Embedded Truths from Beloved Carols
Study Guide, December 1, 2019
Pastor Clay Olsen
In a couple of weeks we’ll be going out on our annual Christmas Caroling tour, which is always an adventure in many ways. The weather is one of them. Thankfully we don’t have to deal with the kind of weather we had one Christmas in South Dakota. One of our members had a tractor and a flatbed trailer that we all stood on to go around town caroling. The problem is that it was way below freezing. So we kidded the people where we caroled that we would go ahead and sing, but they might not hear the words until they thawed out some.
But one of the remarkable things about many of the Christmas carols is how many wonderful truths are embedded in the lyrics. So we’re going to take a little journey pulling out some of these embedded truths and marveling over them together.
One of the most beloved carols is ‘O Holy Night’. In the first verse we find this: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” Actually, this world has been weary ever since Genesis chapter three. ‘Long lay the world in sin indeed’. It was several thousand years before the appearance of the long awaited Messiah. But the waiting world was not without promise. There are more than 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus, beginning with the first book of the Bible. And these prophecies are so specific that it is mathematically impossible that Jesus would fulfill them all…but He did. In fact, the odds of Jesus fulfilling even a portion of them has been illustrated this way. Suppose you could cover the entire state of Texas with silver dollars two feet deep. Then put a mark on one of the dollars. Then blindfold a man and have him walk around the state and let him pick up one silver dollar. The odds of him finding that marked silver dollar is even less than the odds that Jesus would fulfill the vast number of prophecies of Jesus’ first coming, let alone His second coming. But Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies of His first coming and will fulfill all of the prophecies of His second coming.
We have been studying prophecy in our Men’s Life Group and talking about how important it is to pay attention to what God has revealed to the world about His works and His plans for this world that belongs to Him! One of the charges that Jesus made against the nation of Israel when He came is that, as Jesus put it: “You did not recognize the time of your visitation!” Jesus expected them to pay attention to the prophecies so that they would recognize Him at His first coming, but they didn’t. They weren’t looking for Him…and they certainly didn’t recognize Him when He came. They were supposed to be looking for Him through the prophecies about Him.
Think about this: The Apostle Paul personified creation itself and stated that even the natural world around us looking for Jesus coming, this time it’s His second coming. Rom 8:19-23- “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” NLT
Pretty amazing to think about, right? One of our members was talking about how even though the Earth is weary and groaning under the curse, still, even every sunrise and every sunset is like this weary world rejoicing in God, looking for its redemption when its Creator returns. Creation gets it! And remember when Jesus was entering the city on Palm Sunday? Luke 19:37-40- “Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying” “‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” NKJV How ironic that even rocks recognize who Jesus really is, more than many people do. Rocks recognize their Creator, but many people don’t! Again, Creation gets it!
Creation is looking forward to their Creator liberating it from this curse of sin in the world. And if rocks, and animals, and sunrises, and sunsets are looking forward to the coming of their Creator, how much more should those creatures made in the very image of the Creator be looking forward to His coming…His second coming. But to be looking forward to His second coming a person needs to have responded to what His visitation in His first coming was all about. When you receive the gift of Jesus’ forgiveness and His eternal life which accompanied His first coming, then you’ll be ready, along with all creation, to experience the joys of His second coming.
“Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Another Hymn speaks directly to that. It’s not a Carol, but it says this: ‘And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?’ Amazing indeed that our Creator loved us that much to become one of us and then die for us so that any of us could become one again with God, united with God’s spirit through receiving the gift; the gift of Jesus and His eternal life living in us. Amazing indeed!
Jesus has many titles. But one of them is linked with that other phrase in the song; ‘A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices’. How interesting that the remedy for real weariness is renewed hope. Actually ‘hope’ is one of the keys to life. The famous Russian Christian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky said: “To live without hope is to cease to live.” And Hal Lindsey, author of ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ put it even stronger… “Man can live about forty days with food, about three weeks without water, about eight minutes without air…but for only one second without hope.” That’s pretty striking…And of course, the Scriptures put it this way: 1 Cor 13:13- “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” NKJV
So faith, hope, and love are the trinity of the three key attributes necessary to not only deal with the weariness of this world, but also to counter the emptiness of our own sinful nature. Praise God that each day His mercies are new. In Him we have pardon from sin and purpose for living. And because He daily cleanses us from confessed sin, we can live in hope; a Biblical hope, a hope that is a settled confidence that it is well with our soul and God is pleased with our service, and He is about to change this weary world into a wonderful world, the way He created it to be…and the way He created us to be.
Actually, what the world needs to learn about ‘hope’ and what believers need to be continually mindful of is that real hope is more than a concept; hope is a Person; the Person of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures refer to Jesus’ return as the ‘Blessed Hope’, but in essence, Jesus Himself is our ‘Blessed Hope’. Jesus is the reason anyone of us can have any hope at all! Remember, Jesus is the only reason that we have any ‘life’ at all; both physically and spiritually.
All right, when was the last time you found yourself singing the Christmas Carol called ‘O Hearken Ye’? Maybe you could just start using that as your greeting to others this Christmas season: “O Hearken Ye!” Has a good ring to it, doesn’t it?
Anyway, a great truth embedded in ‘O Hearken Ye’ is in its third stanza where it says: “The angel’s song the wonder tells: Now Love Incarnate with us dwells!” Love Incarnate with us dwells? How awesome is that? ‘Incarnate’, of course, means ‘existing in bodily form’, or existing as a physical entity. So how can ‘love’ exist as a physical entity? Nearly everyone the world over only thinks of ‘love’ as being metaphysical, or as just this human virtue that is linked with the mind and emotions. But here in this carol we are reminded that there is a ‘Love’ that is more than an emotion; there is a ‘Love’ that is a physical person, an Incarnate Person, and His name is ‘Jesus’.
And once again, just like with Truth…just like you can’t really know what is ‘truth’ until you know ‘Who is Truth’, or who is the Person that is ‘Truth Incarnate’; likewise, you can’t really know what is ‘love’ until you know ‘Who is Love’, or who is this Person that is ‘Love Incarnate’. Remember, the Apostle John revealed this power point to us: 1 John 4:7-10- “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” NASU
One thought here: Just like you really can’t understand nor operate in the sphere of truth without connecting everything about truth with Jesus Christ, who is the very source of truth, in the same way, you can’t really understand nor operate in the sphere of love without connecting everything about love with Jesus Christ, who is the very source of love. In other words, in all of life, you can’t just start with truth to know truth and act on truth. No, you have to start with God, who is the source of real Truth itself. In the same way, you can’t just start with love to know what love is and to act on love. You have to start with God, who is the source of real Love itself. And so in this carol where we hear that in the angel’s song the wonder tells: ‘Now Love Incarnate with us dwells’, well, now we see that ‘Love’ is Jesus Christ Himself.
In order to really know what love is, you have to come to know ‘who Jesus is’, because Jesus is God and God is love. Jesus is the source of truth and Jesus is the source of love. So, again, until you have come to the source of truth and the source of love and come to know Jesus as your Creator and your Savior, whatever you think you know of real truth or think you know about real love…think again…because it’s not real truth or real love at all. Apart from the source it can’t be, because it’s coming from some other source…a false source or at least a faulty source. It’s coming from the world, or from our own faulty nature, or even from the devil, the one that counterfeits everything that God has made. In other words, even the world’s love is a counterfeit love. Only in ‘Love Incarnate’, only in Jesus Christ can one find true love, for Jesus is God and God is love!
Let’s ‘harken together’ on one other embedded truth before we wrap up our study today. It’s found in the carol ‘Good Christian Men, Rejoice’. In the first stanza we find the words ‘Calls you one and calls you all to gain His everlasting hall; Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!’ Wonderful words…wonderful truths. If you think about it, even the heavens are calling out to one and all. Remember the words of the Psalmist: Ps 19:1-2- “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make Him known.” NLT That’s a lot of calling and proclaiming and speaking…night after night!
So if people are not hearing from God it’s not because He is not calling; it’s because they are not listening. One of the side effects of sin is loss of hearing…loss of spiritual hearing. And the longer you let that go the worse it gets. But still, there is always hope because God continues to call one and all to gain His everlasting hall.
That’s a fascinating way to think of Heaven, as the Halls of Heaven. My Viking ancestors called the afterlife ‘Valhalla’, although it was not the Heaven of the Bible, nor the God of the Bible, as they falsely worshipped many mythological gods like Odin, Thor, and Frey. Valhalla was imagined to be an enormous hall located in Asgard, where the Viking warriors also feasted on wild boar that miraculously became whole again each evening. (No wonder I love bacon so much…) But to a Viking a battle had two potential outcomes; either victory to live and fight again or Valhalla, dying and being accepted into Viking heaven.
Again, I pray that many of the Nordic people found the one true God, Jesus Christ, but it’s interesting that for followers of Jesus, we too, either have victory over every battle of life and live to fight again, or we have the halls of Heaven, our final victory in Jesus. Either way, we have a Savior who was calling out to us, and by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we accepted our Savior’s love and life and gift of salvation.
We pray that each of you have responded to the calling of Christ to receive Him into your life. And then we need to each be part of the ‘calling’ this Christmas, helping others, through spoken word or printed word, to get the Gospel out to others, praying that they will respond to Jesus’ calling; calling them to repentance and faith and to new life in Christ.