This final week of Advent is all about God’s love. Specifically, God’s love for His children. Stick with me, friends, this one is jam-packed, so Let’s dive in
God’s love in disguise
No place at the inn.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn. –Luke 2:7
What would you do in that situation? You are in labor and about to have a baby, but upon arrival, the hospital folks tell you, “Sorry, but we’re full.” Where would you go? More importantly, would you trust God to get you there?
Well, let’s look at the Christmas story to find out what our young couple, Joseph and Mary, did.
And from the Gospel of Matthew this time:
18 These are the facts concerning the birth of Jesus Christ: His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph, her fiancé, being a man of stern principle,* decided to break the engagement but to do it quietly, as he didn’t want to publicly disgrace her.
20 As he lay awake considering this, he fell into a dream, and saw an angel standing beside him. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “don’t hesitate to take Mary as your wife! For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a Son, and you shall name him Jesus (meaning ‘Savior’), for he will save his people from their sins. 22 This will fulfill God’s message through his prophets—
23 ‘Listen! The virgin shall conceive a child! She shall give birth to a Son, and he shall be called “Emmanuel” (meaning “God is with us”).’” [Isaiah 7:14]
24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel commanded and brought Mary home to be his wife, 25 but she remained a virgin until her Son was born; and Joseph named him “Jesus.” –Matthew 1:18-25 (TLB)
There are only a few short verses in Matthew that describe the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus, not chapters building up to His entrance. There was no hype involved or necessary. Only seven verses, one of which is from the Old Testament.
Now, Matthew’s report of these events is the trimmed-down version. But to me, the briefness of it signifies the humility God showed us when He sought to save the world through His Son, Jesus, who came to us as an infant. Vulnerable. A stable, His first nursery. Lowly shepherds, His first visitors. God let His sacrificial love speak through fulfilled promises.
God’s love on display
Speaking of actions, can you also see the sacrificial love of God in this story?
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. –1 John 4:9-11(NIV)
When Jesus entered the world as an infant, God knew this baby would one day die a painful and humiliating death on a cross. That Jesus would be the substitute for all of humanity, dying for our sins and thereby making a way to salvation and eternal life. Yet, God loves us so much that God designed this outcome for the beginning.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.–John 1:1-3, 14 (NKJ)
Jesus lived a sinless life, and ultimately, in complete obedience to the Father, He made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. –John 3:16-17
Friends, God loves you so much that He gave us the perfect model of love in Jesus so that we would know how to love others.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.– 1 John 4:11-12 (NIV)
Meanwhile, Back in Bethlehem
The angels sang of Jesus’ arrival, and the shepherds felt compelled to find the baby. So, they went into the city without delay and found Mary, Joseph, and God’s one and only Son, Jesus. On their way back home, the shepherds told everyone they passed what they saw and heard about the baby they met in a manger, praising and glorifying God all the way (Luke 2:16-20).
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 among those with whom he is pleased!”–Luke 2:13-14 (ESV)
Because Joseph and Mary loved God, they accepted His calling on their lives by faith. Therefore, they trusted what He revealed to them and obeyed God’s direction.
- They moved forward with the marriage. Isaiah 7:14
- They traveled to Bethlehem, where Mary would give birth. Micah 5:2
- Later, prompted by the Holy Spirit, Joseph moved the family to Egypt, saving them from Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn King. Hosea 11:1
Was life easy for them? Of course not! But God doesn’t promise easy, but He does promise to be with us (John 16:33) every step of the way and to love us into heaven (Romans 8:37-39).
God’s Love is faithful
Now, let’s look at the promise of a Savior that runs through the whole Bible. God’s seeds of assurance planted in the Old Testament come to fruition in the New Testament. His word tells us a Savior is coming, so let’s look at the following scripture map to see where it leads us.
Seeds of a Savior promised
This list is only one example, but the Bible gives us many more. (From the New Living Translation)
- “For the time is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. –Jerimiah 23:5.
- He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.–Luke 1:32
- From the genealogy of Jesus, in Matthew:
- This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham: –Matthew 1:1
- Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). –Matthew 1:6
- Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.–Matthew 1:16
- All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). –Matthew 1:23, but this is a reference back to Isaiah 7:14.
Here we can see that, through the prophets, God promised Jesus to us long before his birth. And then, in Luke 3, there’s a second genealogy that goes all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:38). So from the beginning, we can see God’s design has intention and proves His faithfulness.
Seeds of hope for our returning Savior
Therefore, because of God’s faithfulness, we know Jesus is our Savior, and we can trust God and believe without a doubt that Jesus will come again. (From the New International Version)
- And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. –John 14:3
- May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. –1 Thessalonians 5:23
- Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. –Hebrews 9:27-28
- And because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. –Philippians 3:20-21
You will find so much more in regular reading and study of God’s Word. When you do that, it becomes evident that all of scripture points us to Christ. So we need only stay on the path.
, and eternity.
Hymn of the week, Hark the Herald Angels Sing
This week I’m sharing some interesting facts about the writer, Charles Wesley, and his family.
Charles’ mother, Susanna Wesley, was the 21st child in the family. She was the mother of 19 children, but only 10 survived infancy. Susanna endured much in her 73 years. But, by all reports, she was a force to be reconned with, especially at prayer time. Even in a very full household, she insisted on time with God for prayer and study.
Susanna is famously known for praying under her apron. In the makeshift tent, with her apron covering her head, she was in the Word with God, and the household knew this time was sacred—do not disturb mom. One might surmise that Susanna’s practice of prayer, among her other activities for the Kingdom, had a significant impact on her hymn-writing sons Charles and John. The latter is likely better known (by the way) for founding the Methodist Church.
On December 18, 1707, Charles was born the youngest Son and 18th child of Samuel and Susanna. Charles is believed to have written at least 6,000 hymns on his own and 482 more with his brother, John (Julian, 1907). Together, they formed an essential part of Methodist hymnody and the enormous influence of the Wesleys on English hymnody of the nineteenth century overall. –Paraphrased from the John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)
Charles wrote our hymn of the week in 1739. The original title of this beloved hymn was Hymn for Christmas Day, and the first words of the original hymn were Hark, how all the welkin [heavens] rings, Glory to the King of Kings. But George Whitefield, also known as the “Grand Itinerant,” changed it to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and, after a few more revisions, he published it in 1783 among a collection of other pieces. By 1783 the new opening line (repeated) became the hymn’s refrain.
I believe God arranges everything to work according to His plans. Therefore, I wonder if this hymn would have become so well-loved had it not been for George Whitefield (1714-1770). Mentored by Charles and John, although a convinced Calvinist, he was probably the first cultural hero of his day, preaching “at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers.” (Christianity Today, 2008)
Whitefield is considered the ignitor of “the Great Awakening, which became one of the most formative events in American history” (Christianity Today, 2008). God uses anyone and anything to make His name known.
According to the Psalter Hymnal Handbook, 1987, the verses:
Containing biblical phrases from Luke, John, and Paul, the text is a curious mixture of exclamation, exhortation, and theological reflection. The focus shifts rapidly from angels, to us, to nations. The text’s strength may not lie so much in any orderly sequence of thought but in its use of Scripture to teach its theology. That teaching surely produces in us a childlike response of faith; we too can sing “Glory to the newborn King!”
When the shepherds saw the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, confirming the sign shared by the angels heralding the good news, they knew what they had to do. They had to tell everyone:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Lyrics by Charles Wesley, 1739
Music by Felix Mendelssohn, 1840
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”
Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel. [Refrain]
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth. [Refrain]
Be blessed, my friends, and have a very Merry Christmas.
If you missed any of this series and want to catch up, please click this link to the dedicated Advent Series page.
Author: Charles Wesley Charles Wesley, M.A. was the great hymn-writer of the Wesley family. “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” Hymnary.org. Accessed December 6, 2021. https://hymnary.org/text/hark_the_herald_angels_sing_glory_to.
Christianity Today, (2008, August 8). George Whitefield. Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/george-whitefield.html.
Green-McAfee, Jackie Green and Lauren. “The Praying Example of Susanna Wesley.” FaithGateway, June 5, 2018. https://www.faithgateway.com/praying-example-susanna-wesley/#.YZV5WWDMI2w.
JULIAN, John. “Charles Wesley.” Essay. In A Dictionary of Hymnology … Revised Edition, with New Supplement. London: John Murray, 1907.
Ruiter-Feenstra, Pamela S. “Hark the Herold Angels Sing.” Essay. In Metrical Psalmody: A Handbook to the 150 Psalms in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal, 1989.
Staff, Crosswalk.com Editorial. “10 Things Everyone Should Know about the Methodist Church.” Christianity.com. Christianity.com, May 21, 2018. https://www.christianity.com/church/denominations/what-is-methodism-10-things-to-know-about-methodists.html.
This post is number four in the 2021 Advent Series. Click the link to see the others. Merry Christmas!