heart; I speak of Your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal Your love and truth from the great assembly" (Psalm 40:5, 8-9, NIV). In declaring this, David joins in the jubilant song of the angels to the shepherds on that great night of the Immanuel!
 
The angelic song was quite different from "Happy Birthday" or "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," since we are told to "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name; bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth" (Psalm 96:8-9, NIV). Can you picture how the shepherd boys and, later, the magi from the east and others approached the God-with-us? Just as the above psalm instructs, I can see in my mind's eyes these first worshipers of the God-Incarnate approaching slowly, hesitantly, reverently, trembling with holy fear and humility, with their offerings in their quivering hands, with silent lips and wide, gazing eyes, and a new song in their hearts…

 A song they could not learn but they could join David in saying, "He [God] put a new song in my mouth" (Psalm 40:3a, NIV). "Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You" (Psalm 9:10, NIV). Isaiah wrote "He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6b, NIV) and Immanuel" (Isaiah 9:14b, NIV). These are indeed majestic and intimate titles.

Christmas serves as a life marker for many. Some are determined to make this one the best yet. Others look sadly and nostalgically back to great Christmases of the past, not  to be repeated. Some dread the sorrowful associations with each Christmas because of past tragedies or crushed anticipations. And for some, Christmas is a time of enhanced loneliness or an empty, consuming business of shopping and obligatory rituals that no longer feed the soul and only tire the body.

 But the best marker possible, transcending all others both negative and positive, is how much more have we come to "know" the name of God; how much deeper is our intimacy with Christ, meaning Messiah, the Immanuel, meaning God-with-us.  Has God given us "a new song in our mouths"?

Remember that we cannot learn this song, nor can we teach it to our children and others. We can, together in community and worship, pray upon, reflect over and re-engage our intimate love for our God-with-us. Then the real Christmas magic will shine brightly within us and our homes, for "Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation" (Isaiah 12:2b, NIV). By the supreme intimacy of the Christ-child-man, God doesn't give us strength or salvation, He literally and lovingly becomes our strength, our salvation, and our new song.

This year, and always, rather then celebrating Christmas, let us become Christmas itself and Jesus the Christ our Carol, the ever new and everlasting Song of our hearts and lives.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
www.prayergear.com

Weekly Reflections © December 22, 2001

Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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