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Listen and Worship

My Bible College theology prof had a piano in his classroom. We’d sing one of the old hymns of the faith before each class, and he would elaborate on the theological lesson taught in that hymn. Some lament the loss of hymns in church because they teach doctrine so well.

Christmas season is special for many reasons, including the wonderful Christmas carols. Box stores can’t seem to expunge from their Muzaktm the familiar Christmas carols about Jesus and His birth. Some of the most agnostic members of Hollywood and Nashville sing about the baby Jesus, this time of year. Christmas texts from the Bible are everywhere. The poor atheists just can’t avoid hearing a steady stream of “Jesus.”

Christmas Carols can become so familiar that we sing them without really hearing the lyrics. To avoid that mistake, here is a look at HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING.

The music for this classic was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840. The lyrics were written by Charles Wesley a hundred years earlier. This is one of his best. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing has been named, more than once, the most popular hymn in the English language.

This carol is based on Luke 2:8–20, where the angels appeared to the shepherds. Wesley packed a theological ‘wallop’ into the three verses of this wonderful carol. It shows that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, a basic doctrine of Christianity.

This beloved carol can teach us the basics of Christology (doctrine of Christ) and Soteriology (doctrine of salvation). John 1:10–16 is a dynamic teaching about Who Christ is, and it fits perfectly with the advent of Christmas. It’s not the most traditional Christmas Scripture, but this theological treatise set to music answers many of the questions about Jesus Christ and His preeminent place in Christmas.

How Jesus came

“Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful all Ye Nations rise. Join the triumph of the skies.
With th’ angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.”

The angels

Angels are mentioned more than 100 times in the Old Testament, 182 times in the New Testament (in the New International Version). Angels were created before human beings, with powers greater than we have; they are not limited by time and space, as are we.

Angels worship and serve God voluntarily; we know this because Lucifer, the most beautiful and powerful angel, chose to “Un–volunteer”—he defied God and rebelled—so was cast out of heaven with “a third” of all angels. In the Bible, angels appeared in many different forms, and perhaps so also today. For example, Hebrews 13:2 says, Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

Everywhere angels appear they inspire awe, and often fear; hence, “Fear not…” Charles Wesley’s hymn calls them ‘herald’ angels (not because they’re named ‘Harold’). A ‘herald’ is one who proclaims or announces important news. The Christmas ‘herald’ angels were supernatural beings who came from God with a divine assignment: announce the arrival of God in human flesh—Immanuel, God with us. We see from this that they were bearers of good news—the best news humans ever received: God is coming to rescue us all from the mess we’ve made of His creation.

The shepherds

These guys were your average, everyday, working stiffs. They were the very blue–collar, common folk in Israel’s workforce. They symbolize all who are common, ordinary, nobody–special people.

These shepherds were huddled in the cold, breathing air fouled by stinking sheep, no hot meals, no 401K retirement plan, no hope of promotion, no fame or wealth, and no appreciation from those they served. These are the men to whom the angels announced, “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful all Ye Nations rise!”

Thank God for shepherds, smelly, ignorant, uncouth, faithful, service–minded, obedient, rejoicing shepherds . . . may we all be like them (minus the aroma).

Qualities Christ possessed and brought with Him

Wesley’s carol names some of Christ’s wonderful traits: Peace, Mercy, Reconciliation and Joy. It doesn’t include the ubiquitous qualities that we prize today:riches, fame, me–first happiness, pleasure. That’s because He came to help us overcome these flaws. God sent Christ with qualities that matter eternally; not the qualities we would ask for, perhaps, but ones that make eternal sense.

Prioritize your priorities

God’s priorities in sending Christ are not necessarily the ones we have.

A parishioner inadvertently revealed his priorities: “Listen Pastor, what I’m trying to say is that certain people might think Noon is too late to be getting out of church; that you don’t need four weeks of vacation; that your huge office is offensive. They might be thinking that a guy my age doesn’t need a guy your age telling me how to raise my kids; and that if it weren’t for your crazy African missions projects, we could have repaved our parking lot by now. I’m not saying those are MY priorities, of course. I just thought you should know what other people might be thinking.”

NEXT TIME: From “How Jesus came” to “Who Jesus is”

Treasures in heaven

Heavenly treasures never depreciate

Jesus instructed His listeners on the mountainside, “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Likewise, The Apostle Paul instructed his readers, “…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”(Colossians 3:1–2).

Heavenly treasures never disappear

Jesus spoke of “…treasures in heaven…where thieves do not break in and steal.” We need never fear that the heavenly treasures we have invested in will be taken. They are protected by God Himself (how’s that for security?). We invest in heavenly treasure by trusting Jesus Christ to be our Savior from sin.

The abundance of our heavenly treasures will completely satisfy

God wants to give us a life filled to overflowing with good things like joy and peace and satisfaction. That’s why Jesus came to earth, as it says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Heavenly treasures are the focus we need at Thanksgiving time. If we put our hope in God, not in things or money, God will richly provide us with everything we need, and many things above and beyond our needs.

Our hearts will be where our treasures are

A friend was driving along behind a motorcycle and saw the most startling thing. She watched as the bike and its riders—a man, a woman and a baby—flipped off the road and careened into the ditch. The biker jumped up and anxiously examined his motorcycle. Satisfied that it wasn’t damaged, he went to check on the woman and baby.

If you’ve ever been in love, you know that we pay the most attention to the people and things we value the most.

In my High School graduating class was Big Joe; he was 6’8″ tall and the star of our basketball team. During classes, he would sit and doodle his girlfriend’s name on everything from his textbooks to his notebook to his hand—even the desk itself. Joe and that girl never did get married, because he was soon “in love” with someone else and presumably doodling her name on everything in sight.

Our thanksgiving will be just like our treasures

If our treasures are on earth, our thankfulness will vary with our fortunes. If our treasures are in heaven, our thankfulness will be constant and plentiful, just like our heavenly treasures. This Thanksgiving season, be sure to thank God for whatever He has chosen to give you. And don’t blame God for what you ourself have wasted. The wisdom of Solomon again: “…give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God”(Proverbs 30:8b–9).

The beginning point for a good Thanksgiving season is this: Trusting Jesus as our Savior!

The Plan of Salvation:

  1. All are sinners Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
  2. The punishment for sin is the death penalty Romans 6:23 The wages of sin are death…
  3. Christ stepped in and took the death sentence for our sin Romans 5:8 God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  4. We must believe and receive His gift of love Romans 10:9, 10, 13 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved…for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Just the right amount: Probably most of us would like to have more money than we have; on the other hand, some don’t even have the minimum needed. But I for one will give thanks to God for the modesty of my earthly treasure; because if I had too much, it would undoubtedly take me further from God, rather than closer to Him.

Some wise poet wrote:
Money will buy a bed but not sleep; books but not brains;
Food but not appetite; finery but not beauty;
A house but not a home; medicine but not health;
Luxuries but not class or culture; amusements but not happiness;
Religion but not salvation—
Money will buy a passport to everywhere but heaven.

More is Less • Less is More

Happiness comes not from what you have, but from what you want to have

Have you ever dreamed about what you would do if you suddenly received a fortune in money or things? Most of us have.

Remember when the hottest show on television was “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Contestants gave it their best because they thought that being a millionaire would make them happy.

People who can afford it the least spend big money on lottery tickets or at the casino, because they hope to get rich quick, and thus be blissfully happy–ever–after. I’ve seen bumper stickers that say, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” But no matter how many toys you have, when you die you face God and HE declares the winners and losers!

Our world says that the road to happiness is paved with lots of money and expensive stuff. One year, before Christmas, I received some junk mail from a major U.S. retailer. On the front of the envelope it said: “Say ‘Yes’ to more of everything!” Below it told you how: “You’ve been pre–approved to receive our credit card!”

Everyone wants to be happy, and most everybody thinks that having more of everything will do the trick. When I pastored in Peoria, Illinois, the local casino advertised on billboards: “Too much is not enough!” No wonder so many have trouble with a grateful spirit during Thanksgiving. They have too much but it’s not ever enough. God knows better: “Happiness is often found in having LESS!”

The secret of happiness is not having more stuff; it is found in eternal treasure, stored in heaven—beginning with our relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the only way to find lifelong happiness!

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

Treasures on Earth

Earthly treasures depreciate (they lose their value)

The nicest things don’t remain nice or new very long. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire, once told Fortune magazine: “Just remember, if you get real lucky, if you make a lot of money, if you go out and buy a lot of stuff—it’s gonna break. You got the biggest, fanciest mansion in the world. It has air conditioning. It’s got a pool. Just think of all the pumps that are going to go out . . . things just don’t mean happiness!”

Besides things depreciating, we often lose interest in them when some newer, nicer item comes along.

Earthly treasures disappear

We lose things quite easily. I lost my wedding band twice. Both times its rediscovery was miraculous. And my wife’s diamond engagement ring—it’s gone forever.

People also steal our stuff: my Little League ball glove—it’s been gone 60 years! Seventy percent of lottery winners end up filing for bankruptcy.

King Solomon was reputed to be the wisest man in history. He wrote in Proverbs 23:4–5 “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”

Earthly treasures are never large enough to satisfy us

In A Requiem for Love, Calvin Miller wrote about a beggar holding out his cup to a millionaire. The rich man refused to put anything in, even though he wore an expensive leather coat and a huge diamond ring. The beggar asks, “How many more dollars would it take to make you truly happy?”

“At least one more,” the rich man says, as he takes a dollar out of the beggar’s cup. “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).