Sunday, December 16, 2018

"God is Not Dead, Nor Does He Sleep"

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. It comes from the Latin word, gaudete, meaning rejoice. Today we light the candle of Joy.

We also acknowledge the shepherds. Those lowly laborers in the cold, dark fields, watching over stubborn and bleating sheep. God chose such as these to hear the first joyful announcement of Christ’s birth. Today it would be like toll-collectors, stuck along the lonely, desolate highways, having a front row seat to a jumbo-tron style birth announcement of a famous celebrity. How absurd.

But the real wonder was not the angels’ chorus, but the person they would go see.

Canadian theologian J.I. Packer once said, “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.” (from Knowing God Devotional Journal)

Reflecting on Packer’s words, and those of his own Advent hymn, musician and author Bob Kauflin tries to describe what the shepherds must have felt:

“The shepherds were understandably rattled by what they heard and saw the night Jesus was born — “sore afraid,” as the King James puts it (Luke 2:9 KJV). It would be the first and last time they’d see angels singing in the star-filled sky. But the glory of that sight would soon be surpassed by seeing the Son of God “wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). . .  In the midst of barn animals, the noxious filth of a stable, and a world unaware that hope had burst the bonds of our despair (Psalm 107:14), the Savior of the world had come.”

In the King James, Luke 2:13-14 reads,

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Many years later, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would write similar lines. Reeling from the injury and paralysis of his oldest son during the Civil War, the widower with six children penned what would become the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It was a guttural reaction of his heart, an attempt to capture the dissonance of joy and pain.

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The lyrics are narrative in nature, even drawing on the events of the war between the states. But, like Horatio Spafford who wrote “It is Well With My Soul” almost a decade later, Longfellow’s last stanza stands out as a ringing hope. It is as if the shepherds are seeing the Christ child for the first time, all over again.

God is not dead, nor does He sleep.

Those who are lonely on the hillside with the endless mundane, take heart! This message of joy is especially for you. The incarnation is the story that will set you free.

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.