A devotional I have been reading this year for Advent includes the O antiphons, the prayers of the Christian church, which they prayed during the Advent season for centuries. Traditionally, they were sung each night from December 17 through December 23 in preparation for Christmas: O Sapientia [O Wisdom], O Adonai [O Lord], O Radix Jesse [O Root of Jesse], O Clavis David [O Key of David], O Oriens [O Dayspring], O Rex Gentium [O King of the Nations], and O Emmanuel. A fuller explanation and translations can be found here.
One of my favorite hymns during this season is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. With it’s haunting melody and beautiful words, it rings with the longing and expectation of the world for the coming of the Savior. Each year I sing it, thrilling that Jesus has come, that He did not leave us in our sin and misery but came to save us from ourselves and our rebellion against Himself. I rejoice that He will come a second time in glory and majesty. The hymn comes from those antiphons. Each one tells us something about Christ and then says “come”.
Centuries before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. 2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. 3 The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. – Isaiah 60:1-3
His prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, who said in John 8:12: I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.
O Light of the World, You whose glory shines brighter than the sun, come. Lord Jesus, come to us in the darkness of sin, in the darkness of the long December nights, in the darkness of our selfishness and loneliness and bitterness. Come and heal us. Come and make us like You. Come and make us shine as lights in the darkness around us. Come…
May your Christmas be full of the One who came to save us and may your New Year be full of His mercy, grace, and peace. .
A few months ago, I received a call from one of my children. He was sitting in a parking lot an hour away from school with a smoking vehicle. The car was dead.
Usually, this particular young man is more than capable. However, this situation was beyond his experience, and he was unsure about what to do next. After discussing the situation, we agreed that the only thing to do was to call a tow truck. I had to leave for a meeting with my pastor and said I would call him later to decide the next step.
As I drove to my meeting, I worried and prayed. I told the Lord how J needed a car to work this last year in school. I told Him that he had food to buy and school bills to pay. Without that car, J couldn’t get to work. What if he would be forced to drop out of school a semester before graduation? None of us had the money to buy him even a junker car to last until May. What were we going to do?
At my meeting, I shared my anxiety. My pastor prayed with me for my son and his situation. As I was leaving, he said, “This is an opportunity to trust, to trust that God will provide for J’s needs.”
An opportunity to trust. How often do we see difficult or perplexing circumstances as opportunities to worry and to fuss and to run around, crying and complaining instead of seeing them as opportunities to trust God? We can have faith that our loving Heavenly Father, who created the world, who owns all things, and knows our needs before we are even aware of them, has every new circumstance in control. He wasn’t caught by surprise when J’s car broke down. He wasn’t wringing His hands in heaven because of the school bills or food needs or lack of transportation.
No, God had all of this in His sovereign control. He knew the exact minute that car would die, and He allowed it to happen for His own glory and J’s good. The Lord already had the provision ready to meet J’s need before the circumstance occurred. He wants His children to depend on Him just as the sparrows depend on him for food and the lilies of the field depend on Him for clothing. He wants us to depend on Him for our daily bread and for our every need.
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [Matthew 6:31-32]
Give us this day our daily bread. [Matthew 6:11]
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? [Romans 8:31-32]
In our proud independence, we think that we need to take care of our own needs, to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, instead of relying on God’s gracious, abundant provision. Scripture says that the Lord doesn’t let the children of the righteous beg for bread I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. [Psalm 37:25].
Here I was anxiously seeking provision for my son when God has promised to take of J. In myself, I am not righteous, but because of Christ, God the Father regards me as righteous so I can trust Him to not allow my children to be in need, physically or spiritually.
How many times over the years have I seen His provision! Over and over again I have been in need, sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally, often spiritually. Yet, I have never been abandoned by our God. He has always supplied my every need in His perfect time and usually gave me more than I asked for. His generosity never fails. Sometimes His timing wasn’t what I thought it should be, but it was always exactly right for the situation.
There is a hymn that I would sing with my children when they were small. The words even now remind me of the Lord’s provision when my faith is weak:
Children of the heav?nly Father Safely in His bosom gather Nestling bird nor star in Heaven Such a refuge e?er was given
God, His own doth tend and nourish In His holy courts they flourish From all evil things He spares them In His mighty arms He bears them
Neither life nor death shall ever From the Lord, His children sever Unto them His grace He showeth And their sorrows all He knoweth
Though He giveth or He taketh God His children ne?er forsaketh His, the loving purpose solely To preserve them, pure and holy
Lo, their very hairs He numbers And no daily care encumbers Them that share His ev?ry blessing And His help in woes distressing
Praise the Lord in joyful numbers Your Protector never slumbers At the will of your Defender Ev?ry foeman must surrender
Children of the heav?nly Father Safely in His bosom gather Nestling bird nor star in Heaven Such a refuge e?er was given –Caroline V. Sandell-Berg
Christian friend, are you in need today? Is there a circumstance in your life where you are poor and needy. Go to your Heavenly Father. Take this opportunity to trust Him. He loves you with an everlasting love, and He always gives good gifts to His children.
For my readers who don’t yet have the Lord as your Heavenly Father, are you in need today? He is willing to meet your needs—spiritually in Christ first and also physically and emotionally and in every other way. Go to the Lord, ask Him to save your soul and to provide for your needs. You can list those needs, but He already knows exactly what you are lacking in your life. Take this opportunity to trust that Jesus died for you, that He rose again from the dead to save you, and that He will lead you for the rest of your life.
As for J’s need, a friend had a van that he is not using. He graciously loaned it to J for the remainder of the school year until J graduates and can buy a new car.
God provided quickly and abundantly. He will provide for you, too. The next time a need arises, remember my pastor’s words: “It is an opportunity to trust.”
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever. — Martin Luther
Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.
It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? Does this test not give the clue? Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way. Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.*–excerpts from “Focussed” by I. Lilias Trotter
Distractions abound these days, even more so than in Lilias Trotter’s time–home, school, family, friends, work, church functions and ministries, books, magazines, and newspapers, music, movies, and television, phones, tablets, and computers, and so forth.
How hard it is in this busy world with all of its noise and news and amusements to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus, to be still and know that He is God, to quiet your heart and mind so that you might hear His voice.
A favorite hymn from my childhood, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, was written when the author, Helen H. Lemmel, read this pamphlet by Lilias Trotter. The chorus of this hymn is a reminder of how we can learn to focus on the eternal things:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
I pray that you would turn your eyes upon Jesus today and that, as you gaze upon Him and His grace and glory, you would choose the best things, not merely the good.
One of the ways I have learned to feel the contentment I talked about the other day is to count my blessings. No matter how difficult my circumstances have been, I can usually find at least one thing that warms my day. I call them simple pleasures, and if you begin to look for them, you will find that your life is full of them. You only need to develop the habit of noticing.
I would also sing the hymn Count Your Blessings as a way to remind myself to be thankful and content:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
—Johnson Oatman, Jr.
Today’s blessings are a cup of pistachio almond tea, a batch of homemade applesauce, loaves of oatmeal bread rising in the oven, a new Charles Todd mystery to read, and a rainy Saturday afternoon in which to enjoy them.
What are your simple pleasures and blessings today?
I was thinking about my grandmother tonight as I was driving through town. An old hymn came to mind and while I was singing it softly to myself, I remembered that it was a favorite of hers. Her name was Gladys but everyone called her “Glad.” I think that she was the happiest, most cheerful person I’ve ever known. We had a joke in our family that when someone exclaimed that they were glad about something, the answer was always, “You’re not glad, Grandma’s “Glad.” The name fit her so well that no one else could claim it.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that while part of her cheeriness was personality, a lot of her “gladness” was due to her love for Jesus and what He had done for her. She used to sit at her piano and play and sing hymns, she always talked about how much she loved the Lord, and I believe that He put that gladness in her heart as a result of her great faith and trust in Him. She was only about five feet tall but while her physical stature was small, her faith was enormous.
It wasn’t until tonight that I paused to wonder if my parents named me “Joy” in part because of Grandma. I was a bubbly, cheerful child who loved to laugh and play music and sing, like Grandma. My parents could not have known my personality before I was born and just like Grandma, part of my cheerfulness was due to personality, but I, too, have a depth of joy and gladness that comes not just from my personality but from my relationship with my Lord. His goodness and mercy and love towards me fill my heart to overflowing with gladness. I inherited more than my love of music, recipes for “Grandpa cookies” and authentic New England clam chowder, memories of climbing roses, johnny jump-ups and a hillside of sweet-peas, knowledge of basic crochet stitches, and a pin with photos of my father and grandfather; my heritage is a rich one of generations of people who know the deep, abiding joy that comes with knowing Christ.
So, as I sang the old hymn, I remembered Grandma and how she loved this hymn and it reminded me of how much the Lord has given me, not only from my grandmothers and grandfathers, father and mother, and other family members but perfect peace and rest and trust in Him.
Like a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth, fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth, deeper all the way.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully all for us to do.
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.
I have lost count of the number of times my pastor has said those words from the pulpit. Over and over again, he reminds of us our Good Shepherd who loves and cares for us every day, who chastens us to create in us the peaceable fruit of righteousness, and who never leaves nor forsakes us. What a comfort to know that no matter what the trials we may face, they will only bring about good in our lives because our loving Heavenly Father has us in His hand and because all of His wrath has already been poured out on Christ so that only love and care is left for us. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
For those of us in pain, in difficulties, in confusion, in fear, as well as for those of us who seemingly have it all together, here is the hymn we sang this morning: