• Matt Beaney

SONGS OF GREAT JOY FOR ALL PEOPLE (PART 2)

Updated: Dec 25, 2019


INTRODUCTION

This is the second part of our Christmas devotional.

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)


Our devotionals on Monday through Wednesday are based on Zechariah's song of Luke 1:67-69. It contains the words,

Luke 1:78-79 "because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven  to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

It's these words that make the metaphor of the coming of the sun after a long winter so apt for the coming of Jesus.



MONDAY - A NEW SONG INSPIRED BY THE SPIRIT

At Christmas too often our songs are inspired by the ‘spirit’ of alcohol. Over-drinking at Christmas is a common occurrence leading to all sorts of silly and dangerous behaviour. The bible shows the parallel effects - one bad and the other good - of alcohol and the Spirit of God,

‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,  speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Ephesians 518-20).

The joy that we are looking for in alcohol is found in being filled with the Holy Spirit, and we see this is this account of Zechariah.

Up to this point in the story, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had been unable to speak for around 9 months. Now, however, he breaks forth in praise to God.

Luke 1:67 ‘His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…’

When the Holy Spirit fills someone, what they say and sing is revolutionised. The words that we use show what our hearts and minds are full of! When the Holy Spirit fills someone, they sing about the glory of God and about salvation in particular.

On the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fell on the church for the first time, it says,

‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven…. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?…we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”’ (Acts 2:1-5,7-8, 11)

Do you see that when the Spirit comes, we will ‘declare the wonders of God’! We may call ourselves ‘Spirit-filled Christians’ or a ‘Spirit-filled church’ but, if we are not overflowing with worship, something is wrong!


RESPONSE

Maybe, like Zechariah we have been ‘on mute’ in regard to worship. Zechariah is struck silent due to his lack of faith; Gabriel said to him,

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:20)

Doubting God silences worship whilst faith turns up the volume! Christmas is a time to remember and believe the gospel afresh - how God came to earth to die for us and raise us up.

Let’s ask the Spirit to fill us and to cause us to overflow in worship. May we overflow for our own joy, the joy of our friends and family and for the good of those who don’t yet know the meaning of Christmas.


TUESDAY – THE SONG OF FULFILLED LONGING

At Christmas and the New Year we look forward and many hope for a better year ahead. We often sing the Scottish folk song Auld Lang Syne. The lyrics are,

‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne? For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne.'

This is often sung at the turning of the New Year (at Hogmanay in Scotland)  - it marks an ending and a beginning. Auld Lang Syne means ‘for the sake of old times’, the song is an encouragement to remember and celebrate old times and old friends.

Zechariah’s song is looking back and looking forward - looking back on God’s faithfulness, and looking forward to a new day of freedom that Jesus will instate.

The people of Israel are under subjugation to a foreign power. On top of this, Zechariah and Elizabeth have not been able to have children. It says,

‘Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.  But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.’ (Luke 1:6-7)

Sometimes we can do all the right things and still be in a place of distress.

However, God answers Zechariah’s prayers for himself and the nation and this overflows in worship. He sings,

Luke 1:68-75 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,  and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Zechariah praises God because He keeps His promises. God has fulfilled two promises in particular for him: His wife has been able to conceive as we read,

“Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” (Luke 1:13).

John is full of joy that after years of agonising prayer, God has given him a son. Secondly, God has kept His promise of giving the nation a great Saviour and John, his son, will play a part in introducing Him; we read that he will,

“make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17).

RESPONSE

Sometimes our prayers are slow in being answered. Sometimes it feels like we are not being heard. The wait can be painful. Today, I’m not promising you that God will do all that you ask in prayer, but He always hears you. Keep asking until you feel the burden lifted or He answers you. Don’t give up! Keep asking, seeking and knocking. And, when He does answer you, remember to sing songs of praise; “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne? No! let’s remember the ‘old times’ of God’s work and look forward with hope for His new work.


WEDNESDAY –  HERE COMES THE SUN

Happy Christmas!

Every year, the coming of spring is an annual reminder of God’s faithfulness and that He is at work. He works in seasons - seasons of revival and decline, but there is also the overarching progress toward Jesus’ return and the eternal ‘spring’ - the restoration of all creation - at His return.

The Song ‘in the bleak mid-winter’ has the immensely inspiring line,

“Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, Nor earth sustain, Heaven and earth shall flee away, When He comes to reign: In the bleak mid-winter, A stable-place sufficed, The Lord God Almighty — Jesus Christ.”

Do you see that ‘in the bleak mid-winter’ of our fallen age, We have the hope of the rising sun of His return? Zechariah’s song continues,

Luke 1:76-79 “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

In 1969, George Harrison of The Beatles wrote the song, Here Comes the Sun. Its simple truth is its beauty.

“Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter, Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here, Here comes the sun ... Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces, Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here”, Here comes the sun ...Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting, Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear, Here comes the sun, Here comes the sun, and I say, It's all right”

Zechariah’s song has this feel to it - with Christ, light and relief has come. He sings,

“…Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death…”

RESPONSE

The promise for us is for that, “The rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death…” Even now we have sunbursts of that future spring: salvation, His presence by the spirit, healing, miracles, the confrontation of evil with good are all the warmth of that future summer. In your heart do you sing “here comes the sun”? Are you enjoying the light of His presence and peace right now and a great hope for the future?




To finish our Christmas devotions, we will be looking at the song of the angels to the shepherds.


THURSDAY – THE SHEPHERDS HEAR THE SONG OF HEAVEN

Have you ever been surprised by an invitation? Sometimes one hears of people being invited to the Queen’s Garden Party. Those invited are nominated because of the good works that they are doing in the community. The Christmas story contains an invitation for all people: For men and women, seen in the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary and Joseph; those from all nations are invited, seen in the visit of the ‘wise men’ (magi) from the east, guided by the star; today and tomorrow, we will hear the invitation to the shepherds.

Luke 2:8-14 ‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Shepherds were among the poorest in society. Joel Green says of them, ‘They were, then, peasants, located toward the bottom of the scale of power and privilege’. However, the angels sang their invitation over them! Whilst Caesar Augustus decreed a census, heaven had its own ‘count’ - the Emperor was not included, however, the Shepherds were! Of them Mary’s song has come true, God has,

“Brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:52)

The glorious carols says,

“Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born King! Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With th' angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem." Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new-born King!”

“Joyful, all ye nations, rise” - all people can ‘rise’ through Jesus; this is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people”.


“Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” – the angels sang, “…on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” This is not a worldly peace, but peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. The angels announce, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born”. He is the only Saviour of the world! If you will willingly believe, his ‘favour rests’ on you!

As Isaiah so beautifully writes,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

RESPONSE

Take a moment to sing Hark the Herald. Let God’s invitation sink into your heart.



FRIDAY – THE SHEPHERDS LEARN THE SONG OF HEAVEN

After many Christmas parties, the joy is left far behind. Many people go home having drunk, eaten, spent and done too much! Too often, celebrations are an end in themselves - we celebrate having a party. Christian celebration, however, is about savouring the goodness of God and having our hearts enlivened by the goodness of God toward us. Celebration infuses our lives with renewed hope and joy - the songs continue well after the party is over!

The song of the angels continues,

Luke 1:15-18When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.’

After the Angels have sung over them, and after they have found Jesus, ‘they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.’

“Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born King! Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With th' angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem." Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new-born King!”

Like the angels in this account we are invited to, “Join the triumph of the skies; With th' angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem." – The angels’ song becomes our song. Anyone who hears the good news of Jesus will - ‘with th’ angelic host proclaim’ - they also become a herald of the Good News.


RESPONSE

Without any lessons in how to share their faith, the shepherds told their account. We read that, ‘all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.’ ‘Amazed’ doesn’t mean that they believed them! It could also mean that they looked at them askance and said, “So, you had a party with some angels and then you met God in a manger?!” (Not the ‘Pret’ variety!)

What we sing changes our lives and can change the lives of others. Singing is a weapon and a chisel for the transformation of the heart. Don’t give your voice away too lightly. Hear God singing his love over you this Christmas. Turn your heart and voice toward Him in songs of thanks.

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