Archives for posts with tag: Bethlehem

In just a few days it will Christmas Day, the day we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. At Christmas Eve services the night before, people all over the world will sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

On the evening the Bethlehem Baby was born there were shepherds nearby tending their flocks. Their everyday routine. Suddenly the scene changed and an angel appeared among them and the surroundings lit up. They were understandably terrified. Then the angel told them not to be afraid. Oh sure!

Right in the middle of their workaday world an angel appears and the landscape lights up. What are they expected to feel if not fear?

Then the angel said, ““I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For this day in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Good news! Great joy! A Savior!

The shepherds responded by rushing to see for themselves what the angel proclaimed. Seeing was believing and they told everyone they met what the angel had said about this child.

It has been more than twenty centuries since that event in Bethlehem. Millions have heard the story and have believed. Millions others have heard but have not believed. One reason for this unbelief might be that we who follow Christ have not been the joyful creatures that we should be.

The shepherds rejoiced at the good news of a Savior. They returned to their work “glorifying and praising God.” The Apostle Paul suggests that we who have been redeemed by that same Jesus should likewise be filled with joy- not only at Christmas but at all times. “Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, TLB)

Teilhard de Chardin, says, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Acknowledging the Presence of God in our lives will not only enrich our living, it will also be contagious. Mother Teresa suggests that “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”

Be joyful for a Savior has come!

Jamie Jenkins

 

In the Christian Church Advent is the period preceding the Christmas season. It begins on the Sunday nearest November 30, the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle, and covers four Sundays. This year Advent began last Sunday, December 2.

The word advent, from Latin, means “the coming.” As the Christmas season has become more secular, with advertisers urging holiday gift-givers to buy and buy some more, Advent still focuses more on the observance of ancient customs. Christian families find quiet moments lighting candles in the Advent wreath, and children use Advent calendars to count the days until Christmas.

It is unknown when the period of preparation for Christmas that is now called Advent first began – it was certainly in existence from about 480. Some have even said it goes back to the time of the Twelve Apostles or that it was founded by Saint Peter himself. This has led to the conclusion that it is “impossible to claim with confidence a credible explanation of the origin of Advent”.

Originally, it was a time when converts to Christianity readied themselves for baptism. Advent was considered a pre-Christmas season of Lent when Christians devoted themselves to prayer and fasting. By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world.

Advent hymns are not “Christmas” songs. They are ‘waiting” songs. Songs that help us anticipate the coming of Christ, which is celebrated on Christmas Day. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is one of my favorites.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel

This hymn is a prayer that anticipates the coming of Christ to the earth. His coming as the Messiah (“deliverer”) was first prophesied in the sixth century B.C., when the Jews were captive in Babylon. For centuries thereafter, faithful Hebrews looked for their Messiah with great longing and expectation, echoing the prayer that he would “ransom captive Israel.”

Jesus Christ the Redeemer—capstone of man’s longing through the ages—is addressed in the first stanza of this hymn as “Emmanuel.” From beginning to end, all the stanzas of the hymn remind us of Christ’s first advent, and project our attention to His second coming.

An Advent Prayer in the United Methodist Hymnal (#201) helps prepare us for a proper celebration of Christmas.

Merciful God, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation.

Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may celebrate aright the coming of the nativity and may await with joy the coming of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.

May this be our prayer as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s beginning to look and sound a lot like Christmas and nothing characterizes that statement more than the concert I attended last Sunday night. An eighty-five voice choir and a thirty-five piece orchestra under the direction of Scott Atchison presented The Many Moods of Christmas concert in the beautiful sanctuary of the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.Many Moods 1

The Many Moods of Christmas is based on the 1963 program of eighteen Christmas carols conducted by Robert Shaw, grouped into four suites. The carols were arranged for chorus and orchestra by famed Broadway orchestrator Robert Russel Bennett. It was performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Robert Shaw Chorale. That recording more than 50 years ago is still a very popular favorite- and nobody does it better than the choir and orchestra at this church in Atlanta.

 

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The concert begins with selections from Handel’s Messiah, an oratorio composed in 1741. It has become one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music. The program continues with one of John Rutter’s most well-known works, Gloria in excelsis Deo. The splendid evening of music concludes with a medley of old favorite Christmas carols.

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Plan to join me and hundreds of others next year when the tradition continues. If you are already in the Christmas spirit, this concert will cause you to soar to greater heights. If you are in the doldrums during December, the beauty of the music and the setting will lift your spirits. I promise.

You will “experience the wonder and joy of the Advent season” just like the publicity suggests.

After the concert, I started thinking about the many moods of Christmas. The secular and the sacred traditions. The cultural practices and family rituals. The music that ranges from the ridiculous (I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Have a Holly Jolly Christmas) to the sublime (Silent Night, O Holy Night). The parties and food. The wrapping and exchanging of gifts. The trips to the mall to have a picture sitting on Santa’s lap. Travels to be with family.Many Moods 5

Christmas is indeed “the most wonderful time of the year. The hap-happiest season of all.”

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All of this merry making and joy began as a way to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. The festivities have expanded to include many things that have no direct connection to that event long ago in the austere environment of a cow stall in Bethlehem. Nevertheless, that event changed the world. Regardless of how we celebrate the occasion today it is a reminder of the announcement of the angels to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy. For unto you is born this day… a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” And we sing robustly “Joy to the world, the Lord is Come.”

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Merry Christmas!

Jamie Jenkins

Free Will 1

Have you ever had an “Aha!’ moment? A time when something just leaps out at you and gives you a new perspective, new insight? That happened to me on a recent trip to Israel. I had been there many times but I “saw” something new on this visit.

About half way down the western side of the Dead Sea is an oasis called En Gedi.

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One of my favorite stories from history is set in this desert spot. Saul, the first king of Israel, had been rejected in favor of a young shepherd boy from Bethlehem named David. Saul in his anger pursued David to kill him and David fled for his life.

King Saul learned that David was in the wilderness near En Gedi.  So he took three thousand men and went to look for David. During the search Saul went into a cave to use the restroom, not knowing that David and his soldiers were hiding in the very back of the cave.

When David’s soldiers saw Saul they said, “Now is your chance. Your enemy has walked right in and you can do to him whatever you think best.” So David quietly crawled close to Saul without being noticed but instead of killing him, he cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Immediately David felt horrible for what he had done. David believed that God had chosen Saul as king so he would not allow his soldiers to attack the king. Saul then left the cave. David then called out to Saul to let him know that he had the opportunity to kill him but had refused to do so.

I have known that story for years. I have read it and told it many times. I know that David exercised free will in sparing Saul’s life. He could have killed Saul and been justified in doing so but he chose to let Saul live. In spite of Saul’s determined pursuit with the intention of killing him, David chose to save a life rather than take a life.

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Some people think that every detail of one’s life is determined by events of the past, over which a person has had no sort of control. But David’s action, or inaction,  is a clear demonstration of free will, a capacity that is unique to human beings. The ability to make choices. To do as you see fit.

In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume thought that free will (or “liberty,” to use his term) is the “power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will: that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.… This hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a prisoner and in chains.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” We are afforded opportunities every day, many times every day, to choose how we act or react to a variety of situations. The choices we make every day determine our character.

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I agree with J.K. Rowling. “It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” David exhibited a respect for human life and a devotion to God when he chose to let Saul live. The decision he made in this circumstance gives real insight into his character.

Most daily decisions do not carry the same weight as the decision David made in the cave at En Gedi. But every step we make is influenced by each previous step. Each thought or deed builds upon previous ideas or actions. We may choose wrongly and later have to take corrective measures but if we are wise we will be careful in the choices we make and the actions we take.

God has not created us to be robots or puppets. We are endowed with the ability to choose. God help us to choose wisely.

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Jamie Jenkins

 

Note: You can read the entire story of David and Saul at En Gedi from I Samuel 24 in the Bible.

 

 

Newborn baby

We lived in a  tiny town in Tennessee when our first child was born. I remember that long night in the labor room of that little hospital with my wife. Waiting. Worrying. Wondering Then they took my wife into the delivery room and sent me outside to wait.

After a while a nurse come by with what I thought was dirty linen. I didn’t know that she had our new baby wrapped in those cloths. A few minutes later she came and asked if I wanted to see my son.

I couldn’t believe it was over- or had just begun. The months of anticipation and preparation had ended and now the exciting and frightening journey of parenthood was underway.

In a couple of days we brought our firstborn home to the tiny apartment where we lived while I was in college. Several hundred miles from home. No family nearby. Scared. Excited. What were we supposed to do with this newborn baby? We had no clue.

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Twenty centuries earlier another young couple had a baby in a small out of the way place. Away from home and family. Little resources. Less than desirable circumstances. I wonder if Mary and Joseph had some of the same fears and concerns as we had at the arrival of their firstborn.

It has been forty three years since the birth of our oldest child and I realize that we were not really alone when he was born. God was with us. And through the years as he grew and we tried to guide and guard him, we were not alone. Our efforts at parenting, as inadequate as they were, were complemented by the One who created all of us.

Things have not always gone as we planned. There have been moments of exhilaration and despair. Mountain tops and deep valleys. Things we hoped for have not always been realized and other things we never dreamed of have occurred. Over the course of more than four decades of parenthood I have often asked why. Much that has occurred, both pleasing and puzzling, has left me wondering how it happened this way. Yet through it all I believe God has been with us and with our children.

Parenthood

There have been times that I wished things had taken a different turn and other times I have marveled at the wonderful outcome. But through it all I have trusted that our Heavenly Father watches over us.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph experienced the same kind of emotions as their son grew. How did they feel when the path that they had planned for him was not followed? When he was praised and when he was persecuted? Did they have questions and doubts?

The birth of our first child, and the later births of two other children, changed the course of our lives forever. The birth of Mary and Joseph’s boy not only brought changes to the two of them but ultimately every human being since then.

Thank God for our children. And especially the Child of Bethlehem named Jesus! Merry Christmas!

Jamie Jenkins