Advent at the Chapel: Go Tell It!

By Pastor Bert Hitchcock

As familiar carols recount the events of Christmas, they often tell us how we should respond:
     “O Little Town of Bethlehem” 
        calls us to invite Christ to come and abide in us.  
     “O Come All Ye Faithful” 
tells us to come and adore the newborn King.  
     “What Child Is This” says 
haste to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
     And “Angels We Have Heard On High” calls us to sing 
(in Latin), “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”

Well, “Go Tell It On the Mountain” also tells the Christmas story: Shepherds in the field, the appearance of the angelic chorus, and the humble birth of Christ in a lowly stable.  But in this carol, the response is always the same: “Go tell it!”.  
     The glory of the Lord shown around the shepherds . . . “Go tell it!”  
     The angel announced good news . . . “Go tell it!”  
     And once they saw the Baby Jesus . .  . “Go tell it!”

There are so many ways we might respond to such news: we could ponder it, get excited about it, question it, try to comprehend it, ignore it, or put off any consideration until a more convenient time.  But here, we are called to do one thing: “Go tell it!”  This is not just the song-writer’s suggestion; this is God’s command passed on from Isaiah 40:

    “You who bring good tidings to Zion, 
         go up on a high mountain. 
     lift up your voice with a shout, 
        lift it up, do not be afraid; 
     say to the towns of Judah,
        “Here is your God!” 
     He tends his flock like a shepherd;
        He gathers the lambs in his arms.”

Go tell it on the Mountain!

Advent at the Chapel: He is Alpha and Omega

By Dan Gibson

He is Alpha and Omega – He the source, the ending He

​The line above is drawn from one of the oldest Christmas hymns of the Christian church, namely, Of the Father’s Love Begotten.  The hymn was first written as a poem by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (c. 348 A.D. – c. 413 A.D.), likely in the early years of the fifth century.  Aurelius C. Prudentiuswas a Roman born in northern Spain at roughly the same time Augustine was born in north Africa.  Aurelius was trained as a lawyer and eventually served as a judge with governance responsibilities in two cities in northern Spain.  In his early fifties, he withdrew from public life and retired to a monastery where he commenced to write poetic texts subsequently used in the liturgy of the church.  His poetry, written in Latin, served as a bridge between the classical Latin of imperial Rome, and the medieval Latin that became the common language of the church.  

Bear in mind that Aurelius wrote this particular text in the near aftermath of the Arian controversy that tore the church apart over the issue of the nature of Christ. The Council of Nicaea, held in 325 A.D., was the first of several church councils that restated clearly the classical, orthodox Christian position which is that Christ in his incarnation is both fully divine and fully human, with these two natures existing in the one person of Christ. The text of this ancient hymn affirms this doctrine that lies at the heart of Christian orthodoxy, noting that Christ is begotten of God the Father, and is himself the Alpha and Omega, the source and ending of all created things (Revelation 21:6). The text penned by Aurelius was eventually (about seven centuries later) married with a medieval plainsong tune known as Divinum Mysterium (Divine Mystery), and the Latin text of Aurelius was translated into English in the mid-19thcentury. That song is the one we sing today, still replete with its profound beauty and mystery.

Advent at the Chapel: The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

By Pastor Nathan Chambers

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight’

‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ is not my favorite Christmas carol.  Some lines are a little too sentimental for my taste.  And it probably put us on the wrong foot when it asks us to picture sleepy Bethlehem lying peaceful at night.  Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth begins with Caesar Augustus ordering a registration of all the world.  Joseph traveled to his ancestral town of Bethlehem to be registered along with Mary, his betrothed.  Of course there were many others, like Joseph, who travelled to Bethlehem to be registered.  So when Mary and Joseph arrive, there is no place for them the inn.

I suspect Bethlehem was anything but still.  It was full to the brim.  And what sounds would be heard?  The joy of families that live far apart, meeting up in Bethlehem, chatting and laughing late into the night?  But perhaps there was anxiety as well about being registered by the Romans.  After all, what was this census for?

But the last lines of the first verse have stuck with me and strike me as a perfect summary of what we celebrate at Christmas.

The hopes and fears of all the years are like two lines that start at the opposite ends of human experience: anticipation, expectation, and desire on the one hand and our worries, anxiety, and apprehensions on the other.  But these two lines converge at precisely one point: they meet in the holy child of Bethlehem, Christ, born of Mary.  

This in itself is unexpected.  Our hopes and our fears are often related.  We might hope to get a certain job or promotion, and we might fear not being able to provide for our family.  But we know that many times we get what we hoped for, but our fears only increase.  Or our fears never materialize, but neither do our hopes: we get a different job that we hoped for and it pays the bills.

In Jesus’ birth, the hopes and fears have one and the same answer.  Jesus meets the hopes of his people.  He fulfills the promises of the Old Testament.  Jesus also meets the worst fears of his people: he suffers the rejection of his people and his friends, unjust execution by the Romans, and the wrath of God for unfaithfulness.  What could be worse?  What else could a first century Jew fear?  Yet Jesus meets these fears and endures them vicariously—for his people—so that in his life, death, and resurrection, we are given comfort for our fear.

But Jesus not only meets the hopes and fears of his people, the Jews, but of all the years. This Advent message of good news, that the everlasting Light shines in the dark streets of Bethlehem, is good news that fulfills the hopes and longings and answers the fears of all people, the world over, in all times.

Advent at the Chapel: The Gift He Gave Immanuel

By Lea Gibson

“Thus every beast by some good spell, In the stable dark was glad to tell Of the gift he gave Immanuel.” -The Friendly Beasts

Growing up, my mom would tell us kids about the legend of talking animals on Christmas Eve. Legend says that at midnight on Christmas Eve night, all the animals would bow down and gain the ability of speech to praise Jesus. She would joke that she had gone out to the barn before, but always got down there shortly after midnight, so she would miss it. I was intrigued, but the warmth and coziness of my bed always won out.

I always envisioned though that it would be something like the song The Friendly Beasts. All the animals talking about what they contributed to Jesus on the night of his birth. Even the beasts are glad and excited to give to Jesus, and share about it. We, as those made in God’s image, should be eager to do the same-to give to Jesus and share about his birth.

Advent at the Chapel: Break Into Song

by Chris Lovegren

Hark! how the bells, Sweet silver bells
All seem to say,”Throw cares away.”
Christmas is here, Bringing good cheer
To young and old, Meek and the bold
Ding, dong, ding, dong

That is their song, With joyful ring
All caroling, One seems to hear
Words of good cheer, From ev’rywhere, Filling the air
Oh how they pound, Raising the sound
O’er hill and dale, Telling their tale
Joyfully they ring, While people sing
Songs of good cheer, Christmas is here
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas

On, on they send, On without end
Their joyful tone, To ev’ry home
Ding, dong, ding, dong

Luke 2:10 “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

And so this song is written and sung: We have heard good news of great joy and we must tell everyone and share with all of the world that we celebrate the birth of the King who has come to save His people.

Break into song! Ring the bells! Pass the word, it’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!

I remember watching a movie in Bellingham when I was a boy back in the fifties.

It was a knights and swords movie. I don’t remember its name. One scene showed all of the knights gathered together in a cold wintery forest in the middle of the night as they awaited a dangerous day to come with the dawn.

As they were quietly talking a single bell rang in the distance. The leader drew his sword, knelt down with it out in front of himself so that it formed the shape of a cross.

He then announced, “Gentlemen, Christ is born.”

It was midnight, Christmas day and all of the men also knelt with their swords drawn and displayed in the same way.

Pretty good for Hollywood back in those days.

They were celebrating the announcement of good tidings of great joy no matter the impending uncertain future.

And so should we. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Merry Christmas

Carol of the Bells, Lee University, Cleveland Tennessee.

These kids are wonderful and they add just the right new words at the end of the lyrics above:  Jesus is King, Jesus is King…This is why we sing!

Advent at the Chapel: Behold, a Branch is Growing of Loveliest Form and Grace

by Nick Laninga

Behold, a Branch is Growing

“Is.11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit”

PROPHECY!!! We have here an obscure prophecy regarding Christ; yet how important as we trace God’s promises to His people and us.

Christ came from the kingly line of David. God’s word validates itself ! His promises are sure and will come to pass.

Be encouraged by this as God is not slack concerning his promise. Remember Galatians 4:4 “But when the fullness of time had come God sent forth His Son—“

The Hebrew word for branch is NETZER, note the town where Jesus came from has the same primary letters NeZaReth. Of Jesus returning to this obscure town it was said “Can any good thing come from Nazereth?” God would and did raise up to bring justice and righteousness and peace to His people. Yes ! Yes ! As “KING” from the line of Jesse. This is no coincidence but rather another confirmation of the truth of God’s word.

Prophecy fullfilled !

Advent at the Chapel: Rejoice! Rejoice!

By Nate Gibson

“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee, O Israel”

The average Israelite living in the 7th or 8th century B.C. would have had good cause to mourn: the Assyrians had conquered the Kingdom of Israel, carrying a significant number of its citizens into captivity, and just over a century later, the Babylonians conquered and exiled the Kingdom of Judah.  More than the violence and brutality, even more than the despair of being driven from their homeland, the Israelites grieved that God had forsaken them.  

Both kingdoms had turned away from God to worship idols.  They had repeatedly and deliberately broken covenant, and God had finally given up on them… or so it seemed.

Even as the prophet Isaiah warned the people of the judgment to come, he also foretold of a return from exile, of a time when Zion would be restored.  He said, 

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  

Emmanuel, Hebrew for “God with us”, was not merely a name, but a promise that God had not forsaken His people; that He would rescue them, and once again dwell intimately with them.

The somber words and melody of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” seem at first to evoke the pleading despair that “captive Israel” must have felt.  Then comes the chorus:

Rejoice!  Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

The call to rejoice in the midst of lonely exile breaks through the gloom like a ray of sunlight: 

You will not be alone forever; God himself will dwell with you!

And we know that half a millennium later, Emmanuel did indeed come to Israel in a stable in Bethlehem.

We today understand that the distinction of being God’s chosen people now applies to believers of every tribe, tongue and nation.

Yet, as we sing of ancient Israel in this old Christmas carol, we ought not to miss the parallels between us and the exiled Israelites.

We live between the times in a world that will never truly be our home.  We mourn as wickedness seems to triumph, and sometimes may even question whether God has forsaken us.  

The chorus, then, is as much for us as it was for the Israelites:

Rejoice!  Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

There is, however, one crucial difference: as we await the return of Christ, we rejoice that Emmanuel has already come, and that His Spirit dwells in us.  

In this season of expectation, may our lonely mourning turn to rejoicing–God is with us!

Advent at the Chapel: O Come Let Us Adore Him

by Alexa and Brian Olthuis

“Oh come let us adore him”

“Wowwwowwwow” our toddler extols when we plug the Christmas tree lights in each morning. She stands in front of the tree, taking it all in, her face aglow from the lights. Her warped reflection in the globe ornaments causes her to giggle. As her parents, our getting to experience Christmas through her eyes is equally delighting.

But it also challenges us to evaluate our hearts and our perspectives on the season.

Do we stand in amazement when we read the story of Christ’s birth? Do we say “Wow” (or the adult equivalent) when we ponder Christ’s time here on earth? Does the virgin conceiving a child cause us to stand in amazement before the God we serve. . . That he was orchestrating his arrival through ways that are impossible for us to fully comprehend. (Isaiah 7:4 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.)

This Christmas let us come and adore the one who came to give us life (John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”) and one who fills our hearts with wonder. Let us come with the amazement of a child at Christ’s coming, our faces aglow with excitement and anticipation. He truly is worthy of our adoration.

Advent at the Chapel: Born That Man No More May Die

by Tate Garrett

Hark the Herald Angels Sing: Verse 3

Hail the Heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing:
“Glory to the newborn King!”

            Hark the Herald Angels Sing has always been one of my very favorite hymns.  I look forward to it every year as a staple of the Christmas season, but in addition to being an extremely fun hymn to sing, it’s also packed with all the reasons for Jesus’s coming, and a reminder of the hope he brought with him.  The first two lines remind us of Jesus’s divine origin and righteousness, while the third and fourth are filled to bursting with joy and gladness at the savior’s gifts to us – healing, light and life through his resurrection. 

            “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die” proclaims the humility and humanity that Jesus embraced, though he was the Son of God, in order that we might live as adopted sons in his kingdom.  And though his birth, we see the death of death and the gift of eternal life. 

            “Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth!”  This is a line that demands the explanation point I added at the end – how could we not shout out such a wonderful message?  In it we are given a share in Jesus’s resurrection and a reminder that we have been born again, wiping away our sin with his love and forgiveness.

            The verse, and hymn, finishes with a joyous “Hark!  The herald angels sing: glory to the newborn King!”  I will never be able to hear this line sung without picturing the night of Christ’s birth when the angels came and proclaimed our savior’s arrival to the shepherds.  The entire hymn overflows with joy to proclaim the good news, and to do so boldly, and beautifully.  Few others make me want to rejoice so much as this one.  So let us remember with thanks and praise the reason for the Christmas season – Hark!  The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King!

Advent at the Chapel: Make Us What Thou Wouldst Have Us Be

by Nicole Moore

Emily asked me to write a devotion and suggested I use “Thou Who Was Rich Beyond All Splendor.”  I’ve done that one before.  I wasn’t going to do it again.  So I thumbed through the Christmas section of the hymnal.  I read the lines of several hymns.  I even read through the hymn she suggested, and stumbled upon this line,

“Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.”

Boy, if that doesn’t sum up my year, I don’t know what does!  2019 found Bill and I taking care of his mother as her health declined.

I’m not supposed to be a caregiver.  I’m supposed to be a hardened, calloused tax collector, who doesn’t shed a tear at people’s sob stories of mounting medical bills and deceased spouses, and doesn’t flinch at cursing and threats of lawsuits and media exposure.  I’m a tax collector.  How am I supposed to help a frail little old lady put on a pair of socks?

We’d never taken care of a parent before.  We didn’t know what we were doing.  In the spring we were driving her around to appointments and shopping.  By summer we were doing her shopping for her, and by fall we had complete control over her medical and financial life.  My constant 2019 cry to the Lord was, “Guide us to do your will in taking care of her.”

I’ve fallen asleep many nights this year, begging God to guide us to do his will.  “Please guide us to take care of her in the way that is pleasing to you and according to your will. PLEASE let us take good care of her.  PLEASE guide us to do your will.”

But shouldn’t that be the cry of all our hearts?  Shouldn’t we all have the desire to be whatever God wants us to be?  After all, we can’t all be tax collectors.  Psalm 40:8 even drafts out the plea for us, “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”