Wednesday, December 7, 2016

O Come, O Come, Immanuel


I have arrived to what probably is my most favorite Christmas hymn.  I don’t know why, but there is something about “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” that truly speaks straight to my soul.  At first, it was its music what attracted me.  The haunting tune just gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.  Then, once I really begun to pay attention to the words…I realized how richly biblical it is.  One song compiles the story of redemption, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy and the hope of Christmas beautifully wrapped in a majestic melody...what’s not to like!?

Because of the richness of the lyrics I would like to take it slow with this hymn, and explore each stanza separately.  Today, let’s look at the first one and dig into the Scriptural treasure that it uncovers. 

Before we do that, though…I just wanted to point out something that’s puzzled me for years: is it Immanuel or Emmanuel?  Well, I found out the following:   Immanuel is the English translation of the Hebrew “עמּנוּ אל” (‛immānū’ēl) and Emmanuel is the English translation of the Greek “Ἐμμανουήλ” (Emmanouḗl) which is a translation of the Hebrew “עמּנוּ אל“.  (https://immanuelsouthern.com/2012/12/04/immanuel-or-emmanuel-which-is-correct/)
So there you have it. 

Now, back to our stanza for the day:

1 O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

The verses in this stanza take us back to Israel’s history of exile, particularly to Babylon, when Judah was carried away for its unfaithfulness (1 Chronicles 9:1).  At that time, the temple was destroyed, the sons of Israel were taken, enslaved and submitted to the conquering culture, leaving little more than distant memories of the God who rescued them from Egypt.  However, the hymn offers the great hope of the truth of the coming of the Lord.

The interesting thing is that, not so much unlike the ancient Israelites, we too are in “lonely exile here.”  Sojourners in this world until He calls us home, or comes again.  We know this is not our home.  So, when we despair, we remember the command to rejoice, always, and in every situation (1 Thessalonians 5: 16) for He “shall come” to us one day.


May the Glorious Immanuel, the ever-present God, come to us soon, very soon!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Watchman, Tell Us of the Night


I’ve always been intrigued by the shepherds.  Outcast…unclean…lonely…away…of course our Great God chose them to be the first ones to witness the arrival of His Son.  That’s how the God we love and serve is like:  delightfully unpredictable.  He’s got a knack for doing extraordinary things through ordinary people.  That’s why it should not be surprising that He decided to reveal Himself to the shepherds.  I also see another lesson here, though:  He often reveals Himself to those who are keeping watch. 

I know, Our Mighty God can command the attention of even the most distracted of us with nothing but a passing glance.  But I also know that He rewards those who intentionally focus their eyes on Him.

I don’t know much about being a shepherd.  But I imagine that shepherds out in the field must be quite alert at night to make sure predators and thieves don’t decimate the herds.  I also imagine it is not every night that they see action.  I bet most nights are quiet and uneventful, leaving them with plenty of time and not much to do…other than to watch and perhaps even meditate.  I know if I were a shepherdess in the field, I would do a lot of thinking during the lonely hours of the night.  That would probably be when I would do most of my pondering…while contemplating the vast expanse of the skies, like a black blanket where the most precious of diamonds have spilled over.  So the way I see it, this was one group God did not have to wake up to present the Good News!

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2: 8

At any rate, today I’ve found another Advent hymn, with which I am not familiar either.  However, it reminded me of my old friends, the shepherds of that blessed night, so I decided to add it to my collection.  Here’s a link: Watchman tell us of the night (warning, it is not a great quality sound) and the lyrics.  I hope you enjoy it.

1. Watchman, tell us of the night,
    What its signs of promise are.
Traveler, over yon mountain's height,
    See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
    Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes - it brings the day,
    Promised day of Israel.

2. Watchman, tell us of the night;
    Higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
    Peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
    Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
    See, it bursts over all the earth.

3. Watchman, tell us of the night,
    For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
    Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
    Hie thee to thy quiet home.1
Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace,
    Lo! the Son of God is come!

Words: Sir John Bowring, Hymns: As a Sequel to Matins, 1825
Music: "Watchman," Lowell Mason, The Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music, 10th edition, 1831

There are lots of words from the Old English in this song, but nonetheless, it is precious.  Its intricate dialogue between the watchman and the traveler seeks to discover the knowledge that the one who has seen what happened possesses.  The traveler inquiries about the events to disperse the rumors and uncover the truth.  The watchman is the key as to what happened that special night when they got to see the King … The New Born Prince of Peace.  To me, the watchman is the shepherd, the outcast…unclean…lonely and distant shepherd whose wandering can finally cease for the Lord has come and the Son of God is finally here!


I pray that in this age of waiting, I can be a watchman.  I pray I can be in that chosen group of watchmen that remains awake when the revelation reappears…the promise for every man.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding

I told you I’m not an expert in Hymns.  So don’t be alarmed when I say that I have just recently discovered something…like today.  I just listened for the first time, ever…I think…I’m pretty sure…the hymn:  “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding.”  And I loved it!  I am almost 100% sure I had never heard this hymn before because its haunting tune and fabulous lyrics would not have escaped my mind, had I heard it before. 

First of all, let me just admit that as a speaker of English as a second language, I have a hard time remembering what the word “hark” means.  So let me just refresh my own mind and begin by stating that “hark” means “listen,” or “pay attention.” I think that in order for me to remember and not forget it anymore, I shall begin every utterance that cometh out of my mouth either here at home or at work with a resounding: “HARK!”  See, that’s the other thing…I have a hard time understanding old English…which is another reason for me to not be much of a hymn buff.

At any rate, the title is so appropriate, so, let’s listen, let’s pay attention to the thrilling voice that is sounding – I really suggest you listen to it, no pun intended.  It is such a better experience than to just read the lyrics, so here’s both, a link for you to hear it, and the lyrics. The video does have the lyrics too!  Here it is:


Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say,
“Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”

Wakened by the solemn warning
Let the earthbound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all ill dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.

Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from Heav’n;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven.

That when next He comes in glory,
And the world is wrapped in fear,
With His mercy He may shield us,
And with words of love draw near.

Honor, glory, might, and blessing
Be to God: the Father, Son
And the everlasting Spirit,
While eternal ages run.

Once again…we witness here the beautiful simplicity of the tune and the profound significance of the words combined to bring us the powerful and lasting message of the paradoxical state of the Christian calling to wait for Our Lord to come again as we rejoice in His current presence. 

As I read and hear this hymn, the urgency in the word “hark” commands me to a position of attentive listening for the Lord is near.  The song tells us that it is time to abandon the ways of the world.  It’s time to turn to the Light, give up darkness and give priority to the soul.  The Lamb so long expected is coming!  He is coming in glory and might.  He is coming to right all wrongs.  But He also comes with mercy abounding and with forgiveness for those found in sorrowful repentance, under the shield of His blood.  He will shield us as we give Him all honor and glory for as long as we wait.


May the Father, the Son and the Everlasting Spirit equip us for this period of waiting so He may find us by His side on the glorious day of His return.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus


December surely is on its way.  Shoppers are out.  The air is brisk.  Holiday flicks are populating my Netflix profile. Wish-Lists are carefully and purposely popping up on my kitchen counter and night stand.  And the wonderful sounds of Christmas Carols are in the air.  So, let´s pick up where we left off yesterday.
The hymn “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” is a clear example, at least to me, of an Advent song that sings about the longing of every Christian’s heart for the return of his/her King.  We have, indeed, been waiting a long time…since His Holy birth, until now it has been two millenniums!  God’s time is not our own and His ways are not our ways, so we don’t despair.  We continue trusting.  Generation after generation, we keep the faith and hang on to the truth of His second coming…for He promised. 
In the meantime, we remain in Him as He remains in us.  He sets us free from everything that binds us and enslaves us…and we rest in Him.  He has already delivered us.  The King that came as a Babe rules in our hearts and we know that one day, one glorious day, He will bring His kingdom down for us to see, and to reign in this world, as He reigns in Heaven, forever.

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 every nation,
Joy of every 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


May this Advent be a reminder that even though we’ve have seemingly waited for a long while, He is never late.  He is always on time.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

Worship Him in Song!



I figured, what a better song to start Advent meditations than the wonderfully simple, but profoundly meaningful hymn, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Let’s take a look at it:

Hymn Lyrics

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 every nation,
Joy of every 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.

I love it! This song is concisely precise praise! I didn’t grow up listening or singing hymns, but over the years I have been able to gain deep appreciation for them. I have learned a lot about our faith through the help of hymns. Actually, that is one of the primary purposes of hymns: to teach us the principles of our faith and to present the truth about God through song. We know, instinctively, that singing helps us acquire knowledge. Think about every time you need to remember the order of the letters in the alphabet…what do you do? You start singing the alphabet, right? I mean, really…Elementary teachers have known the power of song as a learning tool forever! Teachers also know that music makes people happy. It changes the mood. It touches our emotions. We see then, music carries with it two of the most effective teaching/learning elements: the power to help people memorize concepts and the power to encourage positive moods and to bring people in touch with their emotions. What a great learning tool!

However, there is another purpose for hymns and Christian music in general: we are commanded to sing praises to the Lord!

Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. Psalm 33: 1-3

The Bible tells us to Sing to the Lord very often. Therefore, we need to remember that singing is God-ordained! We are expected to sing! I can’t sing, though…my family keeps reminding me every time I attempt to singing…but I must sing, nevertheless, because God wants me to. It’s just as simple as that. But, why does God want us to sing, I wonder? Well, singing is a way of worshiping Him.

What is worship? This is a sticky subject because of our differences in doctrines and traditions, but I read a definition of worship that I found very helpful, at least for me: “Christian worship is an expression of our affections that are evoked when we encounter the True and Living God.” (Greg Stiekes: http://religiousaffections.org/articles/hymnody/purpose-power-christian-hymnody/)

Like Jesus said to the Samaritan woman:

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4: 24

Therefore, worship happens when we know Truth and when we are in touch with the Spirit. Hymns and Biblically sound Christian music help us accomplish both: through their theologically based lyrics, we learn and encounter Truth, and through their music we cultivate the Spirit as we are touched emotionally in a way that allows us to express our affection for the God who is Spirit and Love. All that, just to say that exploring Advent through the lyrics and music of our beloved hymns and songs could be not just fun, but also a profound form of worship, and a sound way to help us be intentional about the Christmas Season.



Tomorrow we will get back to “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” since we have just run out of time today.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Slow Down



Someone’s advice to me yesterday, as I rambled about the things that stress me out was to just slow down. Those two words keep resounding in my mind…slow down…slow down…

It sounds simple, right? Putting such an advice to practice, however, is turning out to be a seemingly unsurmountable challenge for me. Call it my personality, my temperament, my tendencies, my defective sense of perspective, my maladjusted development, or a combination of all of them, but something seriously gets on the way of my efforts to relax…to slow down.

If I'm honest with myself, deep down, the core of my issues is my inability to fully trust and rely on God. I get too focused on the things of this world and believe the lie that I can fix it or handle it all by my own might.  I'm filled with pride.  Then, when I inevitably find out that I simply cannot…I freak out, but instead of letting go, I redouble my fruitless efforts, which only intensifies my frustration, my stress and my anxiety! Thus the constant running around, which makes the recommendation to slow down sound laughable.

I’m exhausted…

The truth is, I must slow down. I think one way to help me accomplish this is a transformation of my state of mind. I need to be intentional about remembering that this is not my home. Like my devotional said the other day: “Remember that you are en route to heaven, and let your problems fade in the Light of eternity.” I need the Holy Spirit to keep me aware of this truth always. And when I forget, I need to dial a quick 911 back to Him to remind me and shower me with His peace…

Sigh…

This Advent season it is my desire to take a look at Christ’s Birth in light of His second coming as a clear reminder that we are, indeed, just en route to our forever home, so we can confidently say: “take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.”

I pray that the thoughts of Our Lord’s second Advent will keep me grounded in His promises and in His love to allow me to TRUST Him, let go of my worries and finally be able to slow down in His presence.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Advent Adventure




Advent has just begun. I have to admit that, even though I knew that Advent was the time before Christmas meant as preparation for the coming of Baby Jesus, this was not something that was emphasized during my growing up years. For some reason, my family did not pay much attention to this time so I missed out on the richness of the season. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I realized the value of these weeks in helping me focus on the reason we celebrate.

Over the years I’ve been trying to be more intentional during Advent. I’ve tried to make it more personal. I’ve concentrated on making it into an intimate conversation between me and Our Lord to ground me on the miracle of His first coming and the wonders of His love. This year, I want to continue doing that, but I’ve decided to use Advent to turn my eyes toward the promise of His second coming…turn my eyes into eternity and into the reality that this is not our permanent home. I would like to explore that His first advent points to the fact that He will come back again, to take us with Him into our eternal dwelling:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14: 1-4

I’d like to explore Christ’s second coming this Advent through Scripture and perhaps even through some of my most beloved Christmas Carols. I think the writers of these songs knew that while they sung praises to the Babe in the Manger, it was imperative to point to the Lion of Judah who is to come back one of these days. I guess it is going to be a journey of discovery, an Advent Adventure…so would you embark on it with me?