Lift Up Your Head & Behold!
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates;
Behold, the King of glory waits;
The King of kings is drawing near;
The Savior of the world is here!
A Helper just He comes to thee,
His chariot is humility,
His kingly crown is holiness,
His scepter, pity in distress.
O blest the land, the city blest,
Where Christ the Ruler is confessed!
O happy hearts and happy homes
To whom this King in triumph comes!
Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple, set apart
From earthly use for heaven’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
Redeemer, come, with us abide;
Our hearts to Thee we open wide;
Let us Thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in us reveal.
Thy Holy Spirit lead us on
Until our glorious goal is won;
Eternal praise, eternal fame
Be offered, Savior, to Thy Name!
~Georg Weissel, tr. Catherine Winkworth
And the word of the LORD of hosts came, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”
The Incarnation began a new world: “old things have passed away; behold all things have
become new” (2 Cor. 5:18). “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself ” (2 Cor.
5:19). In the Incarnation we learn that “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And
the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn. 1:4,5).
Themes of newness and light should always pervade our Christmas celebrations. The
northern hemisphere has an especially nice background—darkest winter—to emphasize light
overcoming darkness. Sometimes we decorate our homes with lights as a symbol of turning
back the night, of the brightness scattering the darkness. Just when the sun is farthest from the
earth, the Light of lights moves us toward spring.
In a parallel way, we emphasize newness by pressing forward toward a restored Eden. To
plant a tree full of “fruit” in our living rooms in the middle of winter is another way we picture
turning back the death of winter. The tree itself is not some compromised pagan carry over.
The symbol is originally biblical; trees of life and knowledge are central to our Edenic origins.
Sure pagans slunk off with Edenic symbols and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator,
but that is their sin, not ours. The Bible begins and ends with a tree, and the reversal of the
Fall gets its strength from the Incarnation: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
This newness of life is not only pictured in fruitful trees; the whole creation has been
made new. Christmas is the beginning of the New Heavens and Earth, and this naturally comes
to expression in our gift giving—new clothes, new tools, new games, new books—a new world.
And if the Lord blesses and your tree is gloriously surrounded with boxes on top of boxes of
this new order of stuff, you can stoop down level with all those boxes and see that the boxes
resemble a city skyline, a new city, “the great city, the holy Jerusalem”—“the foundations of
the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones” (Rev. 21:19) where the
nations “bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it” (Rev. 21:26). And in the middle
of this city is “the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.
The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2)—your Christmas tree.
Most Christian treatments of Christmas wallow in complaining about materialism and
commercialism. Those concerns obviously have their place. But we must learn to delight in the
life of God. If you have a healthy family, focus on the positive vision—light and life and newness.
This is a time when the world turned from a desert drought to the abundance of Christ.
~Douglas Jones, from “A Family Liturgy…”
Behold! the mountain of the Lord
In latter days shall rise
On mountain tops above the hills,
And draw the wondering eyes.
To this the joyful nations round,
All tribes and tongues, shall flow;
Up to the hill of God, they’ll say,
And to His house we’ll go.
The beam that shines from Zion hill
Shall lighten every land;
The King Who reigns in Salem’s towers
Shall all the world command.
Among the nations He shall judge;
His judgments truth shall guide;
His scepter shall protect the just,
And quell the sinner’s pride.
No strife shall vex Messiah’s reign
Or mar the peaceful years;
To plowshares soon they beat their swords
To pruning hooks their spears.
No longer hosts encountering hosts,
Their millions slain deplore;
They hang the trumpets in the hall
And study war no more.
Come then, O house of Jacob, come
To worship at His shrine;
And, walking in the light of God,
With holy beauties shine.
~Michael Bruce, paraphrasing Isaiah 2
“The angels knew what was going on even if no one else did. They grasped the bizarre reality of Shakespeare stepping onto the stage, of God making Himself vulnerable, dependent, and human — making Himself Adam. And so, in a more appropriate sense, they arranged a concert and put on what was no doubt the greatest choral performance in planetary history.
Were the kings gathered? Where were the people with the important hats? Where were the ushers, the corporate sponsors?
The Heavenly Host, the souls and angels of stars, descended into our atmosphere and burst in harmonic joy above a field and some rather startled shepherds.
But the crowd was bigger than that. The shepherds were a distinct minority. Mostly, the angels were just singing to sheep.
I’m sure those animals paid attention, and not just because there was a baby in their food bowl.
Sidenote: Does this sound like something a human would make up? Does it sound like something a bunch of cult builders would create to impress potential tithers?
And then the Holy One, the World-Maker, was born in a …in…uh…
And the angels themselves descended, overflowing with jubilation and sang to a randomly selected flock of sheep and a couple of their unwashed, illiterate shepherds — the Lord Incarnate’s first worshipers.”
[Christmas stockings are] quite delightful. And, yes, lots of the stuff I put in them is entirely unnecessary. But God gives us “unnecessaries” all the time. Like the flickers (woodpeckers) out on my fence. And the pink winter sunsets. And the red berries hanging so colorfully from the bare branches of the Mountain Ash. And the powdery snow falling quietly on the trees. Who needs all that stuff? Totally redundant and perfectly wonderful. God stuffs our stockings full of unnecessary pleasures and over-our-quota goodness day after day. Oh, to be like Him.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”