What Child Is This?

Have a blessed Christmas, everyone!

God’s most precious gift to humankind is our savior, Jesus Christ.
The basic Nativity Scene, courtesy of Avon. Oh, no…Joseph lost his staff!

I enjoy many secular Christmas songs but I especially love Christmas and Advent hymns – sacred songs about the birth of Jesus Christ. One of my very favorite hymns is “What Child is This.”

I usually end up crying when I sing it.

Often, I hear this song played on the radio during the holiday season, but these versions often skip the second verse of the song. Why? I can only surmise that people find it disturbing. This is Christmas, the time of glittery lights, presents, eggnog and good cheer. Many love the story of the little baby born in Bethlehem – the child of hope, goodness and light – all the angels singing and the shepherds rushing to the stable in joy.

But we don’t want to think about the reason God chose to become incarnate in the first place – humankind’s sinful condition. We don’t want to think about that sweet little baby, Jesus, growing up to sacrifice himself on the cross because of us. We don’t want to remember how he suffered, shed his blood, and died to save us. That’s too gruesome for Christmas! We should save all that macabre stuff for Lent and Good Friday, right?

Now is the time to CELEBRATE, right?

Absolutely! Please do celebrate, both now and always – no matter the time of year. Christ’s birth is definitely something to celebrate about! God the Son came down from heaven and was incarnate as human – the Word made Flesh – fulfilled God’s law perfectly, atoned for our guilt, died and then rose from the dead to proclaim victory over sin, death and the devil. All for us. We have so much to be thankful for because of God’s mercy and his ultimate gift to us.

In case you never heard the full hymn version of “What Child Is This” and were curious, here are the lyrics:

I’m not sure how to cite this, but the above photos come from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, authorized by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. 2005. Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee WI USA

Happy Holidays!

Tis ALSO the season for cats under the tree!

Mere Anarchy

Could current events be dire portents of THE END?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Sound familiar? Yes, that could pretty much describe what is going on in the world today, even though Yeats penned it over 100 years ago. I adore that poem. It is a reminder that – time and time again – history enjoys repeating itself. Civilizations rise and fall. Nations and kingdoms will strive against one another. There are wars and rumors of wars. Plagues and pestilences, famine and earthquakes occur. In response to their questions regarding the end times, Jesus Christ told his apostles that the above were the “beginning of birth pains.” He also said that his followers would be persecuted and wickedness would increase in the world. And the gospel would be preached in the whole world (refer to Matthew 24:3-14.)

All of these things have come to pass, over and over again.

And yet, time marches inexorably on. We are still waiting – impatiently and with ill grace – for the return of our gracious savior. However, he will come in his own good time to wake the world up from its sorrowful history.

In the meantime and in light of the violence and injustice that has happened, is happening – and will continue to happen everyday until Jesus comes back – I find the following verses both instructive and comforting:

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land

Psalm 37:5-9

I might not fully comprehend the rage and pain of those experiencing racism, but I am praying for peace and equality. My heart and prayers go out to all who are suffering right now.

Fear Not

A Christian’s perspective on the coronavirus pandemic

My husband and I traveled to San Diego in February. By some miracle, we avoided infection by the coronavirus, even though we went through four different airports. Naturally, we were aware that the coronavirus was running rampant in China, and that there were already a few cases in the United States. Having a background in science and biology, I was a little concerned, but I admit that I didn’t think much of it. My husband certainly didn’t seem to be worried, and he followed the news more closely than I did.

All the information I heard amounted to this: 1) COVID-19 is an upper respiratory infection like a bad case of the flu that could develop into pneumonia 2) it’s lethality is restricted to the elderly and immunocompromised 3) the media is just trying to get everyone hyped up, as per usual 4) there aren’t many cases in the U.S. and 5) we’ve got this coronavirus thing under control.

“We’ll ride this out, just like we did with SARS and H1N1. This too, shall pass.”

That was the lulling siren song I subscribed to until we returned home from California. Until the reports grew ever more alarming – it was spreading like wildfire in Italy and young people were dying – and people had begun to die here, too. Here. In the invincible U.S. of A.

Far too quickly, this stealthy evil was found to be present and advancing throughout my home state. The peril is among us. If it continued unchecked, there was a real danger of overwhelming our health care system. Social distancing quickly became my new mantra, and I realized that our fragile eggshell society could crack and collapse beneath the weight of this threat. After all, I’ve always believed that – collectively – we Americans are a complacent and arrogant set of entitled brats who require humbling.

What if that is God’s will?

I guess we’ll find out, eventually, won’t we? This too, shall pass. In the meantime, I will trust in God. I pray for all our health care workers and all people in danger of contracting this virus (ahem, i.e. everyone). So far, my family has been spared, and for that I praise God. My husband and I are both still employed and working, and for that I praise God. We still have internet access so that our boys can keep up with their schoolwork, and for that I praise God. I have an outlet in my writing, and for that I praise God.

Throughout all of this, I am thankful for one other thing: so far this disease appears to be sparing young children. God-willing, this will continue to be the case until the end.

I can only pray that during these troubled times we see one another as beloved children of God, instead of as possible sources of contagion and therefore objects to be feared and avoided.

“May you live in interesting times,” indeed! I have always considered that saying as both a curse and a blessing. However, there is much to learn and much to be thankful for. There are opportunities for Christians to shine a light into the Stygian darkness.

Some words of comfort

Our savior is a risen Lord who has conquered death – namely, the fear of death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior from sin need have no fear of death, the sinful world, or the devil. God has promised us that this is the case, and he is a God who keeps His promises. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to read the entire Bible and point out a single instance where God made a promise and did not eventually deliver the goods. Keep in mind that we are creatures bound by time but that God is eternal.

This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He took up our weaknesses and carried away our diseases.”

Matthew 8:17 (After Jesus heals a man with leprosy, a centurion’s servant, and many other people)

In all things, God’s will is done and it is good. That is a bitter pill to swallow in times like these, when we look at the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases online and grow even more anxious and afraid. It might seem like God has abandoned us, but He has not. Our prayers for Him to take away this horrible new evil that spreads so efficiently via asymptomatic carriers seem to fall on deaf ears. However, this is not the case. God is always listening. He is not a wishing well, but He always answers our prayers…in His time and according to His good purpose. Meanwhile, our loving Father wants us to keep talking with Him and read His messages to us in the Bible. This is an excellent time to lay your fears down at the feet of Jesus in prayer.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6,7

Good health is a blessing from God. Our personal health is neither a prize for us to obsess and fret over nor is it a possession to abuse in debauchery. God gave us the precious endowment of good health for use in benefiting others, not only ourselves. If you remain healthy and symptom-free, praise God! And then, maybe instead of hiding inside of your fortress built of 200 rolls of toilet paper with your 14 bottles of hand sanitizer, you could be looking for ways to help others less fortunate than yourself. At the very least, you could donate a few of those containers of hand sanitizer to your local hospital or clinic.

In every way I gave you an example that, by working hard like this, we need to help the weak and to remember the words that the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Acts 20:35

We are not in control. It was all just an illusion that we cultivated while things were going well. The fact is: we never were in control. God is and always has been in control of the universe that He lovingly created. It is human beings in their sinful arrogance that wrecked everything and brought death into God’s perfect creation. We have only ourselves to blame for this pestilence. Fortunately, despite our continually rebellious and arrogant nature, our loving God had a plan to redeem us all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

And finally, one of our pastors preached last Sunday on Psalm 42 & 43. I suggest you visit our church’s website and watch his sermon.

And here are the Psalms:

An Exile’s Prayer: Why Are You Cast Down?

Heading

For the choir director. A maskil by the Sons of Korah.

Longing for the Temple

As a doe pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and appear before God?
My tears have been food for me day and night,
while people are saying to me all day,
“Where is your God?”

I am overcome by my emotions
whenever I remember these things:
    how I used to arrive with the crowd,
    as I led the procession to the house of God,
    with loud shouts of thanksgiving,
    with the crowd celebrating the festival.

Refrain

Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for salvation from his presence.

Remembrance of the Lord

My God, my soul is depressed within me.
Therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan,
from the heights of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your rapids.
All your breakers and your waves have swept over me.
By day the Lord commands his mercy,
and at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go around mourning because of oppression by the enemy?”
10 It is like breaking my bones when my foes taunt me.
All day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”

Refrain

11 Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for my salvation from the face of my God.

Psalm 43

A Plea for Vindication

Judge me justly, O God,
and plead my case against an ungodly nation.
Rescue me from the deceitful, wicked man.
I know you are God, my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go around mourning
    because of oppression by the enemy?
Send out your light and your truth.
Let them guide me.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and gladness.
Then I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

Refrain

Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for my salvation from the face of my God.

An uplifting message from neighborhood kids.