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Archive for December, 2016

It is a wonderful season of the year! We all love theChristmas carols! It almost seems a shame that we only sing some of them at this time of the year. How often do we pay attention to the lyrics? One hymn especially, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, by Charles Wesley, actually contains the true meaning about the coming of Christ.

At Christmas we think of Jesus in the manger. We can picture Mary and Joseph there. The shepherds come. The angels are gathered in the skies singing praise to God! What beautiful pictures of love, peace, and joy.

nativity-angles

But why did God send His Son to earth? Why did Jesus have to be born in a lowly stable? Just what is the real meaning of Christmas?

In 1739, Charles Wesley wrote the lyrics to one of the most popular Christmas carols – “Hark! The Herald Angels sing”. The music was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840. Let us take a closer look at the words. Charles Wesley’s hymn contains the true meaning of Christmas.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

The reason that Jesus came was to reconcile sinners to God. Jesus was sent “through the jesus_on_cross_wallpapertender mercy of our God to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78,79). When Jesus “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20), He made peace with God for us so that our sins may be forgiven.

Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to register for the census. Bethlehem was a small town. Who would have thought that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords would be born there? But Jesus showed us how much He loved us by being born in a lowly estate to save us who are not worthy of God’s love on our own. (Luke 1:52, I Corinthians 1:27).

Christ, by highest Heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

In our day there are many other religions that do not recognize Jesus as fully God and fully man. Charles Wesley reminds us that Jesus is “incarnate Deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell.” When we sing this beautiful song we are singing are affirmation of the basic truth that sets us apart from non-Christians – the full deity and humanity of Christ.

Hail, the heaven-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.”

The most wonderful miracle of all is that God came in the flesh to save His people. Jesus is truly God and truly man. Jesus was found “in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). “Mild, He lays His glory by.” Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to live the life of a servant in order that we may be made right with God. Jesus gave us our example of how we should live also.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving pow’r,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

With the coming of Jesus is a promise that all things will be made new. One day there will be no more tears or pain. But even now, on this earth, Jesus gives us the power to live a holy life. We no longer have to fall to the whiles of the devil. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2). Even ruined nature will be restored. What a joyful day to look forward to!!

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
Oh, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

This is our humble prayer as sinful humans. When we pray to Him, Jesus forgives and restores His full fellowship with us. What a wonderful privilege when Jesus restores His love in us and gives us joyful hearts to serve Him. We desire to show more of the image of Jesus and less of the image of “Adam” as we grow in our walk with the Lord. Jesus came not only to reconcile us to God, but to give us a holy life while we are on this earth.

It will really help us to bring back the true meaning of Christmas when we sing the wonderful hymns that God has blessed us with. Let us pay special attention to the words. Try singing and praying them at the same time.

Most of all, let us get back to worshipping Jesus at Christmas time.

holychildtopHark! The Herald angels sing
Glory to the Newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Merry Christmas!!

 

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Millions of Christians around the world will sing this beloved hymn “Silent Night” during the Christmas season. This favorite Christmas carol has been translated into just about every language in the world. What a joyous thought to know that so many people will be remembering the real reason for Christmas on the day of Jesus’ birth.
The story of the hymn is beautifully told by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries – joyfulheart.com
Check out the page with the Christmas stories. You will be blessed! If you are looking for good stories to share with your children, you will find many heartwarming stories at this site!

The Story of “Silent Night” —–silent-night

The phrase repeats itself over and over again in his mind:

Silent night, holy night,
Stille nacht, heilige nacht.

Father Joseph Mohr, Parish Priest

It’s the first line from a poem this young Austrian priest had written two years before. Now he can’t get the phrase out of his mind. “Silent night, holy night.”

Tonight is Christmas Eve and St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, north of Salzburg, will be chock-full of people. Father Joseph Mohr has a homily in mind, a message for his flock on this sacred night, but he needs a carol, something special to cap off the service.

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright…

The words won’t go away. “I need a tune!” he says out loud, shaking his head. “I wonder if Franz can help me. I hope it’s not too late.” Franz Gruber is the schoolteacher in the nearby village of Arnsdorf — a gifted musician, organist at the Arnsdorf church, and occasional substitute organist at St. Nicholas. “Franz will help me!” he says to himself. “He can’t resist a musical challenge.”

Franz Gruber, Schoolteacher and Organist

Quickly now he slings on his heavy coat, dons a fur cap and gloves, and ventures into the brisk December morning. The snow is crunchy underfoot as he makes his way across the churchyard towards Arnsdorf, just a 20 minute walk. “Silent night, holy night … silent night, holy night.” The rhythm of the words echoes with each step.

Elizabeth opens the door at his knock. “Father Mohr, how nice of you to stop by. Franz will be glad to see you.” She takes his coat and ushers him in. Franz is picking something out on his guitar.

“Franz, remember that poem I told you about: ‘Silent Night’?” says Mohr. “I know it’s too late to ask, but could you help put a tune to it? I want to sing it tonight for Christmas Eve.”

Gruber’s face lights up. A challenge. A song. He takes the lyrics from the priest and begins to say them over and over, looking for a cadence. Then he hums a line and scratches it down.

Mohr soon tires of the process and begins to play with the children. But within an hour or so, Gruber seems to have a melody and is working out the chords on his guitar. “Father, how does this sound?” he calls and begins to sing the words:

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm all is bright…

He stops to make a correction in the manuscript, and then continues:

…’Round yon virgin, Mother and Child,
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Father Mohr is ecstatic. On the second verse Gruber’s deep voice is joined by Mohr’s rich tenor. Elizabeth, baby on her hip, who has been humming along, now joins them on the last verse. The song fills their home with its gentle words and memorable melody.

Christmas Eve at St. Nicholas Church, Oberndorf, 1818

That night, December 24, 1818, the song fills St. Nicholas Church at Midnight Mass. Mohr sings tenor, Gruber bass, and the church choir joins the refrain of each verse, while Mohr accompanies on the guitar. By the time the last notes die away, the worshipers are a-buzz with joy and wonder at the song. On Christmas Day, the song is being hummed and sung in dozens of homes around Oberndorf. “Silent night, holy night.”

And in Oberndorf, they would sing their beloved carol again and again each Christmas. The song might have stayed right there had it not been for an organ builder named Karl Mauracher, who came to repair the pipe organ at Arnsdorf in 1819 and made several trips to Oberndorf over the next few years, finally building a new organ for St. Nicholas in 1825.

The Song Finds Its Way to Emperors and Kings — and to America

Whether Mauracher found the music and lyrics on the organ or they were given to him by Gruber, we don’t know. But he carried the song to the Ziller Valley east of Innsbruk, where he shared it with two local families of travelling folk singers, the Rainers and the Strassers, who began to sing it as part of their regular repertoire. The following Christmas of 1819, the Rainer Family Singers sang “Stille Nacht” in the village church of Fügen (Zillertal).

Three years later they sang it for royalty. Emperor Francis I of Austria and his ally Czar Alexander I of Russia were staying in the nearby castle of Count Dönhoff (now Bubenberg Castle). The Rainer Family performed the carol and were invited to Russia for a series of concerts.

In 1834 the Strasser Family Singers sang “Silent Night” for King Frederick William IV of Prussia. He was so taken with what the Strassers called their “Song of Heaven,” that he commanded it to be sung by his cathedral choir every Christmas Eve. It spread through Europe and in 1839 the Raniers brought the song to America as the “Tyrolean Folk Song.” Since then it has been translated into over 300 languages and dialects.

Various English translations blossomed, but the definitive English version of the song was penned by Rev. John Freeman Young and first published in The Sunday-School Service and Tune Book (1863).

Why Is “Silent Night” So Popular?

Why has “Silent Night” become our most beloved carol? Is it the words — tender, intimate, gentle? Or the tune — so peaceful, so memorable, so easy to play or pick out with one hand on the piano?

It is not a joyous, fast-paced carol like Handel’s “Joy to the World.” Nor theologically-rich like “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley. Nor does it have a complex tune like “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Rather, “Silent Night” is quiet and reflective, calling us to meditate on the scene. It is the ambience conveyed by both the gentle words and melody that create from this carol an oasis of peace.

“All is calm, all is bright.”

It calls us to dwell on the Madonna and Child —

“‘Round yon Virgin, mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

You feel as the “shepherds quake at the sight.” You can imagine as “heavenly hosts sing Alleluia.” And you begin to sing “Alleluia to the King” right along with them.

Rays of backlit brilliance highlight many a religious painting, but here the picture of light is painted in words:

“Glories stream from heaven afar….”
“Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from Thy holy face….”

10-silent_night

Just Who is in this manger? What is the significance of this birth? What is Christmas about — really? Perhaps most of all, “Silent Night” is beloved because it reminds us in its simple, but exceedingly clear way, the truth behind it all — the truth that changes everything:

“Christ, the Savior is born!”

Sing it again this Christmas and let its gentle peace wash over you and its bold assertion renew your soul.

“Jesus, Lord, at thy birth!

“Jesus, Lord, at thy birth!”

mohr-and-gruber

—– While the first few paragraphs of this story have been fictionalized, the historical events are true. Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) wrote the words to “Silent Night” in 1816 while priest at Mariapharr. On Christmas Eve 1818, he asked his friend Franz Gruber (1787-1863) to write the tune for Mass that evening at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf where Mohr had been assigned in 1817. I’ve been careful to rely on recent historical research into the origin of the carol, much of it gathered since 1995, when a manuscript of the carol in Mohr’s hand was found, dated 1820-1825. Some of the most helpful (and accurate) information sources are: Bill Egan’s Silent Night Museum, Egan’s article “Silent Night: The Song Heard ‘Round The World,” “Silent Night, Holy Night — Notes,” Hyde Flippo’s “Silent Night and Christmas,” the Stille Nacht Gesellschaft by Manfred Fischer, director of the Silent Night Museum and Chapel in Oberndorf, Austria.

 

God bless you all this Christmas!!

 

 

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joy-to-the-world

Let’s put aside some of the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping and other preparations and think about the love of our Savior Who came to give us peace, hope and joy.

        Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!adoration-of-the-shepherds-jacob-jordaens-1593-1678
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Isaac Watts, who wrote hundreds of hymns, wrote the popular Christmas carol, “Joy to the World”. The lyrics are based Psalm 98:4-9.

 Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy
Before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth; ”He will judge the world with
righteousness
And the peoples with equity.           

In comparing the hymn “Joy to the World” to Psalm 98 you will notice that the Psalm does not mention the shepherds or angels or even Joseph and Mary. The angels on the night of Jesus’ birth may possibly have sung Psalm 98 when they worshipped Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. The heavenly host was praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Because of the overwhelming amount of praise in both the psalm and the carol, we can see the reason that “Joy to the World” is a favorite Christmas carol today.

psalmnodyIsaac Watts had not intended for “Joy to the World” to be a Christmas carol. The famous composer had included it in his book “Psalms of David Imitated” published in 1719. “Imitated” meant that Isaac Watts rewrote the Psalms so that the words rhymed and people could sing them. For hundreds of years many congregations sang only the Psalms. Also many congregations used to sing “A Cappella” (meaning using no instruments). The emphasis was intended to be on the beautiful words of praise to the Lord from the Bible.

This hymn was sung to various tunes for many years. Then in 1839 the melody and lyrics were arranged by Lowell Mason into the song that we sing today. The tune is attributed to George Frederick Handel who wrote the famous Messiah. Parts of the tune to “Joy to the World” do remind us of the great oratorio, Messiah.

Isaac Watts wrote over 600 hymns. He is considered to be the father of Christian hymnody.  His hymns include such favorites as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”  But the most loved of all is “Joy to the World”.

It is not known exactly when this song began to be sung as a Christmas carol. But the words seem to apply to Christmas, when we celebrate the coming of Jesus.

Psalm 98 also reminds us of Christ’s second return. That will be the time when “the Savior reigns” and when “He rules the world with truth and grace.” Jesus will judge the whole earth “with righteousness and all the peoples with equity.”

Though we sing this song at Christmas time, we could sing it any time during the year. We can always praise God who “makes His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” We can praise Him for the “wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

 God bless you all this Christmas.

 

 

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It is the very nature of love to make us seek the presence of the person we love, and to delight in their company and conversation. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton

We have spent the last few months on a journey through the Middle Ages looking at the lives of Christian Women Mystics. It is time to turn to the stories of many other saints in other times in the history of the church.

Thsaintelizabethannsetonis week I would like to share some writings of Elizabeth Ann Seton. Though “Mother” Seton lived well after the Middle ages, (she was born in 1774 and died in 1821), her writings show a strong desire to have union with Christ and therefore we can place Elizabeth Seton among the Christian Mystic saints. Mother Seton comforted many thousands of Christians who looked to her as an inspiration in contemplating Christ. Her closeness and utter dependence on Christ place her among mystic saints. Mother Seton said, “This union of my soul with God is my wealth in poverty and joy in deepest affliction.” Elizabeth was so completely aware of God’s presence at all times that she inspired everyone around her.

I have already done a post on Mother Seton (August 3, 2015). There you will find the details of her life – her happy marriage, motherhood, and the founding of the American order of the Sisters of Charity. You will also see the tragedies she suffered – the deaths of her mother at an early age, her father, her husband, and her two daughters. Through all of life Elizabeth trusted and depended on God. She never let troubles get her down. Through all heartaches, deaths of loved ones, poverty, and the many challenges as she started her charitable work she turned to God Who did not let her down but provided for her and often in unexpected ways.

Elizabeth was raised as an Episcopalian. After her husband’s tragic early death, she was introduced to Catholicism by her husband’s Catholic relatives. Elizabeth was also influenced by Abbe Louis William Valentine Dubourg, a member of the Sulpician Fathers. The Sulpicians went to North America around 1800 as refugees escaping from the Reign of Terror that occurred in France in the 1790’s. Elizabeth was inspired by the goals of the Sulpicians to start religious schools in North America. She longed to start a school for the poor also.

Elizabeth’s love for Christ and for the poor was all that mattered to her. Founding a religious order similar to other Catholic Religious orders was the method she chose to fulfill her dream of free education for the poor. She joined the Catholic church and began her order with just a few sisters. The American Sisters of Charity adopted the rules written by St. Vincent de Paul for the Daughters of Charity in France. (See related post on Louise de Marillac, November 15, 2016.)

After founding the Sisters of Charity, Elizabeth worked tirelessly for twenty years and then slowly and painfully succumbed to tuberculosis. On her deathbed she offered prayers for the sick and dying. She was unselfish in her devotion to Christ and others right up to the end of her life. She died surrounded by Sisters on January 4, 1821.

At the time of her death there were more than twenty communities of Sisters of Charity. The sisters opened schools, built orphanages, boarding schools, and hospitals in 8 states and the District of Columbia.

During Elizabeth’s final years she spent much time ministering to the elderly. Because of her vibrant faith and anticipation of life in Heaven after death, she was able to comfort many who were dying. Here is something she shared with one friend who was at death’s door, “In the course of the day, while you work or pray, sometimes think: “Oh, how happy I am! Jesus, my dear Jesus, is coming to me. Oh, dearest Lord, prepare me for Yourself.”

Following are quotes from her many letters to family and friends (Taken from “The Collected Writings of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton”.)

“What was the first rule of our dear Savior’s life? You know if was to do his Father’s will. eliz-seton-quoteWell, then, the first purpose of our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly, to do it because it is his will. We know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life. We know that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.”

“Faith lifts the soul, Hope supports it, Experience says it must and Love says … let it be!”

“The gate of heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it.”

From a letter to Cecilia, October 7, 1805 – “and in every disappointment great or small let your dear heart fly direct to Him your dear Saviour throwing yourself in his arms for refuge against every pain and sorrow ‘He will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

“We must pray literally -without ceasing – in every occurrence and employment of our lives – that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation, or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him.

“The accidents of life separate us from our dearest friends, but let us not despair. God is like a looking glass in which souls see each other. The more we are united to Him by love, the nearer we are to those who belong to Him.”

“Our God loves us; this is our comfort.”

“He gives us every grace … this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.”

“How liable we are to err in our judgments respecting others, unless we thoroughly know the motives of their actions.”

“Trust all, indeed, to Him my dear one; put all in His hands…”

“Cheerfulness prepares a glorious mind for all the noblest acts.”

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

“Blessed, blessed Lord, keep us always in your company and press our weak hearts forever in your service.”

“Oh my God, forgive what I have been, correct what I am, and direct what I shall be.”

“Without prayer I should be of little service.”

And last, but not least, a prayer we all should say every day:

“How gracious is the Lord who strengthens my poor soul!”

 

 

 

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