Friday, December 24, 2010

From The Realms of Glory


One of my favorite Christmas hymns is entitled "Angels From the Realms of Glory," and tells the story of how groups of people throughout the ages would look to the birth of Christ as the singular event in human history, and would see the Christ child as more deserving of their worship than anything else. It speaks of angels, shepherds, sages, saints, and sinners, who would leave all that they had, to come to the Savior and kneel at His feet, to praise Him and love Him and acknowledge His majesty and be healed by His mercy and love.

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light:

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.

Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear.

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.

Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down.

Christmas is a time of rejoicing at the good tidings of great joy delivered to all people by an angel millenia ago. It is a time of singing with the heavenly hosts, proclaiming, "Glory to God in the Highest." It is a time to re-dedicate ourselves to "peace on earth, goodwill to men." It is a time to leave our contemplations, to bend before the altar, to be filled with wondering awe. For the Savior, the Lord of heaven and earth, condescended to be born into the world He had formed, to walk among us as a humble child. He, who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, was born to a young girl and her betrothed, laid in a feeding trough, visited by shepherds, and sought by kings. At Christmas we remember that Christ came to sanctify not only the great houses of worship, not only temples and cathedrals and palaces, but also, and ever, the simple, humble places where the pure in heart dwell. He came to redeem. He came to exalt. He came to heal. He came as Emmanuel--God with us. May God be ever welcome in our homes and in our hearts.

For God with us is now residing--Mercy calls you, break your chains.

Picture from http://cdn.elev8.com/

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Light of the World

Tonight is the fifth night of Hanukkah. In honor of the holiday, I decided to overcome the writer's block that has dogged me for past several months and just sit down and write about this festival. So here I am, at my kitchen table with my laptop, the room illuminated by the six candles burning low in the silver menorah beside me.

Today in sacrament meeting I bore my testimony about Hanukkah. Pretty unconventional, I know, but iconoclasm isn't something I shy away from. Those of you who know me, or have heard me speak in church, are not at all surprised by this admission, I'm sure. But I digress.

I love celebrating Hanukkah. I light the candles, fry the latkes, spin the dreidel, and sing the songs, and I love it all. I don't do it to be politically correct--that has never been a priority. I do it because it's a religiously meaningful holiday, and because it's a great way to prepare for Christmas, and to feel the Christmas spirit.

Hanukkah, as you probably know, began with the account of a miracle in the 2nd century B.C. A small group of Jewish nationalists, known as the Maccabees, were victorious in battle against the Selucids, who had overrun their temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. The Selucid king, Antiochus IV, who blasphemously called himself Epiphanes, "God manifest," decreed an end to the Jewish ritual practices, effectively abolishing Judaism. When this Jewish guerilla group re-took the temple and proceeded to re-dedicate it, they found that the casks of specially prepared olive oil for the temple's eternal flame had been smashed, and only a small amount of oil remained, enough for one day's use. As the story goes, the cask of oil burned for a full eight days, enough time to prepare and consecrate more oil and to re-dedicate the temple so that the Jewish people could worship God as He had commanded.

So why do I celebrate Hanukkah, as a Christian? Well, apart from harboring a not-so-secret desire to be Jewish, I find the imagery and symbolism of Hanukkah appealing--moving, even. It's especially appropriate during Advent, the liturgical season that prepares us for Christmas. Hanukkah, after all, is a holiday that celebrates miraculous light--a light that God caused to burn for those who lived in a troubled time, when foes beset them on every hand, when worship of God was a dangerous act, when the world was a scary place. It celebrates a God-given light in a dark world. It is a feast of dedication--then, of the temple; now, of ourselves. It is a season of re-dedication to God, with the promise of a heaven-sent light to illuminate our lives as we worship God, the source of all light.

It was on this occasion that Christ stood in the temple and declared His Messiah-ship, for He is the "light that shineth in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). He is the light of the sun, moon, and stars, for it was by His power that they were made (Doc. & Cov. 88:7-9). "And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him...which light proceedeth forth from God to fill the immensity of space" (v. 11-12).

May the light of the Lord illuminate our lives, our homes, our temples, and our hearts as we worship God in them this season. May we, at this feast of dedication, find renewed desire to follow the Lord, the Man of Miracles, the Light of the World.

Happy Hanukkah!