While growing up I often heard this hymn sung during communion services. Years later, though, I heard it sung as a Christmas hymn, and I was blown away at how appropriate it was. These words, from 4th century Greek Liturgy, remind me in a powerful way of the complete and utter devotion I owe to Christ, the God-man who came to earth to rescue me from the powers of hell.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!
– Liturgy of St. James, 4th Century; translated from Greek by Gerard Moultrie, 1864
It may be stretching things a bit to call today’s excerpts classics, since the author is still alive, but I think most people would at least agree to calling J. I Packer’s Knowing God a “modern classic”. I can honestly say reading it had a profound influence on my Christian life, and is one of the few Christian teaching books that I’ve read more than once. Packer’s thoughts on the incarnation (God the Son taking on a human nature) greatly enhanced my view of the significance of Christmas:
It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the incarnation.
This is the real stumbling block in Christianity…It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.
If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man,the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about His life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation “through whom also he made the worlds” (Heb 1:2, RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked His coming into this world, and His life in it, and His exit from it. It is not strange that He, the author of life, should rise from the dead. If He was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that He should die than that He should rise again. “‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies,” wrote Wesley; but there is no comparable mystery in the Immortal’s resurrection. And if the immortal Son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all of a piece, and hangs together completely. The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14 (ESV)
At Christmas we celebrate the coming of Jesus, “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”(John 1:9, NASB) I’ve also been thinking about the ways God has allowed me to help shine the Light of Christ to others during the past year:
Traveling to Brazil in January to train 40 Campus Crusade for Christ staff and students in stage communication skills;
Training several younger Keynote staff in how to teach and coach the students coming for our summer music & mission project;
Administrating the classroom training portion of that same summer project;
Coaching the students from our summer praise & worship band in communication skills;
Equipping four Keynote staff men in August to teach & coach communication skills in Central Asia to believers from two Muslim countries;
Administrating our annual training for new Keynote staff and interns (short-term staff) ran from November 1 – 21; I taught a few of the classes and arranged teachers for the rest;
Serving as the teaching assistant for the Institute of Biblical Studies class we held for our senior staff from November 14 – 20; I helped the professor grade the assignments and keep track of the grades.
Tiring? Yes. It seems like I’ve been going non-stop since the beginning of October, so I’m definitely looking forward to Christmas vacation! But when I hear comments like the following, I know that all the effort was worth it. During a recent staff meeting, new staff member Nellie Solis excitedly told everyone in Keynote how grateful she was for the November training.
I can’t tell you how life-transforming it has been. Every class has touched my life. I am so proud to be a Keynoter!
I love knowing that I’m helping shine the Light of Christ by preparing our staff (and others!) to accurately represent Christ in everything they do, and to honor Him by doing it with excellence. You, too, are helping shine the Light of Christ because you are partnering with me through your gifts and prayers. If you are among those people who look for additional ways to give towards God’s work at year’s end, would you consider making a special gift towards my ministry with Keynote? You can give online at http://give.ccci.org/give/0112686, or check out other options on my Contributions page.
The new staff and interns who attended November training: (from L. to R.) Josh Dufford, Nellie Solis, Sharon Foo, Kristin Troutman, Scott Naylor. (Not shown: Jennifer Naylor.)
In the seminary class I’m taking this semester, one of the major topics is the person of Christ. How is it that Jesus can be truly God and truly man? Some in the early church thought His divine nature swallowed up His human nature; others thought His two natures were completely separate so as to make Him two different persons living in one body; still others thought the two natures blended so thoroughly that a third new type of nature was produced. The debates were finally settled by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. when bishops from the entire church affirmed the biblical “Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ.” The following contemporary translation may seem a bit hard to wade through, but it’s worth pondering as we meditate on just Who it was that was born that first Christmas morning.
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.
In the traditional church calendar (used mainly by liturgical denominations), December is Advent season, the time of year leading up to Christmas. Advent literally means “coming”, and in the evangelical churches I’ve attended (and there have been several, because I’ve moved a lot), it has been seen as a preparation for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. But in my childhood church there was an equal or greater focus on His second coming. I remember how much I loved singing some of the Advent hymns that focus on Christ’s return as King, like this one, Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates. But what I didn’t remember until I looked up the words last week was the way it also focuses on giving Christ rule over our individual hearts. Did I ever pay attention to those verses or really understand them as a kid? I don’t think I did then, but I do now, and I want this to be my heart attitude this Advent, and all year round.
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates;
Behold, the King of glory waits;
The King of kings is drawing near;
The Savior of the world is here!
A Helper just He comes to thee,
His chariot is humility,
His kingly crown is holiness,
His scepter, pity in distress.
O blest the land, the city blest,
Where Christ the Ruler is confessed!
O happy hearts and happy homes
To whom this King in triumph comes!
Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple, set apart
From earthly use for heaven?s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
Redeemer, come, with us abide;
Our hearts to Thee we open wide;
Let us Thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in us reveal.
Thy Holy Spirit lead us on
Until our glorious goal is won;
Eternal praise, eternal fame
Be offered, Savior, to Thy Name!
Words: Georg Weissel, 1642; translated from German to English by Catherine Winkworth, 1855