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From Daniel’s Den…


     As Valentine’s Day was approaching a few years ago, my wife saw a recent college graduate – a young man who was also a newlywed – at a store carrying a handful of yet-to-be-arranged long stem roses. She told him “Good choice!” Valentine’s Day is a day well-promoted as a time to celebrate one’s love for spouse or other special people with gifts such as flowers, chocolates, and cards issuing an invitation to “Be my Valentine!”



      I am not too familiar with quicksand. I have never encountered quicksand and I prefer to keep things that way. Granted, I have been stuck in what some folks refer to as “gumbo” mud which sucked my boots right off my feet upon my exit from the situation but quicksand is entirely different. My perspective on quicksand is limited primarily to movies that portray a character that stepped in the wrong spot, became caught and began sinking.



     As a young teenager, I attended Mississippi Baptist Youth Night at the Mississippi Coliseum on an occasion when Ken Medema was the guest musician. Medema is a blind pianist and songwriter whose influence on Christian music cannot be overstated!



     A member of the legal community approached me several years ago seeking assistance in addressing the topic of prayer with a friend. Apparently, the friend was questioning the necessity and value of praying inasmuch as God is aware of all of the details surrounding any situation or circumstance about which a person might pray.



      In the midst of our Convention-wide “Covering Mississippi in Prayer” focus several years ago, I was asked to facilitate a break-out session entitled “Faithful Praying” for a statewide Senior Adult retreat sponsored by the MBCB Discipleship and Family Ministry Department. My assignment led me to ask “What is faithful praying?” “Can faithful praying be identified, defined, or measured and, if so, how should faithful praying be understood?”



     Arriving at her car with a cart full of groceries several months ago, my wife noticed a sticky note on the windshield. The words written on the note were, “If you ever feel like no one is proud of you…I’M PROUD of you gorgeous.” Upon arriving home, she thanked me for writing such a sweet and encouraging note.



     What a year 2020 has been! To borrow from President Roosevelt, 2020 is a year that “will live in infamy!” A common theme over the past several months has been “Enough already” as many people want to erase the past twelve months and embrace a new year. Speaking in golfing terms, a friend of mine declared “I want a mulligan for 2020.” In anticipation of the Daylight Saving Time coming to an end several weeks ago and “falling back” into Standard Time, a humorous comment posted on social media offered, “I’m not setting my clock back because who wants to spend another hour in 2020?”



     While our society often admires strands of twinkling lights adorning a house or tree, the majesty of Christmas is about a life-giving light that shines in the darkness (John 1:4-5) for a world filled with people walking in darkness (Isaiah 9:2a).



     For many people, the celebration of Christmas would seem somewhat incomplete and empty without music. In a normal year, churches would have begun preparing a Christmas cantata or other musical offering in late summer or early fall. Then, during the first two or three weeks in December, choirs and orchestras would present the message of Christmas through the music of Christmas. Because 2020 has been far from normal, most choir lofts probably will not be filled by angelic voices heralding the message of Christmas in song. Nonetheless, Christmas is coming and the music of Christmas stirs the hearts of believers around the globe!



     Penned as a poem by James Montgomery, the Christmas hymn “Angels, From the Realms of Glory” first appeared in a London newspaper the Sheffield Register on December 24, 1816. Later this poem was published as “Good Tidings of Great Joy to All People” in a hymnal entitled Montgomery’s Original Hymns. Considered one of the finest Christmas hymns, each verse issues a challenge to worship the Christ of Christmas with the four verses focusing on the angels, the shepherds, the magi, and all believers respectively. The familiar words of the first verse address the divine messengers.

 Angels, from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth;

Ye who sang creation’s story, Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King!

     Luke’s account of the encounter between angels and some shepherds when Jesus was born (Luke 2:8-20) points to several aspects of the message of Christmas. First, the message of Christmas is Relational as God comes to us where we are just like He came to the shepherds who tended sheep. The message of Christmas also is relational inasmuch as God cares for us because of who we are, namely, the crowning work of His creation (Genesis 1:26, 31). Further, the message of Christmas is relational because God calls us as we are regardless of any worldly position, prestige, power, or popularity that may have been attained and in spite of our faults, flaws, fallacies, and foibles. The shepherds had little standing in society but God came to them, cared about them, and called them to come to the manger.
     The message of Christmas is Confrontational as the angel confronted the shepherds with a message from heaven. This angel of the Lord delivered a message from the Lord and the glory of the Lord shone all around the shepherds. This divine confrontation commanded the attention of the shepherds and they responded with reverential fear and awe. For the shepherds, the encounter with the angel was a “heaven came down and glory filled my soul” experience.
     The heavenly encounter between the angel and the shepherds resounded with a message of hope that included the good news of great joy concerning the birth of a Savior who is Christ the Lord! Not only did the angel confront the shepherds with this heavenly message of hope, but the good news of great joy also was a message for all humanity as “all people” are confronted with the announcement of the birth of Jesus…God incarnate…the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
     From previous study of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, I recognized the message with which the angel confronted the shepherds and all of humanity led the shepherds (and humankind throughout history) to a crisis of belief requiring faith and action. Against the backdrop of faith and action, the glorious message of Christmas is Invitational as the hearers of the message are invited to rejoice in worship (vv. 13 & 20), to reflect with wonder (v. 19), and to respond in witness (v. 17).

     As we come to the conclusion of a year that has been incredibly unique and far short of anything normal or expected, my prayer is that the message of Christmas will be proclaimed boldly and projected broadly in our worship and through our witness. “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.”