keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and the glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were terrified.
10But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
He is Christ the Lord.
12This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'
13Suddenly a great company of hosts appeared with the angel,
praising God and saying,
14'Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!'
... Luke 2:8-14
This Christmas, many American patriots look forward to the New Year with fear and uncertainty, believing that, for the first time in our lifetimes – for the first time in the history of our beloved republic – America’s future holds little, if any, promise of a return to the foundations that made our nation the most moral and prosperous in the history of mankind. I share that austere and unsettling view of what lies ahead for us all.
Yet we tend to lose sight of the fact that there is a bigger picture ... that man on earth enjoys free will; and that many among us have used that precious gift for evil. Yet God is here among us, and ever watching. His presence is not defined by man in man's words, or in man's artistic renderings. Nor can His presence be forbidden by law or edict. He is here among us ... now and forever.
He abhors lies and oppression. He reveres truth and justice. He knows a man's heart. He is unimpressed with false words ... or counterfeit motives ... or disingenuous façades. He will not be mocked. He cannot be fooled. And those who believe otherwise would do well to revisit, and revise, such beliefs.
Last weekend, Rick and I attended a Christmas concert performed by the Booth Brothers, a young southern gospel group whose concerts never fail to provide incredibly beautiful music, Christian witness, and spiritual uplift. The concert was held in a local mega-church; there was not an empty seat, with probably a thousand people in attendance.
About halfway through the beautiful musical program, in the middle of an especially meaningful Christmas piece, many in the audience, entirely spontaneously, began singing along with the performers, and, at that point, something stirring gradually began to happen in the sanctuary.
Moved by the Spirit, Michael Booth began extemporaneously talking, in a very tactful, but impassioned manner, about the way in which America has abandoned her Christian, and foundational, principals. It was most definitely a personal accounting of his own heartache, as he sees his country wandering so far from its original noble path.
After which the remainder of the program became completely impromptu, with the lead-in group returning to the stage and performing together with the Booth Brothers numbers that were not rehearsed. The audience also joined in on those numbers that they knew. Much was said, and sung, with all thousand-plus people participating in the communal sharing of faith and concern for our country.
At one point, more than a thousand voices joined in an impromptu four-part harmony rendition of 'Amazing Grace'. It was an experience unlike any I have ever known.
Much laughter, and many tears, were shared. And the words and music that caused such an outpouring of emotion were completely unrehearsed, unplanned. It was an act of Providence.
The concert lasted more than an hour longer than scheduled, simply because no one wanted the evening to end -- least of all the performers themselves. We left the church at nearly 11:00, a full five hours after having arrived there -- feeling renewed and revived, with the knowledge that God's promises will be kept, despite man's foolishness.
The Lord was definitely present in that church last weekend. His presence was palpable. And, when it was time to go home, a thousand people exited through those doors in virtual silence. I would be doing the experience an injustice to say that words are insufficient, and I am still experiencing the residual joy to this day.
The Lord is good. And His promises are eternal. All we need do is look to Him for the strength, wisdom and comfort to face what lies ahead, and He will provide ... if we but isolate ourselves from man's cacophony, and listen for His whispers.
He expects His followers to hold fast to His teachings, but He does not always promise us earthly victories. More importantly, He prepares a place for His believers, where joy and glory are eternal, and the heartache and pain that the evil of this world creates will become nothing more than a faded memory of a time when men believed they reigned supreme.
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies ...
... Ps 23:4-5
As our celebration of our Savior’s birth approaches, we are called to focus on His love. On His sacrifices. To set aside the cares and concerns of the world, and remember that His promises, alone, are eternal.
In wishing all of you a blessed Christmas –- filled with the warmth and love of family and friends -- I offer the following beautiful rendition, performed by Bronn and Katherine Journey, of what I believe to be among the most meaningful of man’s Christmas creations, in the hopes that, as it has for me, it will help you to release your burdens (cast them on Him), and spend some quiet time reflecting on His goodness, grace and love.
Although put to paper more than 160 years ago, the words are a timeless source of encouragement, strength and solace in times of trouble – even unprecedented times such as these. They are as relevant and meaningful today as they were back in 1847; it is as if they were written this very morning.
Simply close your eyes in peace, listen, and reflect:
It is the night of our 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, 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 divine! O 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 came the wise men from the 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 no stranger.
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Your king, before Him 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! Sing praise to Him forever!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
Heartfelt wishes to all for a blessed Christmas, and a New Year filled with personal peace, joy and contentment!