Posted tagged ‘Advent’

Joy to the World: a non-Christmas Christmas Carol

December 9, 2016

Dr. Steven J. Callis

 

                JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD IS COME; LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING!  This exuberant song of praise and celebration is arguably the best known and most loved of all the traditional Christmas carols.  It seems almost a travesty to exclude it from any Christian Christmas program, especially one which is musical in nature.

                Listen closely to the lyrics the next time you sing it or hear it.  Have you ever noticed that this great song mentions nothing of the baby Jesus?  There are no references to angels, shepherds, wise men, or the Bethlehem star.  I made a quick survey of the Christmas songs in our church hymnal, and this is the only one that says nothing specifically about the Christmas story!

                Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel, Away in a Manger, O Come all Ye Faithful, and even the less often sung, all declare the supporting characters and events of the birth of Christ.  However, in the festive Joy to the World, we sing only about Jesus the King and declare His victory over sin, bringing joy to those who heed His voice.

                The great hymn writer Isaac Watts composed the lyrics of this song in 1719.  The fact making it such a unique Christmas carol is that it was not written about Christmas at all!  It was a song, not about the first Advent of Christ, but about His second Advent; the Second Coming.  The original title was “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom,” Watts’ interpretation of Psalm 98. 

                In 1741 George Frederick Handel composed the music, and over a century later Lowell Mason wrote an arrangement that has stood the test of time.  Information on when and why the song became connected with Christmas is scarce.  However, the lyrics truly do ring out the message of the true meaning of Christmas.

                Advent is not only a time of anticipating the coming of Christ as Savior, but also a reminder that believers and followers of Christ live in hope and expectation of Jesus’ second – and final – coming to redeem His bride, the Church.  Just as people awaited the coming of the Messiah over 2000 years ago, so we wait with expectation today for His return.

                And so we will be presented with several opportunities this Christmas season to sing with magnificent jubilation this song of triumph as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior and declare our faith that He is coming again.  May you find true joy in Him this Christmas; a joy the world cannot take away.       

Martians, Earthquakes, and Reality

December 2, 2016

Dr. Steven J. Callis 

                Maybe it should have been broadcast on April Fool’s Day rather than as a Halloween episode.  News reports of an alien invasion by Martians were aired in 1938 titled, “War of the Worlds,” based on the H.G. Wells 1898 novel by the same title.  A radio drama directed and narrated by Orson Welles, it is said to have caused a mass panic, though some historians claim that “mass” is too strong a word because of the relatively small size of the radio audience.

                A similar event occurred in 1990, and the man at center stage was Iben Browning.  This report, however, was not a hoax or a drama program, but a genuine prediction of a major earthquake that was to transpire in the Mississippi Valley.

                With a doctoral degree in zoology, Browning worked in several scientific fields, including bio-engineering and “artificial intelligence”  – I will refrain from an attempt at humorous zingers here and let you insert your own. 

He eventually focused his interest and research on long-term weather forecasting and climate changes.  His prediction of a major earthquake caused considerable concern across the Midwest part of the country as residents and agencies prepared for a significant natural disaster that never came.  Experts examined his data and determined that his methodology was of a non-scientific character.

                Wikipedia describes him as being most notable for having made various failed predictions of disasters involving climate, volcanoes, and earthquakes, including the collapse of our government in 1992.  He wrote four books and held 90 patents.

                Since the first century, there have been approximately 175 official predictions of the end of the world; Armageddon, The Apocalypse, the second coming of Christ, and other similar terms of identification.  Nine of the predicted dates are still in the future. 

I appreciate the interest in the topic, and trust that the primary motivation is to prepare the general population for this climactic event.  However, speaking as the second person of the Godhead, Jesus declared that no one but the Father knows the time of the second Advent.  The repeated warning of the New Testament is to always be ready; be prepared and watchful, for it could happen at any moment.

Some people keep an emergency kit on hand in order to be prepared for crises such as power outages and water contamination.  The kit may include matches, batteries, flashlights, bottled water, non-perishable foods, and a battery powered radio.  They do not awaken each morning imagining that they will need the kit that day, but they are prepared if tragedy strikes.

Spiritual readiness works that way.  There is an awareness that Christ could return today, and we can live prepared for Him if it happens.  And it is that readiness which gives us purpose and mission to live each day with Him at the center of all we are and all we do.

Celebration of the first Advent, the birth of our Savior, is a reminder and an opportunity to prepare our hearts, evaluate the arrangement of our life’s priorities, and receive the coming of Christ.  Find a place of worship in your community this Christmas season and weekly hear the old but relevant story of God dwelling among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Too Much Christmas

November 18, 2014

Dr. Steven J. Callis

Edward Pola and George Wyle declared it to be the most wonderful time of the year.  Bon Jovi wishes every day could be like Christmas.  It truly is a fun and festive season of the year, one that tends to melt hearts and bring out the goodness and generosity of people.

It is exciting to be part of the drama that unfolds as Christmas Day approaches.  As I child, the few days between school letting out and the arrival of Santa seemed like weeks or even months!  In my family the area beneath the Christmas tree was barren most of the two weeks it was displayed before the Big Day, and quite sparse even on Christmas Eve.  Then Christmas morning arrived, and the number of presents had doubled or tripled overnight.  Oh, how exciting!

Some of you like to complete your Christmas shopping early, maybe as soon as January!  For the most part, however, John Q Public begins thinking about Christmas coincidentally with the stores and media, which seems to come earlier every year.  There is some indication that we go directly from Halloween to Christmas, and Thanksgiving barely receives an honorable mention anymore.

Some radio stations are already introducing Christmas music in their programming, and stores have been displaying trees and decorations for a few weeks.  They want us to be certain that we do not miss this most wonderful time of the year!

Not meaning to be critical, my apprehension is not so much with the commercialism or whatever motivates our stores and stations and town streets to begin the Christmas season in October or November.  Rather, I am concerned that people may become weary of the sounds and sights and aromas and bustle and sales ads, to the point that before it ever arrives they simply want it to be over.  Too much Christmas can make us numb to the true joy and meaning of the season, when the actual time arrives to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The oversaturation of Christmas hype can easily rob us of the peace and joy we find in the truest reason for the season.  Therefore, I will choose to slow down and take it in bit by bit, to the degree that my mind and heart can receive it with meaning, appreciation, and adoration.  I will not allow too much Christmas to spoil my appetite for the real Spirit of Christmas Day.  I hope you will join me.

 

A Hillbilly Christmas Story

December 13, 2013

A Hillbilly Christmas Story – Steven Callis

Back yonder when Caesar Augustus decided it was high time to figer out how many folks was a livin’ in the vicinity of the Roman world, all the clans and their kin went to his home town to git counted.

So Joe Bob, known as Joseph in them days, wandered up from Nazareth, where him and his kin was a livin’, to Judea, at a place called Bethlehem.  Cause his roots go all the way back to David’s house, and all his kin was of David, that’s where him and Mary Jo went to git counted.  Mary Jo was pert near ready to have their first young ‘un.

Wouldn’t ya know it, that they was stuck in Bethlehem when the baby decided it was time fer him to be borned. Turns out all the hotels was full, and they was havin’ to sleep in the ol’ barn out back. Well, she birthed that boy, her first young ‘un, wrapped ‘im up real good and put ‘im right there in the feedin’ trough.

Well, there was some sheep farmers workin’ out in the fields one night when a angel of the Lord just showed up out a nowhere, and them farmers was skeerd!  Then that angel spoke up an’ said, “Ya’ll don’t need to be skeerd a start.  I’m a gonna tell ya somethin’ that’ll make you-ins and everbody else happy as a lark.  Today a Savior was born, and He is Christ the Lord.  Go take a look fer yourself.  He’ll be all wrapped up and layin’ in a feedin’ trough.

Then, all a sudden, a whole bunch a angels showed up and started singin’: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will to men.”  Then all them farmers high tailed it to town where they seen it fer themselves: Mary Jo, Joe Bob, and their young ‘un which they called Jesus.  Soon as they seen it and exchanged a few pleasantries, they run out and told everbody they seen, you know, about all this that they’d been privy to.  An’ ever last one who heered the story was down right tickled about it, and give praise to God.  But Mary Jo, now she just took to ponderin’ all them things in her heart.

Are You a Good Waiter?

December 7, 2012

I remember my childhood Decembers seeming exceptionally long as I awaited that exciting morning when we would gather around the Christmas tree to open presents.  The slow progression of the preparation for that day can be difficult for a young child. Gradually, the number of gifts beneath the tree would grow, and then during the night before Christmas, the number of presents seemed to double overnight! The waiting was really difficult, but well worth it!

Recently I spent almost an entire 5 minutes searching internet sites (our favorite fool-proof resource) to discover that the average person spends approximately 5 years of life waiting.  That number includes 6 months waiting at traffic lights, but the article said nothing of waiting on the phone for an available customer service representative from my internet provider.

For something we seem to practice often, some of us are not very good at it.  However, we must endure periods of waiting: for our food order, to see a doctor, standing in line for a purchase, auto repair, and so on.  There are some people who plan ahead in order to use those moments productively, so that the waiting is filled with activity and helps to pass the time.  Some restaurants help the cause by providing complimentary peanuts, chips, bread sticks, coloring sheets, or golf tee puzzles.  I aim to be one of those conscientious persons who use time wisely, but sometimes my body and mind simply need that down time.  There are times we just need to stop.

Of course, the Christmas season brings with it a busy schedule and a to-do-list that only Santa could fill.  Shopping, parties, school programs, church programs, community events, visiting friends, decorating the house, wrapping gifts, baking goodies – the website mentioned earlier claims that we spend 6 years of life eating!

Come December 26, many people are glad it is over, along with the hustling and bustling that takes its toll on our bodies and emotions.  In this light, it is interesting that the Christian term, Advent, literally means “coming,”  and that the four Sundays leading to Christmas day are a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

In this sense, the waiting becomes productive only as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.  Amid the hustle and bustle of the season, what are you doing to make room for Jesus?  More important than any gift I could give or receive is the spiritual preparation for receiving Christ in His fullness, and allowing Him to be the Pilot of my life, rather than simply one of the many travelers on the plane. Yes, Jesus is coming, and if you are ready, He will come to you in a fresh and unique way this Christmas, and the waiting will be worth it!