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The Carols of Advent 12/18/13

I love the music of this season.  I love the words of hope, of longing, of promise.  And so this morning I want to share some of those words with you.  Sing them to yourself, in the shower, as you drink that morning cup of coffee, at your desk, under your breath or right out loud!  Read these words again, slowly, and don’t miss the incredible beauty, the sometime agonizing heart-cry, and of course the majesty of Messiah!  Some of the information included with the songs comes from the devotional book “Amazing Grace:  366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions” by Kenneth W. Osbeck.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry W. Longfellow, “And he will be their peace.” Micah 5:5 – Longfellow wrote this poem in the midst of the Civil War.  The cruel miseries caused by the Civil War greatly distressed the beloved American poet.  Since he was the most influential American poet of his day, Longfellow brought fresh courage and renewed faith to many of his countrymen who read this poem.  We usually hear only 5 of the verses but I have included the 2 that specifically deal with the Civil War.  The plain, direct wording of the present five stanzas (1-3, then 6 and 7 below) gives this clear message:  God is still in command and in His own time will cause the right to triumph and will bring peace and good will once more.  Notice the despair, but ultimately notice the triumph of this amazing Advent song!

I heard the bells on Christmas Day their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom had rolled along the unbroken song of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day, a voice, a chime, a chant sublime of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth the cannon thundered in the South, and with the sound the carols drowned of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent the hearth-stones of a continent, and made forlorn the households born of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:  “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus by Charles Wesley, “I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations will come . . .”Haggai 2:7 – Anticipation is a necessary and important part of every believer’s life.  In Old Testament times the people anxiously awaited a Messianic Kingdom.  Today we should be waiting with the same urgent expectancy as did the Israelites of old.  But our anticipation is the Lord’s second advent—the piercing of the clouds and the sound of the shofar—when victory over sin and death will be complete and final!

Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free.  From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.  Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art – Dear Desire of ev’ry nation, Joy of ev’ry longing heart!
Born Thy people to deliver, born a Child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.  By Thine own eternal Spirit, rule in all our hearts alone.  By Thine all sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Latin hymn from 12th century; English translation by John M. Neale, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:32-33 – This was originally sung as a series of antiphons—short musical statements that are sung.  Each of these antiphons greets the anticipated Messiah with one of the titles ascribed Him throughout the Old Testament:  Wisdom, Emmanuel, the Lord of Might, the Rod of Jesse, Day Spring, and the Key of David!

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height, in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe.
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell Thy people save and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here; *O drive away the shades of night and pierce the clouds and bring us light.  (*Original words – modern, “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.)
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh.  To us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in her ways to go.
O come, Desire of nations; bind all peoples in one heart and mind.  Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
O come, Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home where all Thy saints with Thee shall dwell—O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Refrain:  Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Joy to the World by Isaac Watts, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10 – This was originally written as a song of rejoicing for Jehovah’s protection of His chosen people and the anticipation of the time when He would be the God of the whole earth.  This psalm was intended by Watts to be a New Testament expression of praise.  Notice that there is no reference to shepherds, angelic choruses, and wise men.  It is a paraphrase of the last part of Psalm 98:  “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the LORD the King.  Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.  He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.”  This text was originally entitled, “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”  It is truly an Advent song!

Joy to the world! the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King; let ev’ry heart prepare Him room, and heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the earth the Savior reigns.  Let men their songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne by Emily E.S. Elliott, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 – This spiritually enriching text differs from the usual Christmas songs since it focuses not only on Jesus’ birth but also on His life on earth, His suffering and death, and the ultimate triumph of His second advent.  Emily Elliot wrote this song to teach children the truths of the nativity and advent seasons.  The clear message of each verse is accentuated by the use of contrasting sentences, each beginning with the word “but.”  Then in the fifth stanza, the contrast is reversed with the rejoicing of Christ’s return and the prospects of being at His side throughout eternity.

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown when Thou camest to earth for me; but in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room for Thy holy nativity.
Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang, proclaiming Thy royal degree; but of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth, and in great humility.
The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest in the shade of the forest trees; but Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God, in the deserts of Galilee.
Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word that should set Thy people free; but with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn they bore Thee to Calvary.
When the heav’ns shall ring and the angels sing at Thy coming to victory, let Thy voice call me home, saying, ”Yet there is room—there is room at My side for thee!”  My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, when thou comest and callest for me!
Refrain:  O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—there is room in my heart for Thee!

I hope the words to these songs brighten your day and especially this Advent season.  Merry Christmas!


Upcoming Activities


Today, Wednesday December 18 – Regular Wednesday evening activities beginning with dinner at 5:00!

Sunday December 22 – We celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent with the idea, “Be Amazed!”  We invite you to come and be amazed at all that God has done and is doing along with us.  We have breakfast together in the first service which begins at 8:45 a.m. in the gym.  Our second service is at 10:30 in the sanctuary and then our third service, our Hispanic service, is at 4:00 p.m. in the gym.

The Church office will be closed December 24 and 25 and December 31 and January 1.  Our “Wednesday” email will come out on Thursday December 26 and January 2. 

We will have a list of Christmas Eve services available in our area printed in our bulletin this Sunday, December 22nd for any who would like to attend a Christmas Eve service.

And a VERY SPECIAL EVENT:  On Wednesday evening January 8, Jerry Nelson, accomplished pianist and incredible musician, will be giving a concert/worship music service here at Angus Church.  The concert will be at 7:00 p.m. in our sanctuary and we want to invite everyone to be a part of this very special evening. 

Many of you know Anthony Bejar, a recent addition to our church family.  Anthony is going to be looking for a place to rent, 1-2 bedroom in the neighborhood of $1200 a month and would prefer near the church if possible – if you know of any leads please email them to the church email account  anguschurch@valornet.com


Blessed to Bless December 11

Paul writes some very simply words in his second letter to the church at Corinth in the 9th chapter and the 15th verse.  The words are, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”  Like I said, they are simple words, but there is some incredible passion in the tone of what he is writing.

First, look at the context of what he has written.  He begins that 9th chapter by bragging on the church here.  They are eager to help him out.  They have been faithful supporters and they have loved him and it hasn’t been under any compulsion at all but it seems to have come from pure, loving hearts. 

He then points them in a slightly different direction; he doesn’t completely turn all the way around, he just kind of moves off in a little bit of a different direction and talks to them about the principle of sowing and reaping.  Now these people would have understood farming; they would have known the truth of planting crops, or sowing, and then the harvesting of those crops, or reaping.  But he isn’t specifically talking about wheat or corn or barley, he is talking about an attitude of the heart:  “God loves a cheerful giver” . . . “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” . . . “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves men will praise God.”  He tells them that those they have helped will no doubt pray for them and that “their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.”  Now after all of that has been said he then says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

So he’s been talking about their love and generosity to him, their love and generosity to God and others and then he thanks God for God’s indescribable gift . . . so what is that gift?  I believe the gift is the church, the Corinthian people who have been so generous and loving.

If Paul were writing about the Angus church, what would he say about us?  This isn’t a request letter (or email).  This isn’t a letter (or email) of reproof or chastisement . . . this morning I am asking myself this question and I’m asking us this question because of the season that we are in:  Advent.  We’ve been talking about the fact that Advent speaks to us about preparation, getting ready for the return of Christ.  He has promised that He will come back and we know that it is so, (and I believe it could be soon) but what are we supposed to do in the meantime?  Are we simply to pack our bags, put on our coats and sit on the platform waiting for the train to come into the station?  Are we supposed to put our affairs in order, winterize the house, stop the mail and rock in the rocking chair until the cab arrives to take us to our destination?  You know me well enough to know that I’m going to say “No, that is NOT what we are supposed to do.”  So what are we supposed to be doing to prepare for His coming?

Well, go back and look at what the church at Corinth was doing and you’ll get a clue.  Last Sunday I told you that many of the writers in the NT and many of the individuals in the NT didn’t really separate Messiah’s first coming from His second.  In fact, John the Baptist thought they were probably combined (but that is for this Sunday and we’ll get more into that then.)  These men and women felt like the second coming of Christ, Messiah, was imminent and could happen  at any time.  So these people were living on an expectation that Christ would be back in their lifetime.  (Sound familiar?)  But look at how they prepared for that:  They went about their business as normal, just like every other day!

These particular people were doing their best to support Paul, their father in the gospel, and love and help the people around them.  They were being generous with what they had.  They saw that God had given them what they had so that they could help others.  I believe this is the key.  I believe this is imperative.  I believe this is what we should be doing.

It would be easy to feel like we’ve done our part so now it is our time to sit back and relax, take it easy, rest on our past accomplishments.  But I think that is the wrong way to think.  I’m NOT saying that you ought to be taking on more work, getting involved in more tasks, spending all of your time in work and activity; I am NOT saying that.  But what I am saying is that we need to get out of the mindset that we have done our part and now it’s time for someone else to step up so we can sit down.  I DON’T believe that either.  I think that as long as there is breath in our bodies, God has something for us to do.  God has blessed you with so many different gifts and I don’t think you should stop using them because you think His coming is close or for any other reason.  I believe that God has gifted us and blessed us so that we might bless others.  Paul said that God will make us “rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”  In this context, when we bless others, God will receive the glory and the thanks.  Thus, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

I believe that you are God’s “indescribable gift!”  I believe that God wants to use you and me.  I believe that this season of Advent, of preparation, is a reminder to us that we aren’t here “preparing to leave,” we are here preparing to be everything that God has called us to be, every day, in every way. 

I asked you earlier what you believe Paul would write about you, about Angus Church – well I believe he would thank God for you, God’s “indescribable gift!”  You are such wonderful and generous people and I love being associated with you.  I love being able to walk with you and I love being your pastor.  Thank you.  And let me encourage you, let’s not stop . . . in fact, let’s look for more opportunities to be generous in every way!  “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift of Angus Church!”

I love you


Upcoming Activities


Today, Wednesday December 11 – Dinner begins here at 5 and activities will follow – we’d love to see you here!

Friday December 13 – We will have a memorial service for Carmen Johnston here at the church at 11:00 a.m. Friday morning.  Our ladies will provide a dinner immediately following the service.  A special memorial fund has been set up through Angus Church to help her sons with final expenses.  If you can help and be generous it will help these two young men face this devastating loss of their mother and God will be glorified.

Sunday December 15 – Sunday morning we will be looking at John the Baptist again, but now it is at a time in his life when he had doubts and concerns . . . and the subject is “Be Blessed!”  When we receive the blessing that God has for us it means that we receive His grace and we live under His care.  That doesn’t mean everything goes according to our plan, but it does mean that God has us and our situations in His hands.  We hope you’ll join us for worship on Sunday at 8:45 in the gym, 10:30 in the Sanctuary or 4:00 in the Sanctuary for our Hispanic Service on Sunday!

Happy Thanksgiving 11/26/13

I wanted to get my “Wednesday” email out a day early this week.  Of course we will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday – for some it will be a very traditional celebration – for others it will be just another day – for some perhaps it will be something brand new – but for all of us I pray that it will be a day when we will stop and truly take a moment to give thanks.

As most of you know last week Sue and I had the privilege of being with our kids.  Because we knew that we wouldn’t be together for Thanksgiving we had our “traditional” Thanksgiving meal last Saturday.  Our daughter Shannon took charge of the entire meal and didn’t let Sue do any of it.  The turkey and dressing were incredible – the brussel sprouts were different (I am not a big brussel sprouts fan, but these weren’t bad, just different) the potatoes and gravy were delicious and dessert was mouthwatering.  But the best part wasn’t a meal, although it was amazing, the best part was being with our kids and some new friends, getting to spend a week with our grandson and children, and being with the love of my life.  (This Friday we will celebrate 33 years of marriage and it was BY FAR the best decision I have ever made.)

I love Thanksgiving; and it isn’t because of the meal; it isn’t even because of family; it is because it is a reminder to me that I need to be more purposeful about being thankful.  I had lunch with one of my good pastor friends on Monday and he told me about a book he was reading, 1000 Gifts, written by a woman who was challenged to write down 1000 things that she was thankful for.  He has taken that challenge and he was telling me that his daughter, still at home, had taken it as well because of his talking about it with his congregation and already her list was longer than his.  All of it was just another reminder to me that it isn’t about a day, but it is about an attitude.

I love to read after Charles Swindoll and in two of his books that I have he tells a story of a Thanksgiving that he remembers as a child.  Let me share a little of it with you.

“I will never forget that Thanksgiving.

“I will never forget standing erect in my classroom, my hand over my heart, as I repeated the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag.

“Our nation was at war and times were hard.

“My teacher had lost her husband on the bloodwashed shores of Normandy.  After we had saluted the flag, we bowed our heads for prayer.  As we did, she began to weep.  I did too.  All the class joined in.  Then she stumbled through one of the most moving expressions of gratitude and praise that I have ever heard emerge from a soul plunged in pain.

“At that moment in my young life I fell in love with Thanksgiving.

“Lost in sympathy and a boy’s pity for his teacher, I walked home very slowly that afternoon.  Although only a child, I had profound feelings of gratitude for my country . . . my friends . . . my school . . . my church . . . my family.”

I too find that I have some profound feelings of gratitude this morning and I too have fallen in love with Thanksgiving.

I am extremely grateful for my country.  It isn’t perfect and there are things that I wish were different, but I live in a country where I am free to worship God as I choose to worship Him and for that I am extremely grateful.  I am grateful for all of the men and women who have served our country to protect that freedom.  My dad is a WWII veteran, my father-in-law was a Korean War veteran, my brother served in the US Coast Guard and I have had numerous aunts, uncles and other family members who have served our nation through the armed forces.  “Thank you” seems so woefully inadequate but today it is what I want to express.  I am grateful.

I am extremely grateful for my family.  I have a wife who loves me and has stood with me for 33 years.  I have two incredible children, a beautiful daughter-in-law and a grandson who brings joy like I’ve never known into my life.  My family loves me.  I am truly a blessed man.

I am extremely grateful for the people that I have known over the years who have allowed me to be their pastor.  These are some of the most amazing people in the world.  In spite of my shortcomings, hundreds of people have loved me, put up with those shortcomings and called me pastor.  Many of you are among that group of people and I want you to know that I am so grateful to you for allowing me this privilege.  I am reminded today that I am a very blessed man because of all of you. 

I am extremely grateful for my friends.  Wow, I have been thinking about so many of you and so many others over the years who have called and still call me friend.  Some have been and are friendships that aren’t necessarily close or frequent, others are much more so and a few, many more than I deserve, are very close friendships.  But all of them, all of you, have added to my life.  I am a richer more blessed man because of each and every one of you!  Thank you.

I am extremely grateful for grace.  That God would love me, UNCONDITIONALLY, is beyond my being able to fathom.  I don’t deserve it; I can’t earn it; I have let Him down and messed up, but His love has never, never, never, never, never stopped.  I am blessed beyond words.

I stopped and looked back at what I’d written and I used the phrase unintentionally at first and of course intentionally after I re-read it, “I am extremely grateful . . .”  I am not trying to be overly emotional or trying to use hyperbole – I mean each word. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this each and every week.  Thank you for being a part of my life.  Thank you for walking this journey with me.  Thank you!  I am THE most blessed man that I know because of God and because of you.

I love you


Upcoming Activities


We will NOT have our Wednesday evening activities this week, November 27th here at Angus Church.  We encourage you to spend time with your family and friends.

Thursday November 28 – HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Sunday December 1 – We being our Advent Celebration on Sunday morning.  We have a number of small groups that will be meeting purposefully through the first three weeks of Advent.  If you aren’t a part of a small group yet there is still time.  This Sunday morning in both worship services and in our Hispanic Service that afternoon we will give anyone the opportunity join in!

We want to URGE everyone to get one of the devotional books that will go right along with our Advent Celebration.  The devotional thoughts have been written by many of you and as I’ve read a few of them I have laughed, smiled and been touched by the thoughts that you have put on paper.  I think these devotional books will be the BEST part of our Advent Celebration.  If you don’t live here but would like to have one, please let Shelly know by emailing her at anguchurch@valornet.com and she will email it to you.