If you have a hymnal handy, you might enjoy the following short study I put together for Christmas Eve.

 

Isa 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah gives us an amazing description of the nature of the Child who is to come. He will have an authority that will encompass all rule, all dominions. He will mean light to a sin-darkened world and He will bring order to a world thrown into moral chaos by the fall. Then the prophet lists names/titles that describe what this coming One will be to mankind.

This description should be kept in mind when we think of Christ’s work today and when we consider what the future holds for the work of the Savior through His Church.

Isaiah 40:1-5  “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.  2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins.”  3 A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.  4 “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley;  5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

This passage comes at the beginning of Isaiah’s extended commentary on the Servant of God. Chapter 40 marks a point of transition in which the prophet’s primary focus is on Christ, rather than Israel. This Servant will do what Israel as God’s servant failed to do.

The hymn Comfort, Comfort Ye My People is based on Isaiah 40:1-5. Many of the prophecies from this point in Isaiah express consolation and hope that Judah’s exile in Babylon is almost over. Isaiah 40: 1-5 is a passage with words of comfort that forecast a new reign. The passage also calls for preparation or repentance in light of what God is going to do.

The author of this hymn is Johannes Olearius (b. Halle, Germany, 1611; d. 1684). The hymn was written in honor of John the Baptist and published it in 1671. It was part of a collection of 1200 hymns, 300 of which were written by Olearius. Olearius came from a family with several Lutheran theologians. After his education, he was ordained as a Lutheran pastor himself. Although Olearius wrote a commentary on the entire Bible and a number of devotional books, he is best remembered for his hymn collection.

Micah 5:2 But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. 3 Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And this One will be peace.

Other prophets, such as Micah, supply details regarding the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth. Roughly 700 years before the event, Micah foretold the place of the Savior’s birth; and he says something about the beneficial effect of His coming. The people of God will begin to be united under Him and He will be great and He will be peace—peace with God and peace among men.

The hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by Phillips Brooks in 1868. At one point, he spent a Christmas Eve in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, which made a tremendous impression on Brooks. Three years later, while pastor of the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, Brooks was searching for a new carol for his children to sing in their Sunday School Christmas program. He then wrote the words of this hymn. The church organist, Lewis H. Redner, was asked to compose a melody that children could sing easily. On the evening before the program, Redner came forward with the tune that has become most familiar. He claimed that he was awakened from sleep with the turn running through his head.

What is predicted and described in the Old Testament is fulfilled at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. This event is recorded at length by Matthew and Luke.

Matt. 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”

“Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of “Joshua,” which means “Jehovah saves.” This is the designation given by the angel to Joseph. Jesus would be God the Savior in human flesh. The angel declared that the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that Immanuel (“God with us”) would come.

The hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel originated in the medieval Church of the 12th century. It began as a series of Antiphons—short “back and forth” statements sung as part of worship services during the Advent season. Each of the statements uses one of the many titles ascribed to Christ in the Scriptures. Today, most hymn books have only five statements, although there were more in earlier versions of the song.

Luke 2:1 ff. (Luke narrates the birth of Jesus) 8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke, of course, tells us the most about the birth of the Savior. In this passage, he describes the appearance of angels to a group of shepherds outside Bethlehem. To these ordinary men the announcement came of the birth of the One who would perfectly exemplify meekness and self-sacrifice.

The hymn While Shepherds Watched was written by Nahum Tate in 1700. This hymn is one of the most popular ever written. It is found in nearly every Protestant hymnal. It is a simple narrative account about the shepherds and is written on a level that allows it to be easily understood. The music for the hymn was adapted from a work of Handel.

Luke goes on to say: 15 And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.

Silent Night was authored by Joseph Mohr who, according to his own testimony, intended to write “the perfect Christmas hymn.” The church organist, Franz Gruber, supplied the tune in time for a Christmas Eve service in 1818. The first performance of this song involved both Mohr and Gruber singing, while Gruber also played the guitar.

Our last selection, also reflecting the significance of the words of the angel to the shepherds, is Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts. Watts said he did not intend this song to be a Christmas carol. Rather, it was a part of a work in which Watts paraphrased the message of many of the Psalms that spoke of the day of the Messiah’s reign.

 

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