Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is one of the most beloved Christmas hymns of all time. The lyrics were written by Charles Wesley in 1739 while the music was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840. Let’s look at a few stanzas of this beautiful carol:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
”Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

“God and sinners reconciled” through Christ. This is the true meaning of Christmas and the true meaning of Christianity. Jesus Christ was sent “through the tender mercy of our God to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” (Luke 1:78-79) We’re forgiven for our sins because Christ has “made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1:20)

Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

“Where was the Christ was to be born?” Herod asked the chief priests and scribes. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they answered.

Bethlehem, the little, insignificant town would be the last place we would have chosen for God to enter the world. But, just as the Lord chose a place unworthy to host Him He chooses to save us, who are unworthy of such an honor. (Luke 1:52; 1 Corinthians 1:27)

Christ, by highest Heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

The miracle of Christmas isn’t that a little baby was born in a manager, or that a star appeared, or that angels filled the sky.

The miracle of Christmas is the incarnation of Christ Jesus, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Christ, in some mysterious way, laid aside His divine rights, clothed Himself in humanity, dwelt among us, and served His creation by going to the cross — this is the miracle of Christmas.

Such sacrifice and love is beyond human comprehension and it causes us join the angels in praise of the King of kings.

”Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Verses for Keeping Christ in Christmas

With the Christmas season upon us, Christians all over the world reflect on Christ’s coming. Here are Bible verses that center around four different themes related to Christ’s coming, one for each week before Christmas:

Week 1: Christ’s Coming Brings Hope

SUNDAY:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:2,6-7)


MONDAY:
The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in Him the Gentiles will hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:12-13)


TUESDAY:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)


WEDNESDAY:
The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:26-27)


THURSDAY:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.

That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 1:18-20)


FRIDAY:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)


SATURDAY:
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. (Psalm 71:14)

Week 2: Christ’s Coming Brings Peace

SUNDAY:
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Acts 10:36)


MONDAY:
He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)


TUESDAY:
For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)


WEDNESDAY:
Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)


THURSDAY:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)


FRIDAY:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)


SATURDAY:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Week 3: Christ’s Coming Brings Joy

SUNDAY:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)


MONDAY:
We fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)


TUESDAY:
The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)


WEDNESDAY:
Give joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12-14)


THURSDAY:
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)


FRIDAY:
Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. (Psalm 5:11)


SATURDAY:
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:10-12)

Week 4: Christ’s Coming Brings Love

SUNDAY:
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10)


MONDAY:
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)


TUESDAY:
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)


WEDNESDAY:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)


THURSDAY:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)


FRIDAY:
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. (Romans 8:38-39)


SATURDAY:
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

The Man and the Birds

The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men.

But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper.

Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in.

So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

– Paul Harvey

The Joy of Christmas

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:10-12

Rejoice, you who feel that you are lost; your Savior comes to seek and save you. Be of good cheer you who are in prison, for he comes to set you free. You who are famished and ready to die, rejoice that he has set aside for you a Bethlehem, a house of bread, and he has come to be the bread of life to your souls.

Rejoice, O sinners, everywhere for the restorer of the castaways, the Savior of the fallen is born. Join in the joy, you saints, for he is the preserver of the saved ones, delivering them from innumerable perils, and he is the prefecter of those he preserves.

Jesus is no partial Savior, beginning a work and not finishing it; but, restoring and upholding, he also prefects and presents the saved ones without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing before his Father’s throne. Rejoice! Let your hills and valleys ring with joy, for a Savior who is mighty to save is born among you.

“‘Twas mercy that filled the throne,
As wrath stood silent by,

When Christ on the kind errand came
To sinners doomed to die.”

– Charles Spurgeon

The People of Christmas

Today let’s reflect on the people of Christmas.

Mary and Joseph

We think of Mary, who endured gossip and scorn once word spread that she was pregnant with a child not belonging to her fiancé.

We think of Joseph, who in faith obeyed God’s will to care for Mary, and raise the promised Child who was to “save His people from their sins.”

The couple was so poor that they had to sacrifice two doves because they could not afford a lamb (Luke 2:24), yet in their arms they held the Lamb of God.

The Magi

We think of the Magi, the mysterious visitors from the east who saw a sign that indicated that the Savior had been born. We call them wise, not because they knew Christ had come, but because they sought Him out to worship Him.

The Shepherds

We think of the shepherds, people of low standing in the eyes of the world, yet so precious to God that He sent angels to personally bring them “good tidings of great joy”, and to invite them to come to worship Christ.

The Angels

Finally we think of the angels. The perspective they had was the most unique because they saw the glory that Christ willingly set aside to save us from our sin. (Phil 2:5-8)

1 Peter 1:12 tells us that angels desire to look into the gospel. They must marvel at how seriously God takes sin is and wonder at the love He has for us to make this unimaginable sacrifice.

This Christmas we give thanks for these people. From them we learn that whether we’re struggling with attacks from the world like Mary and Joseph, or we’re wise and respected like the Magi, or we’re cast aside and forgotten like the shepherds, the good tidings of great joy found in the birth of Christ is for all people.

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Hanukkah

Hanukkah, also known as the “Feast of Dedication” or the “Festival of Lights,” is not among the holidays God commanded Israel to celebrate in the Old Testament. In fact, you will only find one mention of the holiday in the Bible: “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the Temple, in Solomon’s porch.” (John 10:22-23)

Jesus chose to be in the Temple during this festival. The startling statement He made there is best understood against the background of this feast.

Hanukkah commemorates events that took place during the inter-testamental period, that gap between the Old and New Testaments. The Jewish people were under foreign domination, ruled by the Syrian king Antiochus, who forced them to abandon their culture and religion. He made sure the Jewish people could not use the Temple to worship our God. He erected idols in the holy place—and worst of all, he sacrificed a pig on the altar.

The Jewish people were utterly defeated and demoralized—until a small band of guerilla soldiers known as the Maccabees rekindled their hope. Within three years, these warriors miraculously recaptured Jerusalem and the Temple.

Note that Hanukkah—which means dedication—was not named for the brave warriors. The real victory was being able to worship the God of Israel once again. The Temple was rededicated on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, in the year 165 BC. (This year the 25th of Kislev corresponds to November 29.)

A common Hebrew phrase connected with Hanukkah is “nes gadol haya sham,” which means, “A great miracle happened there.” Two miracles plus a common theme link Hanukkah and Christmas in a way I hope will heighten your appreciation of both.

The first miracle is the preservation of the Jewish people. Had Antiochus been successful, Israel would have lost her unique identity and God’s precious promises would be unkept. If Antiochus had gotten his way, there would have been no recognizable Jewish culture for Messiah to be born into. Without Hanukkah, there would have been no Christmas.

Whenever you are tempted to doubt God’s saving power in your life, remember the miracle of His saving power as seen through Hanukkah, and how the small band of soldiers prevailed despite all odds. The way God preserved His people Israel reflects the way He continues keeping all of us, Jews and Gentiles, who trust in Him today.

The second miracle associated with Hanukkah is the miracle of light, a tradition first mentioned in the Talmud—written hundreds of years after the events. According to this tradition, the menorah—the seven-branched candelabra that was to burn continually in the Temple—had been extinguished by Antiochus’ henchmen. When the Maccabees recaptured the Temple they cleansed it and searched for fresh oil to rekindle the sacred flame. But they discovered only enough to last one day—and it would take eight full days to procure fresh oil. According to tradition, in their zeal to rededicate the Temple they used what oil they had to rekindle the flame—and miraculously, it lasted for eight whole days.

According to this tradition, that is why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights, and why we use a special Hanukkiah, or nine-branched candelabra. The shamash or “servant” candle is lit first, and in turn it lights all the other candles, beginning with one candle on the first night. Each night, another candle is lit, until the eighth night, when the entire Hanukkiah is aglow.

The book of Maccabees gives another explanation for why Hanukkah lasts eight days. The people rededicated the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles (an eight-day holiday which would have been observed the previous month had the Syrians not occupied the Temple). King Solomon chose to dedicate the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles (2 Chronicles 6 and 7) so it makes sense that the people would wish to do the same.

The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Hanukkah as the Festival of Light, but light was also a big part of the Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Four giant candelabras—each holding four huge bowls of oil—were lit in the Court of the Women. The blaze from these 16 flames could be seen all around Jerusalem. How appropriate it was that Jesus chose this area of the Temple to declare, “I am the light of the world. He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus, like the servant candle on the Hannukiah, lights our way, and sends His Spirit to ignite us as well, so that we can shine His light in a dark world. We do not have enough “oil” to live a life dedicated to God, but Jesus has miraculously provided for us.

So the miracle of preservation made Christmas possible, and the miracle of the light reminds us of Jesus, whose advent the prophets predicted would be, “a light to the Gentiles” whose salvation would reach “to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Finally, the common theme that links Hanukkah and Christmas is that of God with us—Immanuel. A traditional Hanukkah hymn declares to God: “Rock of Ages, let our song praise thy saving power; thou admidst the raging foes wast our sheltering tower; furious they assailed us but thine arm availed us; and thy word broke their sword when our own strength failed us.”

God was present with His people in a way that pulled the rug right out from under the evil Syrian king. When Antiochus entered into the Temple to defile it, he declared himself Antiochus “Epiphanes” meaning “God manifest.” The Jewish nation rejected his outrageous, counterfeit claim to deity.

Counterfeit because God had promised to be present with His people, not only in a miraculous military victory, but in flesh. He promised to actually be what Antiochus, in his insanity, had claimed—the incarnate God. This promise was wrapped up in the special name by which the prophet Isaiah predicted the Messiah would be known: “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

How poignant it is that Jesus chose the Festival of Dedication to stand in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon, and declare, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Is it coincidence that Jesus chose this time and place to reveal His deity?

John tells us that in response to His claims the Jewish leaders “took up stones again to stone Him” (John 10:31). They accused Him of blasphemy, “because You, being a Man make Yourself God” (v.33).

Here’s an interesting aside going back to the original Hanukkah celebration. Before the Temple could be rededicated, we needed a new altar built with clean stones. But what about the stones from the old altar? They had been washed of course, but could they ever be considered clean, being porous as they were? According to tradition, these stones were stored in the portico of Solomon, until such time as the Messiah would come and explain what to do with them.

Could it be that when those Jewish leaders looked around the portico of Solomon for stones to throw at Messiah Jesus they reached for those very pieces of that old altar? What divine irony—to hurl a symbol of the sacrificial system at the One who was about to sacrifice Himself for us all.

It is only because Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, that He could sacrifice Himself as an atonement for our sin. He was born to die and rise victorious, born to light our way and make us to be lights, born to be adored by Jews and Gentiles who will bow and worship the One who is the hope of Hanukkah and the Christ of Christmas. These two holidays share their ultimate significance in the person of Y’shua (Jesus) the Messiah. He truly is our Rock of Ages.

– David Brickner

This article originally appeared in the December 2002 Jews for Jesus Newsletter

O come, O come, Emmanuel Bible Study

O come, O come, Emmanuel is a very old Christmas hymn that dates back to around the 12th century. It was translated from Latin to English by John M. Neale in 1851. Known for it’s haunting melody and rich messianic themes, it has remained a Christmas favorite for centuries. Let’s look at three stanzas.

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!

Israel, like sheep, had wandered away from God. Held prisoner by their sin, they longed for the promised Savior who would restore their relationship with the Father by making “his soul an offering for sin”, thus making “intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:6;12) The Savior would pay the ransom that was owed and would lead the captives into the presence of God.

The hymn writer tells Israel to rejoice because Emmanuel is this Savior. Emmanuel means “God with us.” God Himself would be their Savior just as He had always been in times past. God is not unconcerned or unaware of their troubles. No, He loves those who are lost and comes to save them personally.

We’re to rejoice as well. Christ’s sacrifice was so great that it couldn’t be limited to just Israel. He is “salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) He is my salvation and your salvation and the salvation of any who call upon His name. (Romans 10:12-13)

O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave

The “Rod of Jesse” is a reference to David’s father and the family line from which Christ would come. By becoming a man Christ would be able to be mankind’s kinsmen redeemer. A kinsmen redeemer was a close relative who would purchase back something a relative had sold because of debt.

Man, in a sense, sold his salvation to pay the sin debt he owed. By becoming a man, and living a perfect life, Jesus owed no debt making him qualified to become our kinsmen redeemer and purchase us back from sin.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Dayspring is the dawn, the first light of day. When our spirits were dark like midnight Christ rose like the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2) to be the “light of the world”. (John 8:12)

“Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

Rejoice! O Israel and all the world! God is with us and has set us free.