Merry and Blessed Christmas 2018!

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From our home to yours, we wish all our family, friends, and readers a merry and blessed Christmas Day 2018! May the peace and joy of our Savior Jesus Christ be yours today and in the New Year.

In late September we were blessed with grandchild number 12 (Gale Owen, on grandma’s lap). And we are expecting number 13 in late January from our son and daughter-in-law in Arizona. We are thankful for the goodness of God’s covenant and for His mercy to us in all our circumstances.

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Have a beautiful and blessed day celebrating and worshiping the Christ born in Bethlehem, now exalted on high in glory, and soon returning in power with final salvation for all His own.

The Christmas gospel from the perspective of Hebrews 2:

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,

12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Christmas Eve 2018 in Poetry and Song

On this Christmas Eve 2018 we share a couple of edifying items – one a classic Christmas poem and the other a beautiful choral piece we heard in a program recently. The latter is not strictly speaking a Christmas song and, yet, is certainly appropriate for the gospel of Christmas. The lyrics really point us to the second coming of our Lord, and from our perspective as NT Christians that is now our hope and prayer.

First, then, is this classic Christmas poem, penned by Welsh poet Henry Vaughn (1621-1695) and titled “Christ’s Nativity.” It may take you a few times to go through to get the sense, due to the seventeenth-century-style English, but the poem is a powerful tribute of praise to the Christ of Bethlehem and to the power of His person as the Savior.

Awake, glad heart! get up and sing!
It is the birth-day of thy King.
Awake! awake!
The Sun doth shake
Light from his locks, and all the way
Breathing perfumes, doth spice the day.
Awake, awake! hark how th’ wood rings;
Winds whisper, and the busy springs
A concert make;
Awake! awake!
Man is their high-priest, and should rise
To offer up the sacrifice.
I would I were some bird, or star,
Flutt’ring in woods, or lifted far
Above this inn
And road of sin!
Then either star or bird should be
Shining or singing still to thee.
I would I had in my best part
Fit rooms for thee! or that my heart
Were so clean as
Thy manger was!
But I am all filth, and obscene;
Yet, if thou wilt, thou canst make clean.
Sweet Jesu! will then. Let no more
This leper haunt and soil thy door!
Cure him, ease him,
O release him!
And let once more, by mystic birth,
The Lord of life be born in earth.

Secondly, the song we wish to feature is “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come” and was written by Paul Manz (a Lutheran). The lyrics go like this (and to learn more about the context in which it was written, visit the link provided):

Peace be to you and grace from him
Who freed us from our sins,
Who loved us all and shed his blood
That we might saved be.

Sing holy, holy to our Lord,
The Lord, Almighty God,
Who was and is and is to come;
Sing holy, holy, Lord!

Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein,
Rejoice on earth, ye saints below,
For Christ is coming, is coming soon!

E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come,
And night shall be no more;
they need no light nor lamp nor sun,
For Christ will be their all.

This is a glorious performance of it I found on YouTube – by a famed British Boys Choir! Rejoice in Jesus’ second coming, even as we celebrate His first!

Published in: on December 24, 2018 at 5:59 AM  Leave a Comment  

Christmas in His Fear – John A. Heys

…When we celebrate Christmas In His Fear then we go to Him and praise Him for the gift of all gifts that He has given us. We go to Him in prayer. We go to Him in His house of worship. We acknowledge this great and glorious gift and do not hide it from ourselves and from our children by a host of worldly, material gifts that we give and receive from men. When we celebrate Christmas In His Fear, Christ and the loves of God in sending Him to be our Savior occupies the central part of our celebration; and the greater part of our activity on that day revolves about Him. When we celebrate Christmas in His fear we gather in all humility and joy before His feet to be taught by Him anew and more richly the glorious truths of the birth of His Son.

And he who truly celebrates Christmas in His fear will not be able to hold back his songs of praise to God. With the holy angels he shall sing: Glory to God in the highest. He will sing of the true peace that God has wrought in this Son for those who are the men of His good pleasure and will glorify Him for it. And as the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God and telling all whom they met what they had seen and heard, the covenant parent will also want to have the day filled with such praise and glory to God by his children and will take them along to God’s house of worship that they too may hear of all this wonder of God’s grace.

Christmas celebration In His Fear is celebration before His face. It is celebration in the consciousness that He accomplished all these things that the Church of Christ might live before His face in everlasting glory. And it is celebration that responds to that glorious truth.

…On Christmas we celebrate the birth of one infinitely greater and more worthy of our praise and adoration. And He lives and sees and knows what we do to celebrate the day of His coming into our flesh. Celebration In His Fear, therefore, is celebration as before His face and in love to Him.

You need not purchase a “Christmas” tree to honor and praise Him. He does not ask you to spend a tidy sum of money for tinsel and a string of light bulbs of various colors. He demanded of Israel that to celebrate the glorious deliverance from the house of the bondage of sin and death they eat the roast flesh of a lamb. But He does not demand you and me to procure a turkey or chicken to observe the day of His birth. In fact you cannot celebrate His birth by these things ! They have absolutely nothing to do with His birth. In fact that abject poverty into which He came in the stable, in the lowly manger, outside the inn militates against all this gaudy and vulgar display of an event so sublime and heavenly.

He does call us to unfurl the banner of the truth; to meet with His people in His house of worship to hear what He has to say; to sing praises to Him.

He calls us to listen to Him and to make all our celebration subservient to it and not to gifts, toys and meals.

He calls us to believe what He says of Himself; to rejoice in it because of faith and with the angels to sing of the glory of God.

He calls us to bow in childlike reverence before Him in the adoration of love.

In His Fear keep Christ in Christmas.

Keep Him there all day.

This gem from the past may be found in the December 15, 1955 issue of the Standard Bearer, and was written by John A. Heys, then minister of the Word in Hope PRC (Walker, MI). It was penned for the rubric “In His Fear,” hence its title and theme. It is even more applicable 63 years later.

Source: Christmas in His Fear

Christ’s Poverty, Our Riches – Rev. M. De Vries

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The idea is, therefore, that Christ was manifesting toward His people a favor completely undeserved when He came into the world and became poor though He had been rich. That appalling poverty characteristic of Christ’s life was something that He willingly took upon Himself because Christ was gracious towards His people. The emphasis falls upon Christ’s perfect obedience and willingness to suffer. It speaks to us of that glorious truth that although it was painful beyond description for Christ to become so poor, nevertheless, He eagerly and anxiously seized upon this poverty because the deepest motives of His heart were for the people whom He loved. No price was too great to pay for them; no humiliation too bitter; no suffering too great; no poverty too lowly.

But what makes this grace appear so wonderful is the fact that He became poor for us because we are so very, very poor! O, not in the material sense. It is true, we may not be materially wealthy; we may have financial struggle. But, for the most part, we have an abundance of material things. Undoubtedly, you will receive many nice material gifts this season. But, remember, material riches mean nothing! Spiritually, we are very poor, by nature. We are poverty-stricken, spiritually bankrupt in ourselves. This poverty is the terrible poverty of sin, of death, of the curse, of hell! It is a poverty far more awful than the worst of material poverty. Do you recognize that poverty as yours? The whole church for which Christ died is poor, spiritually destitute. Think of the corrupt host for which Christ died, of the wretched sinners we all are, even now. If you think of your own terrible poverty, the poverty of a nature completely depraved, then you can see something of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He, being rich, was made poor, on our behalf.

There is no other explanation for it but GRACE – undeserved favor. Christ was under no obligation to come into our poverty. He did not have to come to Bethlehem! He certainly did not have to save you and me! It was grace!

sb-logo-rfpaFound in the Meditation on 2 Cor.8:9 by Rev. Michael DeVries (Kalamazoo PRC) in the December 1, 2018 issue of the Standard Bearer. A fitting reflection for us in this Advent season.

A Great Light in the Deep Darkness – H. C. Hoeksema on Isaiah 9:6

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…Particularly at Isaiah’s time, this [the shining of a great light in darkness, cf. Is.9:2] must have been marvelous to him because of the circumstances of God’s people. The faithful people of God were disheartened; they were inclined to be blackly pessimistic; there did not seem to be much hope for them. Although Isaiah is also in that darkness, he sees a great light arising in far-off Zebulon and Naphtali – tribes that at this time did not even belong to the house of David. He is amazed to see people leaping and dancing for joy as in the day of harvest and rejoicing as those who divide the spoils of battle. They are free from all foreign domination, and they rejoice in a day of great glory.

In the center of this picture is the son, the child [Is.9:6]. The prophet beholds him in a blaze of light. The government – the rule, the dominion, the prerogative to rule – is upon his shoulder. His is the right, his is the calling, and his is the power and wisdom to rule over God’s people. He sits as the everlasting king upon David’s throne. He is Christ, who from eternity was ordained of God the Father and who in his exaltation received all power in heaven and on earth to rule forever over all things in the name of God. That son, who sits on the everlasting throne of David, is the reason and the cause of this leaping and dancing and rejoicing.

The darkness is a figure. Surely the domination of the Assyrians was a historic reality, but only as Assyria was the representative of the great antichristian world power that will dominate God’s people at the end of time. As dominated by the great power of the world and by the prince of darkness, they are by nature in darkness and in the shadow of death – not in physical darkness, but in the darkness of sin and guilt and death and misery, for they are in the might and the power of Satan and of hell.

In that night Jesus kindles the light. No, he is the light! He comes with royal might; he fights and overcomes in his suffering and his atoning death; he fights and overcomes in his resurrection and exaltation; he has the victory in his return by his Spirit and word, and he shall have the victory in everlasting perfection and fullness when he returns for judgment. He is the one who actually delivers his people from all earthly and spiritual bondage and dominion, who gives them the victory, and who causes them to rejoice and to divide the spoils of battle.

redeemed-judgment-HCH-2007Taken from Redeemed with Judgment: Sermons on Isaiah (Vol.1) by Homer C. Hoeksema (ed. by Mark H. Hoeksema; Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2007), pp.149-50.

This is part of the fifteenth sermon, “The Royal Son of the Dawn” based on Isaiah 9:6.

Christmas Books for All Ages: A Booklist – Redeemed Reader

It has been a bit since we have posted anything relating to children’s books, so tonight we refer you once again to the wonderful website “Redeemed Reader,” where you will find untold resources for your children – from the little tikes to the giant teens in your household.

To make the beginning of the Christmas season, the folks at “RR” posted a Christmas booklist for ALL ages. That’s right, that means for us old children-at-heart people too! How many of you remember the short story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry? If you haven’t read it, now is a good time to get acquainted with it. And that title by noted historian David McCullough looks inviting.

Browse the list and while there look up some of their other book lists. Tis’ the season of giving and what better gift to give than the gift of books.

Source: Christmas Books for All Ages: A Booklist – Redeemed Reader

Published in: on November 23, 2018 at 10:29 PM  Leave a Comment  

Christmas Sermon on Luke 2:1-14 – Martin Luther

luther-preaching-in-wittenbergThis sermon was preached the afternoon of Christmas Day 1530 by Martin Luther. His text was the familiar (for us) Luke 2:1-14, and the focus in this particular sermon was vss.10,11.

Here are some excerpts from that gospel message that will instruct and inspire our faith anew (I have slightly edited these quotations for ease of reading – not the words, just the formatting):

This is our theology, which we preach in order that we may understand what the angel wants. Mary bore the child, took it to her breast and nursed it, and the Father in heaven has his Son, lying in the manger and the mother’s lap. Why did God do all this? Why does Mary guard the child as a mother should? And reason answers: in order that we may make an idol of her, that honor may be paid to the mother. Mary becomes all this without her knowledge and consent, and all the songs and glory and honor are addressed to the mother.

And yet the text does not sound forth the honor of the mother, for the angel says, ‘I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior’ [Luke 2:10-11]. I am to accept the child and his birth and forget the mother, as far as this is possible, although her part cannot be forgotten, for where there is a birth there must also be a mother. Nevertheless, we dare not put our faith in the mother but only in the fact that the child was born. And the angel desired that we should see nothing but the child which is born, just as the angels themselves, as though they were blind, saw nothing but the child born of the virgin, and desired that all created things should be as nothing compared with this child, that we should see nothing, be it harps, gold, goods, honor, power, and the like which we would prefer before their message. For if I received even the costliest and the best in the world, it still does not have the name of Savior. And if the Turk [Muslim] were ten times stronger than he is, he could not for one moment save me from my infirmity, to say nothing of the peril of death, and even less from the smallest sin or from death itself. In my sin, my death, I must take leave of all created things. No, sun, moon, stars, all creatures, physicians, emperors, kings, wise men and potentates cannot help me. When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, ‘To you is born this day the Savior’ [Luke 2:11], remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth.

The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. And when the heavens and the stars and all creatures stare at me with horrible mien, I see nothing in heaven and earth but this child. So great should that light which declares that he is my Savior become in my eyes that I can say: Mary, you did not bear this child for yourself alone. The child is not yours; you did not bring him forth for yourself, but for me, even though you are his mother, even though you held him in your arms and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and picked him up and laid him down. But I have a greater honor than your honor as his mother. For your honor pertains to your motherhood of the body of the child, but my honor is this, that you have my treasure, so that I know none, neither men nor angels, who can help me except this child whom you, O Mary, hold in your arms.

If a man could put out of his mind all that he is and has except this child, and if for him everything – money, goods, power, or honor – fades into darkness and he despises everything on earth compared with this child, so that heaven with its stars and earth with all its power and all its treasures becomes nothing to him, that man would have the true gain and fruit of this message of the angel. And for us the time must come when suddenly all will be darkness and we shall know nothing but this message of the angel: ‘I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior’ [Luke 2:10-11]

And another section contains these words:

Take yourself in hand, examine yourself and see whether you are a Christian! If you can sing: The Son, who is proclaimed to be a Lord and Savior, is my Savior; and if you can confirm the message of the angel and say yes to it and believe it in your heart, then your heart will be filled with such assurance and joy and confidence, and you will not worry much about even the costliest and best that this world has to offer. For when I can speak to the virgin from the bottom of my heart and say: O Mary, noble, tender virgin, you have borne a child; this I want more than robes and guldens, yea, more than my body and life; then you are closer to the treasure than everything else in heaven and earth, as Ps. 73 [:25] says, ‘There is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.’

You see how a person rejoices when he receives a robe or ten guldens. But how many are there who shout and jump for joy when they hear the message of the angel: ‘To you is born this day the Savior?’ Indeed, the majority look upon it as a sermon that must be preached, and when they have heard it, consider it a trifling thing, and go away just as they were before. This shows that we have neither the first nor the second faith. We do not believe that the virgin mother bore a son and that he is the Lord and Savior unless, added to this, I believe the second thing, namely, that he is my Savior and Lord.

When I can say: This I accept as my own, because the angel meant it for me, then, if I believe it in my heart, I shall not fail to love the mother Mary, and even more then child, and especially the Father. For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know the feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart. For, if what the angel says is true, that he is our Lord and Savior, what can sin do against us? ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’ [Rom. 8:31]. Greater words than these I cannot speak, nor all the angels and even the Holy Spirit, as is sufficiently testified by the beautiful and devout songs that have been made about it.

The Coming of Shiloh, Jesus, the Prince of Peace – Rev. D. Lee

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The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”  Genesis 49:10

This is the prophecy in view, and is altogether astounding….

First, this is astounding when you consider the family to whom this prophecy is given, the prophecy of the king with his scepter! This prophecy was not given to a family with royal blood, not even to a family which was rich or noble and had some decent place or ranking in society. But it was given to the family of a poor shepherd, struggling to obtain food, using whatever they had for travel, and leaving the land of Canaan to come into Egypt for that food. This lowly shepherd’s family was more like helpless beggars. But it is to them that God gives this prophecy of a scepter-wielding king – sovereign and powerful, and with righteous authority!

Second, it is astounding also when you consider to which son of Jacob it is given to. It was not given to the oldest son, Reuben. Neither was it given to the next two sons in line, Simeon and Levi – these received curses instead! Nor was it given to the wisest and godliest son Joseph. But it was given to Judah! Judah, who was not even a son of favored wife Rebekah, but of Leah. Judah, who, though he turned his brothers from their purpose to kill Joseph, nonetheless persuaded them to sell him as a slave to the Midianites at Dothan. Judah, who was a fornicator with daughter-in-law Tamar. Judah was a wretched and guilty sinner! He had no right to obtain a blessing. But he did. For this promise of a mighty, righteous scepter-wielding King comes to him!

Is it not also the same with you, and with me, dear reader? We do not deserve any of God’s covenant promises of salvation. God graciously gives them to us because, like Judah we do not deserve them, The only explanation for this is God’s sovereign good pleasure. He does so in His wondrous, sovereign particular, love and mercy!

…Shiloh came! The Prince of Peace, heavenly Counselor and King of God, Jesus the Christ came! That earthly scepter left for dead through the centuries, Christ picked up and transformed to His heavenly scepter! But He would be crowned and ascend to His heavenly throne only in the way of humiliation: His lowly birth, His life-long sufferings, and above all His crucifixion and death on the cross! In that way, He would be raised and lifted up! From the dead to glorious, heavenly life! And then, lifted up and ascended into heaven at God’s right hand! And He who is now exalted in heaven above will come again — Shiloh will come again! And then, His crown and scepter, His kingship and kingdom, will be perfectly realized!

Marvel at this wonderful realization! In the way of all that history, when all seemed lost.time and time again: in the slavery of God’s people, in the failure of the earthly kings from the line of Judah, in the inter-testamentary period of 400 years. But also beyond all comprehension and expectation, in the way of God becoming man, one of His lowly creatures – this astounding prophecy made unto Judah would be realized!

Found in the meditation on this passage in the December 15, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer, written by Rev. Dennis Lee, pastor of Bethel PRC in Roselle, IL.

A Hymn for Christmas Day

A Hymn For Christmas Day

Almighty Framer of the Skies!
O let our pure devotion rise,
Like Incense in thy Sight!
Wrapt in impenetrable Shade
The Texture of our Souls were made
Till thy Command gave light.
The Sun of Glory gleam’d the Ray,
Refin’d the Darkness into Day,
And bid the Vapours fly;
Impell’d by his eternal Love
He left his Palaces above
To cheer our gloomy Sky.

How shall we celebrate the day,
When God appeared in mortal clay,
The mark of worldly scorn;
When the Archangel’s heavenly Lays,
Attempted the Redeemer’s Praise
And hail’d Salvation’s Morn!

A Humble Form the Godhead wore,
The Pains of Poverty he bore,
To gaudy Pomp unknown;
Tho’ in a human walk he trod
Still was the Man Almighty God
In Glory all his own.

Despis’d, oppress’d, the Godhead bears
The Torments of this Vale of tears;
Nor bade his Vengeance rise;
He saw the Creatures he had made,
Revile his Power, his Peace invade;
He saw with Mercy’s Eyes.

How shall we celebrate his Name,
Who groan’d beneath a Life of shame
In all Afflictions tried!
The Soul is raptured to concieve
A Truth, which Being must believe,
The God Eternal died.

My Soul exert thy Powers, adore,
Upon Devotion’s plumage sar
To celebrate the Day;
The God from whom Creation sprung
Shall animate my grateful Tongue;
From him I’ll catch the Lay!

Thomas Chatterton, 1752-1770 (This amazing poem was written when Thomas was but eleven years old.)
Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 11:13 PM  Leave a Comment  

God’s Temple – Immanuel, Maranatha

TT-Dec-2017We are overdue for introducing the December 2017 issue of Tabletalk, which this month focuses on God’s grand work involving “The Temple.”

When we hear that word, we probably think immediately of the Old Testament temple of Solomon, or perhaps of the rebuilt temple built during Herod’s reign at the end of the OT. But as this issue of “TT” shows, God’s work of making His temple is all-embracing, covering the original creation, the tent made during the time of Moses (tabernacle), that more permanent OT house of Solomon, but more importantly, Christ (Immanuel!), the church chosen as living stones in the Stone (a living temple!), and then at last the new creation, which will be God’s perfect abode with His people. As you can see, “the temple” is a rich biblical concept and reality.

And as such, God’s temple is a fitting truth to ponder in this Christmas season. Editor Burk Parsons demonstrates that in his introduction to the issue, titled “Immanuel.” In it, he writes in part:

We were made to be with God. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. He led His people Israel through the wilderness and dwelt among them wherever they sojourned, and He dwelt with His people in the tabernacle and temple. The earthly tabernacle and temple of Israel and all of their furnishings served Israel by manifesting God’s presence through symbols, types, and shadows. They pointed to the day when God—who is a spirit, sovereign, triune, transcendent, infinite, eternal, immutable, self-existent, self-sufficient, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and full of mercy, love, and truth—would condescend to us to dwell with us, among us, and in us. This truth is encapsulated in the name Immanuel, one of the most beautiful and comforting names that God reveals to us about Himself. Isaiah prophesied to Israel that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). The eternal Word, the Son of God, became flesh and dwelt among us. God is with us, and He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Before this issue gives us separate articles on the various details of God’s OT temple (the altar of burnt offering, the curtain, the lampstand, etc.), Dr. Michael Morales presents a marvelous survey of the biblical teaching on the temple in his article “The House of God.” Here is a portion of his article, which also ties in nicely with the season:

The transition from creation to new creation and from temple as house to temple as household centers upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the prologue of John’s gospel, we read that the Son became flesh and “tabernacled” among us, manifesting His glory (1:14, author’s translation). Through the incarnation, the eternal Son becomes a temple, His humanity the dwelling place of God. As a temple, Jesus is also the way to God. His self-sacrifice on the cross of agony atoned for our sins, fulfilling the sacrificial system of ancient Israel. Quite fittingly, Christ’s crucifixion resulted in God’s rending the temple veil (Mark 15:38)—through the veil of Jesus’ flesh, the “new and living way” to God has been opened (Heb. 10:19–22).

So, as we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s consider God’s magnificent temple – the true Temple of Christ and His church, destined for life with God in His everlasting house in the new world – certain to be revealed when Jesus comes again. “Come, Lord Jesus.”