SONGS OF GREAT JOY FOR ALL PEOPLE (PART 1)
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Singing and music play a massive part in Christmas. Too often our music completely misses the point of Christmas; we sing things like,
"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart But the very next day you gave it away This year, to save me from tears I'll give it to someone special"
Well, 'this year' let's follow George Michael's advice and give our hearts to the only one who is the light of the world - to Jesus.
This devotional is inspired by 3 songs, from the gospel of Luke about the birth of Jesus: the song of Mary, of Zechariah and the song of the angels. The angel told the shepherds,
"I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."
Knowing Jesus should fill us with new joy and and new songs. Music was invented by God for our enjoyment and as a vehicle of enjoying Him. This Christmas may we, like Mary, like Zechariah, like the angels be able to say,
"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." (Psalm 40:3)
MONDAY: REJOICE YOU WHO ARE HIGHLY FAVOURED
Think of your favourite love song. What is it about these songs that are so captivating? I think it’s because we all want to be loved, to be precious to someone, to be ‘highly favoured’.
Luke 1:26-28 ‘In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
God took the initiative toward Mary. God ’sent an angel’, God chose to ‘highly favour' her. There has surely never been a greater calling than to become the mother of God! But, let’s not think that Mary was chosen because she was in some way sinless or better than you or I. The angel says that she is ‘highly favoured’; this translates the Greek word charitoó which can be read, ‘to give favour freely’. God is not coming to Mary because her good life has earned something from Him. No! Like you and I, she was a sinner who has received God’s grace - His unmerited favour.
How do you know if’ you are highly favoured’ by God? If you’ve received the gift of Jesus - believed on Him as your Saviour - you have received God’s grace. The account continues,
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!” (Luke 1:45).
Like Mary, the blessing of God comes to us by believing Him - faith. If you have faith in Jesus - that He is God, come into the word, died on the cross for sin, rose again in victory - if you believe, you are ‘highly favoured’. The angels words can be translated,
“Rejoice you are highly favoured”
Let’s take a moment to do just that.
Here's a song you might enjoy.
TUESDAY – MY SOUL REJOICES
Growing up the Christmas number one always featured strongly in my experience of Christmas. However, most popular Christmas music completely misses the point of Christmas. For example, Last year’s Christmas Number (2018) one was….wait for it….’We built this city on sausage rolls’ by Ladbaby! In fact you have to go back to 1990 for a song that has anything to do with the true meaning of Christmas: Saviour’s Day by Cliff Richard; and, before that to 1978 for ‘Mary’s boy child’ by Bony M - now that’s a song! It seems that many people are reluctant to sing about Christmas at Christmas!
Music and poetry are powerful tools for remembering and enjoying the message of Christmas. Mary, after the visit of the angel Gabriel who made the extraordinary promise that she would give birth to Jesus, sang a song. Today we will look at the first phrase,
'And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…” (Luke 1:46-47)
The soul (often called the spirit or heart) is about worshipping God from the inside out. Mary’s words are the overflow of joy within her. This in no outward show - this is authentic gratitude. How can we glorify God from our soul?
This text teaches us a process:
We hear God’s promise to us (1:28-37)
We believe God’s promise (1:38, 45)
We praise God, often in song, for His promise, with particular emphasis on how he has shown us mercy in Jesus - the gospel (1:46-47)
We experience joy (Ephesians 5:19-20)
When was the last time that you could say, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…” How is your experience when you meet with other Christians? How are your personal devotions? We will not be sustained if we are not experiencing soul refreshing and soul joy! George Mueller wrote,
‘I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord…but how I might get my soul happy in the Lord … the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for his soul… How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials and the temptations of the day come upon one.’
WEDNESDAY – WHAT I HAVE I GIVE HIM
What is your favourite Christmas carol? Mine, probably, is ‘in the bleak mid winter’. It’s tune (both of them) is beautiful and the words are wonderfully stirring. I know I know, one could question the idea of “snow had fallen…frosty wind…water like a stone…” Seeing as the original nativity probably took place in spring, these weather conditions were highly unlikely! (Although is does snow periodically in Bethlehem!)
I Particularly like the line,
“What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a Shepherd I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man I would do my part, Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart.”
Whatever we may think, we are all poor. None of us has anything to give that God needs! All we can do is to lovingly respond to His love and initiative. This theme resonates so well with Mary’s song,
Luke 1:46-50 “My soul (or heart) glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”
Do we say, like Mary that “God is my Saviour” as we marvel at His grace? Do we sing about how He has been “mindful of the humble state of his servant”? Do we call ourselves “blessed” through the gift of love, righteousness and eternal life that are ours through Jesus? Do we exclaim, “The mighty one has done great things for me”? I could go on!
Joel Green wrote,
‘Mary’s Song is not a revolutionary call to human action but a celebration of God’s action.’
Like Mary, are you celebrating what Jesus has done for you? The story of Christmas demands heart response. God has given us life and hope through Jesus, and our response is to give our hearts and lives to Him.
THURSDAY – ARE YOU INVITED TO CHRISTMAS DINNER?
What is your favourite Christmas food? A highlight at Christmas is the feast that many of us get to enjoy with a clear conscience because its Christmas! And, therefore, everyone knows that no food is bad for you during Christmas! Mary’s song speaks of another feast that can be ours if we understand and receive the true gift of Christmas - Jesus. She sang,
Luke 1:51-53 "He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."
Firstly, I want to point out that there are those who are not invited to Christmas dinner. These are those who are “proud in their inmost thoughts.” Yes, there is a ’naughty list’ but it’s not for bad people, it’s for bad people who are too proud to admit that they need the Saviour.
Conversely, those who are invited to the feast - the feast of knowing God - are the humble; Mary sings “but (God) has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. The humble are those, like Mary, who will believe what God says. For Mary this was believing that she would be the Mother of God through whom salvation would come to the world; for us, this means believing in and receiving Jesus as King and Saviour.
700 years before the birth of Jesus Isaiah prophesied,
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)
You are invited to Christmas dinner! You are invited to feast on the riches of Jesus. The door's not locked, you can come in…but only if you are ‘hungry and humble’ - only if you know that you need forgiveness, need God, need help. Only those who ‘have no money’ are invited to Christmas dinner!
FRIDAY – THE PROMISE
Christmas for some is a time of great pain. It can be a time of loneliness and regret. It’s a time of remembering where we’ve been let down or where we have let others down. Broken promises can be a huge theme for some at Christmas.
However, through Jesus, we can all come to know a God who keeps His promises and who will help us all find forgiveness and healing from past mistakes. Mary Sang,
Luke 1:54-55 “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary is praising God for keeping His promises to His people. At a time when Israel was under the rule of the Romans. When the voice of the prophets had gone silent; 'in the bleak mid-winter’ as we sing, God has broken in! He has not forgotten His people or His promises. God had promised Abraham,
“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:17-18)
How are all the nations ‘blessed’? Through the forgiveness and new-birth that are available through those who will receive Jesus. Paul puts it like this,
‘So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ (Galatians 3:26-29)
If ‘you belong to Christ…you are an heir according to the promise’. You may not be a Jew, but in Jesus, the promise of God’s blessing is yours - you are ‘all children of God through faith’. To edit Mary’s song, in application to you, “He will help you and all His church, His mercy is ours forever, just as he has promised.”
Maybe you feel feel like those in Matthew 4, who are,
“The people living in darkness…” (4:16a)
However, do move on to the next section, which rings out,
“…have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (4:16b)