I love the music of Advent. This year, Melanie Penn’s album Immanuel has been a great release. It contains songs that showcase various perspectives of the characters in the Christmas story. She even made a video, which I’m posting here, of her song Immanuel (The Shepherd’s Song). I hope you enjoy it and dig into the fuller album.
Thomas Cranmer loved the Church of England and worked hard to keep her prayers (and prayer book) pleasing to God. Here’s how Tim Keller describes the impact of Cranmer (with a little background):
Years ago when I wanted to become more skillful in public prayer, I was fortunate to come across the collects of Thomas Cranmer, the writer of the original Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The “collects” (the stress is on the first syllable) that Cranmer wrote were brief but extremely ‘packed’ little prayers that tied together the doctrine of the day to a particular way of living. They were prayed by the minister on behalf of the people, or prayed in unison by the whole congregation.
As I have read them over the years they have brought me two great benefits. First, they have given me a basic structure by which I can compose good public prayers, either ahead of time, or spontaneously. Cranmer’s collects consist of 5 parts:
1. The address – a name of God
2. The doctrine – a truth about God’s nature that is the basis for the prayer
3. The petition – what is being asked for
4. The aspiration – what good result will come if the request is granted
5. In Jesus’ name – this remembers the mediatorial role of Jesus
So, what do we make of this? Well, it’s encouraging because of the collects related to Christmas Day (and this year, we have a Christmas Day on a Sunday) and you can read these collects, with history, and a meditation here.
The First Collect
God, which makes us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ; grant that as we joyfully receive him for our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him, when he shall come to be our judge, who liveth and reigneth, &c.
The Second Collect
Almighty God, which has given us thy only begotten son to take our nature upon him, and this day to be born of a pure Virgin; grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit, through the same our Lord Jesus Christ who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost now and ever. Amen.
I like Paul Zahl’s summary: “The two Collects for Christmas are so arranged as to give priority in time to the for-ness of Christ. The prayer for the First Communion of Christmas stresses the Atonement. But Christ’s with-ness is also celebrated, in the prayer for the Second Communion of the Day, which stresses the Incarnation.”
So, Cranmer and Christmas helps us see these amazing theological themes wed: that Jesus became like us to do something for us, specifically save us from our sin. I hope you’re building up to have a Merry Christmas.
Here’s the prayer that helped me along this past Sunday, reflecting on the 4th Week of Advent and Peace (from the Austin Stone Story Team):
MY GOD, MY PROMISE KEEPER,
You made a promise long ago:
Peace was promised to Isaiah.
Peace was promised to your people.
Israel expected a prince
Born into privilege and power,
But received a babe,
Born into a lowly stable.
There was no room in the inns,
No room in their hearts for a poor carpenter father
And his humble wife,
Dirty from traveling dusty roads.
Your Son, their prince,
Fed the masses,
Healed the blind,
Dined with cheaters,
And rebuked their leaders.
Where was their prince?
Where was their peace?
They expected a lion to silence the roaring jaws of oppression and affliction,
But your son, their prince, Jesus,
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
Opened not His mouth.
On that dark day of the cross,
When the curtain in the temple tore,
The Promised Prince gave up His spirit.
All was chaos.
Peace seemed distant.
As soldiers jeered, a mother’s tears
Fell softly in the night.
But that was not the end.
Your promises would be kept.
Your son did not stay on the cross,
He did not stay in the tomb.
He is a prince after all, a Prince of Peace.
He is the Lion.
He is the Lamb.
In him, the two are met—
The gentle and humble,
The power and might,
The babe and the Savior,
The flesh and the God.
We find peace in Your Son, who hung in our place.
Who put His hands where ours belonged,
On the rough wood of a cross.
He cancelled the roar of our guilt with the might of His silence,
So that we could know You, our God.
He rose from the darkness of the tomb,
Conquering death with His light.
He is our promised peace.
Our Prince is waiting for His people.
We will embrace Him, our Wonderful Counselor,
Press our faces to His holy robe,
And find our Mighty God,
Our perfect Prince of Peace.
Here’s the prayer I included in my opening prayer for Week 3 of Advent on Joy from the Austin Stone Story Team:
O GIVER OF LIFE AND GOD OF INFINITE JOY,
Long ago we hid our faces in pity and fear, terrified at the reach of Your holiness.
Our overburdened hearts lay heavy with despair, aching with the lack of Your presence.
We were bathed in wickedness and shadowed by fear,
A hopeless people, drunk on worldly pride and self-indulgent pleasures.
We sought to gratify our desires with everything but You
Until we had only tears and foolishness as our feeble companions.
You wrote a story of joy eternal before we even drew a breath,
That a human baby, born to the world in straw and dust
Would carry the name of salvation and the mantle of triumphant peace.
You have set our King before us, and His name is Jesus.
And all the lowly and exalted of the earth rejoice together
That a miracle was birthed for us
On a starry night foretold by prophets.
And now, through Him, You have made a way for all Your children
To fall headlong into the grace You freely supplied.
O God of our Salvation, Your love flows unabated and all-consuming.
Your love never fails and forever mends our hearts,
To swell with the fullness of joy.
His kingdom is of everlasting joy, founded on unshakeable truth.
All His ways are peace, and there is no shame in them.
All His ways are joy, and we are enriched by His promises.
He is the Rock upon which we are built; and He will not be moved.
He is mighty, and He is gentle; He is power, and He is joy!
You have set our King before us, and His name is Jesus.
I loved using this prayer on hope from Austin Stone to open up week 1 of Advent:
LORD JESUS, OUR ONLY HOPE,
We have wandered and rebelled,
and we have walked away. Forgive us, Lord!
Forgive us for a hope misplaced—
for seeking a judge,
for crying out for an earthly king,
for running to idols, golden and gleaming—
when all the while, You alone could save us.
And we praise You, Jesus, our promised Redeemer, for You came!
Yours was a humble beginning:
A poor couple traveled to Bethlehem,
only to find no room at the inn,
for the Son of Man would have no place to lay His head.
“Glory to God,” the angels cried out,
a great star shone overhead,
shepherds and kings journeyed to see You,
a swaddled newborn, lying in a manger.
Hope wrapped in flesh, You dwelt among us,
the Spirit of the Lord resting firmly upon You,
bringing wisdom and understanding,
counsel and might,
knowledge and a fear of the Lord.
You judged with righteousness,
offered us forgiveness,
and stood in our place when the wrath of God poured down.
You died and rose again,
Son of the Most High,
and You are returning to reign.
So we hope once more, crying out to you, our Savior: Jesus, come quickly!
Defeater of Death, Victorious King,
seated at the right hand of God,
You plead and pray for your people,
who are no longer separated from the Father,
for You, Jesus, are the way!
making right every wrong,
wiping away every tear,
and healing every wound.
Return again, Precious Savior and Righteous King,
not through the womb of a virgin,
but on a white horse, sword in hand,
this time not as a babe,
but as our Conquering King.
Keep our hope secure in You until the end of our days, Lord.
And in this season when the things of this world can blur our vision and steal true joy,
stir in us an undeniable anticipation.
As we celebrate that You came,
cause us to cry out for Your coming.
Oh, that we may have our request and that You would fulfill our hope.
In Jesus’ precious and holy name,
I love this song by Michael W. Smith…this version sung with the amazing Carrie Underwood…
The magician grabs the hat and challenges Santa: And just what are YOU going to do about it? Here’s the rest of the conversation:
Santa: If you so much as lay a finger on the brim, I’ll never bring you another Christmas present as long as you live.
Magician: No more trick cards or magic balls or…
Santa: No more anything.
Magician: Oh, that’s not fair. I mean, we evil magicians have to make a living too.
Santa: Now you go home and write “I am very sorry for what I did to Frosty” a hundred zillion times. And then maybe, just maybe, mind you…you’ll find something in your stocking tomorrow morning.
Magician: A new hat maybe? Oh, yes sir. Goodbye everyone. I’ve got to get busy writing busy busy busy.
Now, why do I rehearse these details? Well, they simply show that Jesus is better.
1) He’s better than Santa. You see, when Jesus came as the Savior of the world, He didn’t come calling people to work up a fake sorry and contrition so they can receive good things from Him. They don’t have to write out anything a hundred zillion times. They don’t even have to say they are very sorry for wronging another person with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, they’ll earn Jesus’ good favor. Jesus simply gives it in spite of what we deserve or have done. We’re called to give up all hope of rescue in ourselves and to lean on Him only. Jesus forgives freely. We don’t put down a down payment on these things.
2) He’s better than Frosty. After all, Frosty is frozen at this point. He’s not able to do anything to effect change. Jesus is better than that because He went into the greenhouse (to use Frostyspeak) for us. He bore all the punishment and evil that we could possibly receive from sinful people so that we might be saved not just in part but on the whole. He’s a perfectly sympathetic High Priest.
3) And, of course, the salvation Jesus brings is better than what we see here. There’s so much contingent not on grace and mercy, but on penance and contrition. After all, is this even believable. Who could possibly be sorry enough to earn a gift from Santa. Jesus, on the other hand, says to any who are burdened with such things to give up. Come to Him, all who are weary and heavy laden and He will give you rest. His salvation is sweeter, deeper, and richer.
This holiday season, then, you have good news. A Savior has been born for you. You can freely rest in Him and know a love like you’ve never known. Jesus is better than these expressions. Look to Him.
My 12/20/15AM sermon, Christmas in 1 John, looked at various texts in 1 John. Many times we can get stuck at Christmas studying the Bible just looking at the familiar stories of the Gospels (Matthew 1 and Luke 1-2). In recent years, I’ve tried to tease out this theme in the various books of the Bible we’re studying and this was the case yesterday. Christmas in 1 John could be summarized as the Father sent the Son, the Son came in the flesh, and through Him we get life. I hope it helps you.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Rest today in this truth that God loved you and acted, by giving His Son so that you could have eternal life. Believe in Him and receive the gift of eternal life this holiday season.