“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 Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord’”
Luke 2:10-11 NIV
During the Christmas season each year, churches like to dig out the old traditional carols and we have fun singing them, but if we’re honest, some of the words are so outdated that we don’t necessarily know what all of them mean. If we look closely though, these old songs have messages that still have pertinent meanings for us today.
For example, when we hear the lyric “God rest you merry, gentlemen” it may sound like an admonishment: “You are being too merry gentlemen, I think you should rest.” This confusion is because the meanings of the words have changed over time (also because we need to be sure to put the comma after ‘merry’ and not before). ‘Rest’ in this context did not mean relax as we recognize it today, but ‘to keep or to remain,’ so ‘God rest you merry’ was a phrase that originally meant something like ‘God keep you in good spirits.’ In fact, long before this song was published in 1760, the phrase was commonly spoken as a greeting (Shakespeare even used it in his play As You Like It in 1599!).
So how can we find meaning from these antiquated words today? After the opening lyric, the song continues: “let nothing you dismay/Remember Christ our savior was born upon this day/ To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray/Oh tidings of comfort and joy.” The whole message is conveying that we should not feel dismayed by anything because we remember this day that Jesus was born to save us from our sins, and our Christmas season is to celebrate the joy we can only find in Christ.
If you are feeling overwhelmed this December with the number of Christmas parties to attend, homemade cookies that need to be sent to school, what present to buy for which child, and what relatives need to be seated together at Christmas dinner, then remember what the angel told the shepherds on that miraculous night: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10b-11, NIV). Don’t be stressed by material things, for the savior has come. Spread the good news! What a miracle! Put down that wrapping paper, get the flour out of your hair, and rejoice! I bet your spirits will be raised.
God rest you merry,
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of https://www.stockfreeimages.com/4012247/Caroler-Ornaments.html
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” Philippians 3:8 NIV
When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was sitting imprisoned and in chains, but the loss he was describing in Phil. 3:8 was not the loss of his freedom, but the loss of his self-righteousness. Before Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, he had been a Pharisee who focused on righteousness gained through personal means, such as following laws and performing rituals. According to his description in Philippians, Paul had originally thought he was blameless through these actions, but then he learned that there is no such thing as self-justification. When Paul found Jesus, he realized that he was a sinner and could only be saved through the grace of God. This is what he meant by the loss of everything else to gain Christ. In fact, rubbish in this context meant dung or manure. He gave up his self-righteous past that focused on material, man pleasing pursuits, to turn toward a relationship with Jesus—the only thing that matters. This is why he could sit imprisoned and say that it was his past in the glory of men that was rubbish. He knew that with Christ in his heart, he could find joy in any circumstance.
This last summer I went on a cruise in the Caribbean. At the time, I was also working on a Philippians Bible study, so I decided to find a spot on the boat each day to get some work accomplished. One day I was sitting in a cushy chair at the deck railing, with an umbrella over my head, when I came across this verse. It was such a contrast to read about someone sitting in prison and writing about rubbish as I sat with my feet propped up,overlooking the view of the water. I thought about the boat and everything on it and realized that it too is rubbish compared to Christ. Everything on the cruise— the food, the pool, the entertainment, the marble floors— is all material. Yes, it is relaxing and fun to get away, but anything designed to impress men is meaningless if Jesus isn’t first in my life. A few verses later, Paul explained that “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:12 NIV). Whether in prison or on a cruise ship, if Christ is in my heart, I can find joy in all circumstances, because everything else is rubbish.
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Philippians 3:17 NIV
Earl Johnson was an upright man who spent his career engineering buildings and bridges, taking care of his family, and going to church at every opportunity. He was also my grandpa and was a great example of someone who pursued Christ with every part of his life. Every Sunday that I can remember, he stood at the church doors in his suit, greeting people and welcoming them inside to hear about Christ (so he built spiritual bridges as well as literal ones). He was a Gideon who handed out Bibles, and when I was in college I would visit my grandparents’ house and he and I would have theological discussions at the dinner table. Throughout the time I was in graduate school, he would regularly write me letters of encouragement that helped me persevere, and to this day I keep his Bible on the shelf next to my desk with his copious notes in the margins on every topic.
One of the most influential experiences I had with him was when he was in his 90s and I went to visit him in his retirement community. I asked him how he was spending his time, and he discussed that he was still greeting at church every Sunday, and passing out Bibles, but he also shared that his neighbor upstairs had cancer and was an unbeliever, so he had been visiting him to share the gospel in hopes that the man could be saved. This struck me because I was a young woman with plenty of drive and energy, but I wasn’t spending my time doing anything as important as that! Even though he was 92, bringing new believers into God’s family was still crucial to my grandpa. This showed me that my whole life from start to finish should be a continuous walk with God and if my job here on earth is to make disciples, then I should be spending every last breath trying. At the end of my grandpa’s life he could say “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV).
I am a greeter at my church and every Sunday as I stand at the doors to welcome people inside to hear about Christ, I know that he built a bridge to the next generation with his example, and I am continuing to walk my path with Christ as Philippians 3:17 (NIV) instructs, to “join with others in following my example, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
Who in your life is an example of someone who pursues Christ with every step?
What distinguishes your faith so that others might see you as an example?