God is man, man to deliver

13 12 2010

Yesterday morning we received new members at church and had a few baptisms.  I really miss the Lord’s Supper the few random weeks we don’t celebrate it, like yesterday.  But watching the baptisms, I reflected on the baptismal water: signs of judgment (think the Flood, the Red Sea wiping out Egypt’s army), but also of salvation (cleansing, washed clean, drawing water from the wells of salvation, the river that flows from the throne, living water springing up in us by the Spirit).  Out of chaotic, dark waters God made all creation, and out of the waters of baptism, where the judgment was already poured out on Christ, new life and new creation is signified for us!

This gives me hope: God judges his people so we will know he is God, but he judged Christ at the cross so that we can have forgiveness.  As the Christmas hymn below reminds us, the Incarnation was for our deliverance, and is cause for great rejoicing, because it sets in motion the finishing of our redemption at the cross:

All my heart this night rejoices
As I hear
Far and near
Sweetest angel voices.
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing
Till the air
Everywhere
Now with joy is ringing.

Forth today the Conqueror goeth,
Who the foe,
Sin and woe,
Death and hell, o’erthroweth.
God is man, man to deliver;
His dear Son
Now is one
With our blood forever.

Shall we still dread God’s displeasure,
Who, to save,
Freely gave
His most cherished treasure?
To redeem us, he hath given
His own Son
From the throne
Of his might in heaven.

He becomes the Lamb that taketh
Sin away
And for aye
Full atonement maketh.
For our life his own he tenders;
And our race,
By his grace,
Meet for glory renders.

Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
Soft and sweet,
Doth entreat:
“Flee from woe and danger,
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you
You are freed;
All you need
I will surely give you.”

Come, then, banish all your sadness,
One and all,
Great and small;
Come with songs of gladness.
Love him who with love is glowing;
Hail the star,
Near and far
Light and joy bestowing.

That’s one of my absolute favorite Christmas hymns.  I wish more people knew it and shared in the songs of gladness that the Incarnation of Christ brings.





mercy for the broken man

12 12 2010

We sang a Christmas hymn today that I think I’ve sung only once or twice last year.  Written by Stuart Townend, you can hear part of it and purchase the mp3 here (track 7).  Beautiful words, telling the whole story Christmas started.

From the squalor of a borrowed stable
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
But the skies were filled with the praise of heaven,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel.

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father’s hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free –
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He’s standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own belovèd
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

I’m particularly struck by verse two.  I recently met two guys in line at a coffee shop, one of whom was a broken man sharing his disappointment with two local Chattanooga churches that basically refused to help him in the midst of his brokenness.  He said that when he went to elders in the one church, they basically showed him no mercy and didn’t walk with him and point his hope to Christ for righteous steps to walk in.  Then when he went to his pastors at the second church they told him, “we don’t do that kind of ministry here.”  This man was clearly hurting, broken by the fall, struggling to see the Friend of sinners, and local shepherds refused to help him see the Good Shepherd.

The two men got their coffee and went to their table, and I stood in line, deeply saddened at what I’d heard, hoping it wasn’t that bad, but knowing we’re all deeply broken I was more grieved at those church leader’s actions than I was surprised.  I’m reading in Ezekiel, and have been struck in the first few chapters by how  God’s judgment of his people is so that they would know that he is the LORD.  I was mad and wanted those church leaders judged, but then I remembered I too should have been judged, but the King of heaven was lifted on a cruel cross to draw me and those church leaders and all nations to himself.

I’m so thankful that Jesus fought for me, for them, for all his people on the cross, that he conquered, and that he intercedes for us while “crowned with glory on the highest throne.

Come Emmanuel, Lord Jesus, and bring the restoration of all things.





beautiful the story

6 12 2010

I found today’s carol confusing as a kid.  The opening lines, “Gentle Mary laid her child / Lowly in a manger” just didn’t fit: Jesus was her baby, not Lowly Worm from Richard Scarry’s books. Why was Lowly in a manger?  Where was baby Jesus?  Do you have a carol lyric that confused you as a kid?

Here are the full lyrics that I’ve grown to understand and love:

Gentle Mary laid her child
Lowly in a manger;
There he lay, the undefiled,
To the world a stranger.
Such a babe in such a place,
Can he be the Saviour?
Ask the saved of all the race
Who have found his favor.

Angels sang about his birth,
Wise men sought and found him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth
Glory all around him.
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight,
Heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night,
All the hills were ringing.

Gentle Mary laid her child
Lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled,
But no more a stranger.
Son of God of humble birth,
Beautiful the story;
Praise his Name in all the earth,
Hail! the King of Glory!

The story is beautiful, because it is simultaneously true and yet seemingly unbelievable.  Seven-hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah wrote,

And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way,
remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:14, 15)

There is no other God like our God, the true and living God who came down to his people.  Perhaps one of the most amazing parts of the Incarnation is that God made himself lowly like us, that we might be holy as he is holy.  Milton captured some of the beauty of this story when he wrote that God “Forsook the courts of everlasting day, / And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.”

Come, King of Glory!





Christ our God to earth descendeth

5 12 2010

We sang this ancient song from the St. James Liturgy during communion this morning:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

This one could be a Chrismas carol, or an Advent hymn, but really its a Eucharistic hymn celebrating the good gift of God himself given for us.  Jesus the Christ–the Messiah–given for us!  This really is incredible, when you think about it: we are sustained by Jesus’ body broken for us, and his blood shed for us.  This is where the Nativity ends up, where the Christmas story concludes, in the risen Christ feeding his people on himself from his throne in heaven.

What’s up with the six winged seraphs in the final verse, the cherubim?  When our church small group was studying Revelation this past summer, the best we could come up with was that God is so incredibly glorious that he surrounds himself with these magnificent, incredible, mind-boggling creatures, whose apparent purpose is to accentuate the glory of God.  Revelation 4:6-8 describes the scene:

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

Jesus is God.  He was and is and is to come, and this is what we recall and anticipate in celebrating Advent.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!





washing dishes with Advent antiphons

1 12 2010

The other evening I had a huge pile of dishes to wash. Well, OK, it wasn’t actually that much, but since it filled my sink and covered the entirety of my tiny counter, it felt like a lot. I avoided it until the though struck me that I could sing Christmas carols while washing dishes, and since Advent songs are some of my all-time favorites, I was actually excited to wash dishes. As I finished my third carol, I found myself looking around half-wishing for more dishes to wash, so I could keep singing.

There are so many wonderful carols.  Seems that when God does something incredible, surprising, and unbelievable–like sending his Son to become human, yet fully God, to live with us and for us, to die in our place and drink the cup of God’s wrath that we should have received, to burst the bonds of death to give us life–seems that our response necessarily involves song, and lots of it.

One of my most favorite Advent songs ties together the coming of Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), and our rejoicing:

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, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, thou 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.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

This carol is John Mason Neale’s translation of the Latin hymn, Veni, veni Emmanuel, published by the Oxford movement in the mid 19th century at a time when they were digging up older Latin, German, and Greek (i.e., Roman Catholic, Reformed Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) hymns and translating them into English.  It was a collection of Advent antiphons that had been sung in the church for hundreds of years before being translated into English.  I’ve always loved the melody and the lyrics to this one.  Random trivia: U2 used this tune on No Line on the Horizon in their song, “White as Snow.”

This Advent I hope to share some of my favorite Christmas carols, and perhaps a comment or two about why I like it or something about its history or context.  Perhaps I’ll post a carol each day until Christmas, with the hope that in reflecting on the lyrics and the Real Story they describe, I’ll love Christ more deeply and become more like him, as he draws near to me.  We’re told to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us, and to speak to one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, and we have the promise in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Maranatha!





Advent music

26 11 2010

In my apartment my Advent celebrations have begun: the Christmas music came out of storage today.  As many years ago as I can remember, the day after Thanksgiving kicked off the Christmas season.

Yesterday I enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast with friends.  Our celebration began with a time of worshipping God for his incredible goodness to us, seen most clearly at the cross of Christ, where Jesus fully satisfied the Father’s wrath and gave us life!  How else could we have celebrated God’s goodness than to acknowledge him and enjoy the good he provides as we feasted on an incredible spread of food.  My culinary contribution was my Grandma Swanson’s corn pudding recipe, and a cranberry chutney from a friend.  Next year I may be cooking for Thanksgiving with friends in Kiev–wow!

Today I’ve got dishes from yesterday’s cooking to wash, a few things to clean out at my place, and I’d like to get my Christmas tree.  In the mean time, I’ve got classic “Swanson” Christmas music spinning in my CD player:  Amy Grant’s 1983 “A Christmas Album”.  The music is totally dated, but having listened to it every Christmas since I was five years old, it is part of Advent for me.

Here’s my list of five albums that are Christmas to me:

  1. “A Christmas Album” – Amy Grant (1983).  This one is a family favorite from growing up–I don’t remember a Christmas without it.
  2. “Messiah” — George Frideric Handel (my copy is the English Concert & Choir, Trevor Pinnock, 1988).  I always listen to the Messiah in its entirety at some point during the Advent season.  This may also be the only “Christmas” album that I play throughout the year.  Easter is the other season were I make sure to listen to the entire work.
  3. “The Promise” — Michael Card (1991).  I’ve grown up with Card’s music, and his writing is a sort of musical home for me.  I particularly enjoy the biblical depth of his lyrics and his eye for the paradoxes of our faith.
  4. “Christmas With the Academy” — Academy and Chorus of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner (1994).  Twenty-three classic carols, mostly English, with a smattering of French, Germany, and Latin.  Excellent, timeless music.
  5. “Love > > > Begotten” — Psycho Acoustic Records / Pageant Music / Ring Records (2008).  I received this one last November from a friend who is one of the musicians on the album, Hiram Ring.  The music has variety, takes a fresh look at a number of traditional carols, has some original songs, and the lyrics center on the celebration of Christ’s incarnation.

If you could only keep five Christmas albums, what would make your advent album list?





new beginnings… almost

5 12 2009

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and I am filled with anticipation. Since the day after Thanksgiving, I’ve been encouraged and excited by the depth of beauty and truth in many of the traditional Christmas carols. I love the familiarity and sturdy reliability of these songs: they’re like old, loyal friends who are there for me year after year. I love the joy of hearing them sung each year as reminders of God’s mighty coming 2000 years ago in Jesus’ birth, as reminders that He will come again in real history, to do away with evil and make everything beautiful, and as reminders that He comes in the present to all who call on his name.

I am also filled with anticipation as I consider that two and a half weeks ago I was approved as a missionary to Kiev, Ukraine, with Mission to the World. In Kiev I will work with a team of people who are helping the Ukrainian presbyterian church establish vibrant, Christ-centered churches in Kiev and throughout Ukraine. My hope is that I can use my musical abilities, my technical skills, my love of human cultures, and my passion for seeing people transformed by the grace of Jesus to help build up God’s people in Kiev and reach out to folks who don’t yet know Jesus there.

Its been a while since I blogged here, and once I’ve checked and configured a few things to make sure this site will meet my blogging needs, I hope to begin blogging on a regular basis. Consider this your announcement of new beginnings for this blog… almost.