22 December 2019
Call to Worship: Psalm 98:1-3
Opening Hymn: 319 “O Come, All Ye Faithful”
Confession of Sin
Most holy and merciful Father; We acknowledge and confess before You; Our sinful nature prone to evil and slothful in good; And all our shortcomings and offenses. You alone know how often we have sinned; In wandering from Your ways; In wasting Your gifts; In forgetting Your love. But You, O Lord, have pity upon us; Who are ashamed and sorry for all wherein we have displeased You. Teach us to hate our errors; Cleanse us from our secret faults; And forgive our sins for the sake of Your dear Son. And O most holy and loving Father; Help us we beseech You; To live in Your light and walk in Your ways; According to the commandments of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 1:6-9
Hymn of Preparation: 324 “Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor”
Old Covenant Reading: Isaiah 55:1-7
New Covenant Reading: Luke 2:1-20
Sermon: Glory to God in the Highest
Hymn of Response: 311 “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
Confession of Faith: Ten Commandments
Doxology (Hymn 568)
Closing Hymn: 299 “Joy to the World! The LORD is Come”
OT: Isaiah 52:1-10
NT: Acts 1:1-10
All the Ends of the Earth
Shorter Catechism Q/A # 15
Q. What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A. The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created was their eating the forbidden fruit.
Monday (12/16) Read and discuss Luke 2:1-20. In his sermon on this passage Calvin said:
We must regard ourselves as poor, helpless souls until we are comforted and made glad by the gospel. We should not look for peace anywhere else. Woe to us if we do! For if complacency were to lull us into a false sense of security, the devil would at once overwhelm us, entangling us in his snares and nets. We would be his prisoners, enslaved to him. Here, then, is a word worth remembering: We can never really rejoice until we are sure God loves us and is favourable to us, undeserving though we are. On that foundation we must build. Otherwise all our joys will turn to tears and to the gnashing of teeth.
The angel, however, announces not merely news of joy, but of great joy which will be for all the people. We should weigh these last words carefully. For if they were not there, we might think that what Luke records was only for the shepherds’ benefit. Instead, joy is something which will be poured out on all the people. The angel means of course the Jews, the chosen people. Now, however, as Paul says, the partition has been broken down, and Christ through the preaching of the gospel proclaims peace to those who were once far off, and peace to those who were near. the Jews were linked by covenant to God, who adopted them in the person of Abraham and who confirmed their adoption by giving them the Law. But now God has drawn near to us who were once far from him, and has determined to make the message of reconciliation universal.
Since the angel invites us to rejoice at the coming of Christ, not in any ordinary way but with unbounded delight, let us make the most of the message. What can we say about this joy? If we involve ourselves in worldly pleasures and are wholly absorbed by our own wants, we will never rejoice in the grace of Christ. Let the shepherds instead be our example. Their earthly lot did not change, despite the fact that they had heard the angel’s word and had witnessed the birth of God’s Son. They went back to their flocks exactly as before; they continued to live as poor men, guarding their herds. In terms of the flesh and of this passing world they gained nothing form the privilege which we read about here. For all that, they were full of joy. Theirs is a lead we should follow. For although the gospel might earn us neither wealth nor fame, and although it might not bring us gratification or amusement, nevertheless we should be glad that we are the objects of God’s favour. That is where true blessing and happiness lie, and where real rest is found.
Read or sing Hymn 319 “O Come, All Ye Faithful” Prayer: Ask the LORD to lead you to increased joy in Him.
Tuesday (12/17) Read and discuss Luke 1:39-55. In verse 46, Mary says:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Mary’s song is about making much of God. But what does it mean to “magnify the LORD”? We use that term magnify in at least two different ways. We magnify something through a microscope to make something small look big. And we magnify something through a telescope, to bring into focus something that is genuinely enormous – but which had appeared small because we were not close to it.
Mary’s soul and spirit are not acting like microscopes. Instead, when Mary focuses on the LORD she is just overwhelmed by His majesty, His power, and particularly by His grace so that she simply must declare her experience of God’s majesty and grace. Look closely at the way the two clauses in these verses fit together: “My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirt rejoices in God my Savior.” There is a direct connection between being overwhelmed by the grandeur and majesty of God and true joy. Put simply: The bigger your God, the deeper your joy. Prayer: Give thanks for the amazing gift of Immanuel – God with us!
Wednesday (12/18) Read and discuss Isaiah 55:1-7. R. Reed Lessing writes:
Where is God to be found? Those who “seek” Yahweh can rest assured that they will find Him where He promises to be. The Jerusalem Temple was the place where He caused His name to dwell. However, after it was destroyed, where was He located? In light of Yahweh’s advent as Shepherd (Isaiah 40:11) and His return to Zion (52:8), He invites people to seek Him where He dwells forever: in Jesus, the Servant, the Son and Heir of David. He is present in His enduring and efficacious Word. Those who search the Scriptures will find that they testify to Christ. He is the Word incarnate and the new temple. Those who seek Him in Scripture, Holy Baptism, and His Supper do find Him. The opposite is to lust after idols. He alone gives life, while false gods bring only death.
When can God be found? The writer to the Hebrews emphasizes that “the day of salvation” is “today”, so do not procrastinate. Gregory of Nyssa asks: “Do you want to know the opportune time to seek the LORD? The simple answer is: all your life.”
Sing or Read 324 “Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor” Prayer: Ask the LORD to bring visitors to our congregation who would be blessed by uniting with our church family.
Thursday (12/19) Read and discuss Acts 1:1-10. It is difficult to answer questions that are based on wrong presuppositions. If someone were to ask you: “Have you stopped cheating on your taxes?” You probably wouldn’t simply answer “yes” or “no”, you would take the time to explain that you have never cheated on your taxes. The question that the disciples ask Jesus in verse 6 is based upon a complex mix of misunderstandings and this prevents Jesus from simply giving them a yes or no answer. Right up until Christ’s crucifixion they had thought that the coming of kingdom would primarily be about God powerfully crushing Israel’s enemies. Now that Christ had dramatically risen from the dead and had told His disciples that they were about to be baptized with the Holy Spirit they turned once again to imagining that the consummation of history must be at hand. “Is it now?” they ask. Jesus reorients them by declaring that their responsibility is not to figure out the prophesy charts, their (and our!) responsibility is to be faithful as witnesses. As R.C. Sproul points out:
The mission of the church, the reason we exist, is to bear witness to the present reign and rule of Christ, who is at the right hand of God. If we try to do it in our own power, we will fail. The reason for the outpouring of the Spirit is not to make us feel spiritual. It is not to give us a spiritual high. It is so that we can do the job that Jesus gave the church to do.
There is also a helpful reorientation for the Apostles in Christ’s response. Apparently, they continued to think of the earthly Jerusalem as being the center of the Kingdom of God. Yet, the headquarters for the Kingdom would not be in Jerusalem nor in the Vatican but in heaven where Jesus would be enthroned at the right hand of His Father. Furthermore, echoing the Great Commission, Jesus reminds the Apostles that He is sending them out. The news about the person and work of Christ would not only be declared in Jerusalem and nearby Samaria – but even to the ends of the earth. This truth is an important point of introduction for the book of Acts as a whole. To use the title of a book by F.F. Bruce, Acts is the story of “The Spreading Flame”. Read or Sing Hymn 311 “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Prayer: Give thanks that Jesus is ruling all things and that He is doing so for the good of His Church and the advance of the Kingdom of God.
Friday (12/20) Read and discuss Isaiah 52:1-10. On the Fourth of July Americans celebrate Independence Day to commemorate when our nation first declared itself to be a sovereign power. Yet, even a cursory familiarity with history makes it difficult to paint the British Empire as tyrannical oppressors. Israel could only have wished that they had been “oppressed” in this way. Isaiah had lived through the assaults of the Assyrians, who were among the most brutal people who had ever lived. Then he prophesied of Judah being taken into the Babylonian captivity. While the Babylonians were more civilized than the Assyrians, they did force the majority of the Jewish people to move more than five hundred miles away to a strange land where they would have to do whatever the king of Babylon told them to do. Yet, Isaiah 52 is promising a freedom from this bondage. More than mere freedom, Israel would be lifted up and exalted. Isaiah was promising a second Exodus where the people would be delivered not only to freedom and security but to being the LORD’s true people:
Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.”
When would this glorious event take place? If we stopped reading here we could easily imagine that this might take place in the fifth century B.C. when the LORD would bring Israel back into their land. But if we keep reading through Isaiah 52 and 53 we see that this freedom, security, and joy is intimately tied up with the substitutionary death of the Suffering Servant. It is only with Christ’s victory over Satan, sin, and death that the Second Exodus is truly accomplished. Living on this side of redemption accomplished, let us lift our voices to sing of Christ’s victory and let us rejoice in the Good News that He brings. Read or sing Hymn 299 “Joy to the World! The LORD is Come” Prayer: Please lift up our brothers and sisters at Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, NH.
Saturday (12/21) Read and discuss Luke 2:1-20. David Garland writes:
The sentimental Christmas may be popular as a religious holiday for some because it can come off as celebrating the birth of a helpless baby. Jesus lies in a manger to be gazed upon and adored, but not to be heard and heeded. A speechless babe wrapped tightly in swaddling cloths seems more obliging in allowing people to tailor their religious beliefs however they see fit. …
True, many hear only the Christmas bells of cash registers ringing, accompanied by mawkish seasonal, secular music. Churches do not always help by competing for the entertainment spotlight. One church I know of boasts of their Christmas program’s “pageantry, marvel, magic, and awe,” and emphasizes that they have been “entertaining and inspiring audiences … for more than 25 years.”
The story of Christmas celebrates the fulfillment of God’s promises and the incarnation of God in human flesh. That meaning is memorably captured by John 3:16. God loves, and God gives in order to save. Luke’s birth narrative portrays the nature of divine power that gives itself to save. God does not appear as an all-powerful despot but as a vulnerable child. Paul blazons this profound paradox in Phil 2:6-8. For Christ, equality with God meant emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, who had no rights and owed obedience, humbling himself and dying a slave’s death on the cross. It meant giving rather than getting, and Christ gave until he was empty; but his obedience led to an empty tomb and ultimate vindication that will culminate when throngs in heaven and on earth and under the earth, not just a host of angels, will bow down and sing glory in the highest to the One whose name is above every name.
Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.