Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Mystery of Godliness

"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (1 Timothy 3:16).

Christmas Greetings from My Anonymous Friend

For me Christmas memories involve many things. Cold, snowy weather, church and school programs, special food, candy and cookies, family gatherings, gifts, and of course, music. I was raised in a German home so we learned the carols in both English and German. I find myself still able to recall the words to songs we sang 50 years ago. I also remember that George F. Handel's Messiah was a big part of Christmas for us. We sometimes found a church or community group somewhere that was performing it and we would attend.

I also remember that every Christmas morning the Queen of England gave a Christmas greeting to her subjects and later some radio station would always play Messiah by Handel in its entirety. In my college days I had the privilege of being part of a huge oratorio chorus and symphony orchestra that performed Messiah in Chicago. I have this magnificent music in long playing records, CD, and now in my I-pod. Today it is difficult to find any group performing this oratorio and I am grieved that the Hallelujah chorus has been cheapened as it is used sometimes in commercials and other flippant settings. But not always!! I hope your computer has the ability to download this short clip. It is incredibly inspiring and takes place "spontaneously" in a Canadian mall. I have been sent this same video by several people this season and in case you have not seen it yet, here it is. If you copy and paste it into your search engine it should open up. It worked as I tried it just now.

I wish to write a little about Handel today. I have long marvelled at his incredible ability to write an entire oratorio that is almost verbatim from King James Bible selections. Messiah has three parts and Handel brilliantly captures the messages of Christ's advent and birth, then His passion and resurrection, and finally prophetic words about His second coming. It is majestic. Words cannot describe the inspiration millions of people have received over the years as they have listened to the words and the beautiful music.

Handel (1685-1759) was born in Germany and lived in several countries before becoming a British citizen in 1726. I have seen his burial place in Westminster Abbey in London. Handel's father did not want his son to pursue a career in music and preferred he should study law instead. However, the young Handel somehow got a clavichord into the attic of his family home where he would sneak away at night to practice. Over the years Handel wrote many operas, cantatas, oratorios, and concertos. Messiah was written in only twenty-four days and it is said that Handel hardly slept during this time. He was a stickler for excellence and often tore up scores he wrote until they were exactly as he wanted them to be. In 1742 his oratorio was first performed in Dublin.

One of the traditions of Messiah is that when the strains of the Hallelujah chorus begin, the audience rises to its feet. This tradition began with King George II. When a monarch stands, everyone in the audience does too! Was King George II recognizing a greater Monarch than himself? Or was he just moved by the music? We do not know for sure but I would like to believe the former to be the case.

I find it fascinating what other great composers and musicians thought of Handel. Mozart, who was just a young lad when Handel died, said, "Handel understands effect better than any of us. When he chooses he strikes like a thunder bolt!" That describes how I feel when I hear that first "Hallelujah!" Beethoven who was born eleven years after Handel died, wrote, "Handel was the master of us all, the greatest composer who ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb!" As they say, it takes one to know one!! This is quite a compliment.

There is a story about Handel I like very much because it expresses my own inability to describe the majesty and inspiration of Messiah. One day his assistant shouted in futility to get Handel's attention. He finally entered the room where Handel was and asked, "What is the matter?" Handel looked up with tears in his eyes. In his hand he held the score of the Hallelujah chorus. Handel said, "I thought I saw the face of God!" ...

... Today, there are storms in Europe affecting air travel in Paris and London. Here in California there is heavy rain with snow in the elevations. There are also other storms in our world. Great suffering and anguish, incredible uncertainties and anxiety about economies and terror wars. In all of this we pause to remember the Messiah! He came as God in the flesh as a little baby. This is what we are celebrating! He had a timetable to be born in Bethlehem and He has a timetable and a plan for each of us individually and for this world!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


By My Anonymous Friend

This week I read on a Facebook posting where someone has determined that the return of Christ will take place in May of 2011. I am not sure what the basis is for that date exactly but I believe such statements are nonsense and directly contradict what Scripture teaches. No man knows the day or the hour. An event took place when Jesus was born that bears some similarity however to date setting. It is part of the Christmas story but probably not well known. Let me expand on it for you today.

Simeon was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem who longed for the "consolation of Israel". This is a reference to the comfort and hope Messiah would bring to His people at His coming. It is also called the redemption of Jerusalem. Simeon had been told somehow by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see this day. When he beheld the infant Jesus he somehow knew that He was the fulfilment of this long awaited promise.

One theory is that Simeon was one of the translators of the Septuagint. This was a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek completed sometime in the third century BC at Alexandria, Egypt. When Simeon came to Isaiah 7:14 which records that a virgin will conceive a bear a Son, he was filled with questions and doubts. This did not seem possible. An angel revealed to Simeon that he should translate this verse as written and that it would miraculously come to pass. Furthermore, he would live to see it happen! One problem with this theory is that Simeon would have been several hundred years old when Christ was born. I remind you that it is a theory.

What is sure is that Simeon had a profound faith and confidence that he would live to see the birth of the Messiah. How did he know that Jesus was the fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy? I do not know the answer except that Scripture says the Holy Spirit revealed this to him. I simply leave it there. It is fascinating.

Simeon was overwhelmed with delight and thanksgiving when he realized that the Messiah had finally come. He responded with praises that are known as the Nunc Diimittis which are still an important part of worship in liturgical traditions. These words of Simeon are recorded in Luke 2:29-32.

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Simeon then continued by speaking a blessing and a prophecy to Mary.

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Please consider several fascinating aspects to this story.

1. How did Simeon know that this baby was finally the One he and others were longing to see?

2. Note that Simeon says that the salvation the Messiah would provide would be for ALL people.

3. Note that Simeon predicted the sufferings of Jesus which both He and His mother Mary would experience.

4. Simeon predicted the division and controversy Jesus would bring. I find it fascinating that to this day, it is relatively acceptable to speak of God in generic terms. However to refer to Jesus specifically brings out howls of protests and controversy. He is indeed a controversial and divisive figure.

Interesting points to ponder at this time of year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jesus came to offer....... what??

By My Anonymous Friend

We are into the Advent season and I have been trying to look at the birth of Jesus in new and meaningful ways. I ask myself and here I ask you as well,

Jesus came to offer....... what??

I know most who read this know the answer but let's think together for a moment and perhaps "the reason for the Season" as the saying goes, will take on new meaning for you.

What might Jesus have come to offer?

1. He could have come as a philosopher. By doing so He could have introduced new ideas and concepts for intellectuals and others who cared, to ponder. Perhaps He might have been an innovative philosopher to introduce philosophies that no one ever had thought of before.

2. He could have come as a political reformer. Surely the people of His day longed for political renewal and an overthrow of a repressive Roman regime. Some actually believed (or perhaps just hoped) that indeed Jesus would usher in a new political system. This hope reached its peak on what we now refer to as Palm Sunday. How dreadfully disappointed these folks must have been later that week when Jesus was crucified and it became clear the Roman yoke was not about to be overthrown.

3. He could have come as a scientist or researcher. Perhaps He could have found a cure for the ravaging diseases of His day. In our day cancer would come to mind. How noble it would have been for Jesus to come to usher in an end to disease and suffering.

4. He could have come as a consultant or life coach. He could have written books and lectured on how to achieve personal goals, how to be a better leader, and how to live a happy and profitable life.

5. There are other possibilities: therapist, social worker, engineer,--- add your own list.

All the above would have had degrees of merit. The world would have been a better place if Jesus had come in any of the scenarios I have described. And, in a sense He was some of the things I listed.

However, had Jesus come only in the capacities mentioned above, it would have been like applying band-aids to the human condition. Humanity needed more than new philosophies or political reform. What was needed was more radical and profound.

Now recall the words of what we call the Benedictus in Luke 1 and the words of the angels to the shepherds in Luke 2. It is clear from these and other references that Jesus had a unique mission that transcended any suggestions I have made above. He came to be a Savior! Why? Because humanity needed saving. Pretty simple. Yet very, very profound.

Some years ago I was called a savior! It is true. I was in an airport waiting to fly to my home. The flight was greatly overbooked and the airline personnel were desperately seeking passengers who might be willing to give up their seats. After I was assured that a flight an hour later had room for me and that I would be rewarded financially for giving my seat up, I volunteered. The person at the check in counter was overwhelmed with gratitude. He said to me with passion,

"Thank you! Thank you! May I call you Jesus?"

I assumed he used that term because I had been a "savior" of sorts so I replied, "No, not really! I know Jesus personally and I do not think I qualify to bear His name!"

That led to an interesting discussion as you can imagine.

My point is that when we use the word "Savior" with regard to Jesus, the meaning is enormous. I have the ability to "save" an airline a measure of embarrassment for selling more seats than the plane has on board, but in no way whatsoever can I or anyone else be the kind of Savior Jesus was and is.

He saves people from their sins! Only a perfect sacrifice (lamb) can make this kind of saving efficacious. Jesus fit the bill perfectly.

So, my hope is that somehow the well worn and familiar words and expressions of Christmas will take on new meanings to you this year.

"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!" (Luke 2:10-11).