O Come O Come Emmanuel 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. O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, Who orderest all things mightily; To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan's tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them vict'ry ov'r the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. Words: various, combined by unknown author approx 12th Century, Translated by John Mason Neale, 1851. This haunting advent hymn is the first one that springs to my mind as we start the Advent season today. Over the next few weeks, as we meditate and prepare for the great celebration of our Savior's birth at Christmas, we must first stop and think about the world's darkness and our need of that salvation. In our sin, we are captive and exiled from the Lord. We need wisdom and understanding to know where to go in our lives. We need to be rescued from Satan and sin's tyranny over us. We need light to disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death's dark shadows. We need a path away from misery and towards God. Amid that darkness, misery, gloom, confusion, and captivity, Jesus came, and He has brought us light, gladness, joy, wisdom, and freedom. Do you need to be freed from the miseries of this world, from the darkness of sin, from eternal death? Come to Jesus this Advent season. He came so that you may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Singing in the midst of fires and floods
When life is hard or the way forward seems dark, singing can often lighten the load, if only for a few moments. In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (NKJV)
The Bible is full of songs, particularly in the book of Psalms, but the old hymns, the ones that the church has been singing for generations, also tend to be full of sound theology and Biblical truth. While there are many hymns I love, one that especially helps in times of sorrow is How Firm a Foundation.
1 How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
2 “Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed;
for I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
3 “When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.
4 “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
5 “E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.
6 “The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.–“K” in Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787
While we don’t know for sure who penned the words to this hymn, it’s almost certain that Isaiah 43:1-3 was in the author’s mind as he wrote the words.
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
3 For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Isaiah 43:1-3 (NKJV)
As I read and sing these words, I am assured that the Lord is with me, and that no matter how difficult times will get, whether floods or fire, storms or attacks, He has called me by name and I am His forever.
This verse and the hymn do not promise us an easy way, but they do tell us that we have a Redeemer, who goes with us, who will be our refuge and fortress (Psalm 91), who will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), who will save us in the end, even if we must walk through fiery trials and the waters of sorrow now.
Are you passing through deep waters right now or walking through the fire of affliction? The Israelites walked through the midst of the Red Sea and were not drowned for the Lord held back the water (Exodus 14). Daniel’s three friends walked in the midst of the fiery furnace and they were not even singed for an angel or perhaps even the Lord Himself walked with them (Daniel 3).
Go to Jesus. He is your refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46).
Flee to Jesus. He will never leave you nor forsake you. You are His precious child and He has not saved you to destroy you, but to refine you and remake you to conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8).
Trust in Jesus. He has called you by name, you are His forever, and no one can snatch you out of His hand (John 10:28-29).
Sing to Jesus. Sing hymns and spiritual songs to yourself, sing them to your children, sing them to your friends who are suffering. Use the words and the truths they contain to comfort your heart and strengthen your resolve to walk with the Lord, knowing that whatever trials you are facing, whatever sorrows are overwhelming you, however thorny your pathway and however steep your road, that God Himself walks with you and helps you to persevere to the end.
What hymns and spiritual songs bring you comfort in times of need? Please share them in the comments so that we all may have additional truths to hold us up in difficult paths.
Abide With Me
There are times in life when hard things happen and you seek comfort in the Lord. One of the hymns I most love to read and sing in those difficult times is Abide With Me. Henry Francis Lyte wrote the hymn just a few months before his death. Since then, his words have helped many Christians to seek the love and peace of the Lord Jesus as they walked through dark days of pain and suffering and grief.
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
–Henry Francis Lyte, 1847
O Come, Emmanuel
A devotional I have been reading this year for Advent includes the O antiphons, the prayers of the Christian church, which they prayed during the Advent season for centuries. Traditionally, they were sung each night from December 17 through December 23 in preparation for Christmas: O Sapientia [O Wisdom], O Adonai [O Lord], O Radix Jesse [O Root of Jesse], O Clavis David [O Key of David], O Oriens [O Dayspring], O Rex Gentium [O King of the Nations], and O Emmanuel. A fuller explanation and translations can be found here.
One of my favorite hymns during this season is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. With it’s haunting melody and beautiful words, it rings with the longing and expectation of the world for the coming of the Savior. Each year I sing it, thrilling that Jesus has come, that He did not leave us in our sin and misery but came to save us from ourselves and our rebellion against Himself. I rejoice that He will come a second time in glory and majesty. The hymn comes from those antiphons. Each one tells us something about Christ and then says “come”.
Centuries before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. 2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. 3 The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. – Isaiah 60:1-3
His prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, who said in John 8:12: I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.
O Light of the World, You whose glory shines brighter than the sun, come. Lord Jesus, come to us in the darkness of sin, in the darkness of the long December nights, in the darkness of our selfishness and loneliness and bitterness. Come and heal us. Come and make us like You. Come and make us shine as lights in the darkness around us. Come…
May your Christmas be full of the One who came to save us and may your New Year be full of His mercy, grace, and peace. .
What is your focus today?
“Cross” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Mars Hill Church
Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.
It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? Does this test not give the clue? Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way. Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.*–excerpts from “Focussed” by I. Lilias Trotter
Distractions abound these days, even more so than in Lilias Trotter’s time–home, school, family, friends, work, church functions and ministries, books, magazines, and newspapers, music, movies, and television, phones, tablets, and computers, and so forth.
How hard it is in this busy world with all of its noise and news and amusements to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus, to be still and know that He is God, to quiet your heart and mind so that you might hear His voice.
A favorite hymn from my childhood, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, was written when the author, Helen H. Lemmel, read this pamphlet by Lilias Trotter. The chorus of this hymn is a reminder of how we can learn to focus on the eternal things:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
I pray that you would turn your eyes upon Jesus today and that, as you gaze upon Him and His grace and glory, you would choose the best things, not merely the good.
*To read the entire pamphlet, Focussed, go here.
Counting my blessings
One of the ways I have learned to feel the contentment I talked about the other day is to count my blessings. No matter how difficult my circumstances have been, I can usually find at least one thing that warms my day. I call them simple pleasures, and if you begin to look for them, you will find that your life is full of them. You only need to develop the habit of noticing.
I would also sing the hymn Count Your Blessings as a way to remind myself to be thankful and content:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
—Johnson Oatman, Jr.
Today’s blessings are a cup of pistachio almond tea, a batch of homemade applesauce, loaves of oatmeal bread rising in the oven, a new Charles Todd mystery to read, and a rainy Saturday afternoon in which to enjoy them.
What are your simple pleasures and blessings today?