Luke 1:26-37; 2:25-35

Let’s play a Christmas song game? I will give you a clue, you figure out the Christmas song:

  1. Righteous Darkness
    O Holy Night
  2. Far Off in a Feeder
    Away in a Manger
  3. Bantam Male Percussionist
    Little Drummer Boy
  4. Nocturnal Noiselessness
    Silent Night
  5. Jehovah Deactivate Blithe Chevaliers
    God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
  6. Delight for this Planet
    Joy to the World
  7. Perceived Carillon Noel 24 Hours
    I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet, the words repeat, of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

But 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, goodwill to men.”

That contrast in the song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day serves as a reminder that this is not always the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. I always hear two songs in the air this time of the year: a song of wonder and awe; as well as songs of sorrow and woe.

Today’s passages remind us that even Mary heard the same two songs. She heard the majestic voice of the angel singing: “You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32). But she also heard the foreboding song of Simeon: “This child will be rejected by many in Israel and it will be their undoing. And a sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:34b-35).

Sometimes it seems that the song of the sword will drown out the song of wonder.

As I was preparing this message Tuesday morning, the little bird inside my phone chirped to notify me that a new article was just published on Flipboard. Like you, I couldn’t resist the urge to check it out, and it was one of those typical year-end stories that review all the bad things that occurred in 2017.

You don’t have to listen very hard to hear the song of sorrow being sung in the hearts of many this time of the year. It is a song whose melody has been born of hunger and war, fear and hatred, poverty and disease, loneliness and exploitation, sickness and death. It is a song whose lyrics have been written in blood and tears as a result of the consequences of human sinfulness. You can hear the lyrics of this sad song sung by those standing in lines; for food, or a job, or an unemployment check, or those standing in the reception line at a funeral home.

Do you hear what I hear? I hear the songs of sorrow quivering through the souls of people facing the loss of friendship, health, home, job, marriage. I hear the same tune welling up from deep within those who are experiencing their first Christmas without someone or in those who lost someone at some Christmas past.

Even though it has been 20 years ago yesterday that my father suddenly died, it still brings a tear to my eye. That’s why we know people who have actually prayed, “Lord, if he or she has to die, so be it, just let them live through Christmas.”

Many of us do a pretty good job of hiding those songs away in our hearts all year long. But as Christmas draws nearer, it grows more difficult to keep those heartstrings from breaking.

But you know in the midst of the songs of sorrow and woe, I also hear a song of awe and wonder.

This song doesn’t always have the lyrics to dispel the song of sorrow for the truth of the matter is the Savior didn’t come to exempt us from hardship or pain. He didn’t even exempt His own mother from that, as Simeon reminds us!

But if we will learn to tune our hearts to sing its grace, this song will measure joy into our tears. For this is a song of life and peace and hope! It is a glad song, a joyful song, a wonderful song, a glorious song!

The first stanza was written by the prophets of old:

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

For a child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us, And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

But as for you O Bethlehem, even though you are a small village, a ruler of Israel will come from you; One whose origins are from the distant past (Micah 5:2).

The second stanza was sung by angels:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and for this reason, the Holy Offspring will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:30-32a).

Don’t be afraid, shepherds, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

“Angels we have heard on high sweetly singing o’er the plains.”

The third stanza of this song of awe and wonder is sung by God’s people when they by faith they embrace this wonderful good news that “in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4); such that “having been made right with God through faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1); such that, when it comes time for us to sing a song of sorrow brought about by the adversities and circumstances of life, we will be enabled to sing with Mary: “I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to accept whatever He wants” (Luke 1:38).

But Mary, how, why . . . “because I know that God is with me.”

God is with us! That’s a major part of the Christmas message; the incarnation, the birth of God into the world. “And they shall call His name Immanuel which means God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).

This third stanza recognizes that when the Christ who was born in Bethlehem is born in our hearts today, a new hope is also born because regardless of what might befall in this life we are assured that God is with us in the midst of it. And that makes all the difference!

This peace and hope that comes to us as a result of receiving Christ enable us to realize there is a redemptive aspect to suffering. As Paul reminds us “all things work together for the good toward those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). That is, God can take a bad situation and by His grace working in mysterious ways have something good come from it.

In December 1987, a mother was expecting her first son to be born in February. On Christmas morning, she delivered William, a still-born child. Her pain was great as across the hall was a mother who delivered a set of quadruplets and the talk was in the hallways and on the news. She lay in her hospital bed thinking how Christmas would never be the same again. With each Christmas passing, her husband worked harder to make the holiday right. Seven years later, suddenly, without warning, he died right after Thanksgiving. Now she didn’t want Christmas to come at all.

Unable to sleep one night, she turned on the TV late to an old movie starring Mickey Rooney called It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. She thought to herself, “How ironic that I am watching this at midnight, in the midnight of my life.” In it, an old man dies before Christmas and then talks an angel into letting him return to Earth, to fulfill a Christmas mission. He returns to find the Christmas spirit is missing in NYC, so he goes on television and challenges New Yorkers to “Go out and do something nice for each other; it’s Christmas!”

And that’s when it hit this grieving mother. She had to choose, get bitter or better! The next day she went shopping for an elderly man who just lost his wife. On Christmas Eve she snuck to his porch and loaded it down with gifts, and an invitation to breakfast the next morning.

She explained, “I took my grief and utilized it to the service of others. Suddenly, I wasn’t focused on my own grief, and in doing so, I was healing myself. So now I challenge my friends as Mickey Rooney once did: ‘Get out! Greet your neighbor! Do something nice!’”

That’s angel song, my friends. It doesn’t completely drown out the song of anguish but it does have a way of measuring joy into tears.

I ran across a video the other day in which actor Morgan Freeman tells about how his mother tried to instill in him when he was a boy the idea of joy In the midst of what she calls the pauses in life.

There’s a Song in the Air!

The first verse was sung by the prophets of old. The second by the angels who announced the good news. The third by you and when we receive the gift of Christ’s love

And then there is the fourth and last verse of this song of wonder. To be sure, none of us have heard it, But rest assured it is being sung; even as we speak. It too is a glorious song, more wonderful and awe-filled than anything we have ever heard upon this earth.

For it is the song that is being sung by those saints who have gone before us in the Lord.
I’m talking about those folks who embraced Christ by faith and having died and received faith’s reward, now indeed they surround the throne of the Most High God and are singing,

To Him who sits on the Throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever (Revelation 5:13).

There’s a Song in the Air my friends!

“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.

‘Til ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a song sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”