Monthly Archives: December 2015

THE Spirit of Christmas


PictureTwo Christmas concerts featuring sacred choral music.  Both presented in local cathedrals.  Both using similar music from throughout Western history right up to the present day.  Both included music that was accompanied and a cappella.  But something was substantially different about one of these concerts, and as a result of that difference, the TRUE Spirit of Christmas came through.

I am drawing a comparison between these two concerts intending to bring specific attention to the reality of Jesus, as the Son of God and the Word became flesh.  In other words, THE Spirit of Christmas is the Holy Spirit revealing this reality to us, and reminding us year after year that this one event – the coming of the person of Jesus Christ – changes everything for everyone, regardless if any acknowledges it or denies it.

The music of the first concert was, in many technical aspects, exceptional and the presentation was well-planned and executed.  As I noted, the music was sacred in nature.  In fact, there is no doubt that some of the conductors and students knew the deep meaning of the lyrics they sung as they described the coming of Christ to earth, as the Word made flesh.

Yet, I left feeling that something was missing.  Thinking that I was just not “in the Christmas mood,” I dismissed my thoughts about the concert and went my merry way.  Then we attended another concert at a later date.

I have had the privilege of hearing the Grand Rapids Choir of Men and Boys for a number of years.  The Director, Scott Bosscher, is colleague from many years ago, and I have appreciated his devotion to this group and passion for seeing the tradition of this kind of musical style continue.  The annual presentation of Nine Lessons and Carols is a highlight of the Christmas season.

As we sat in the crowded cathedral, we knew the program would lead us through the story of the birth of Christ.  This is what is referred to as the “Nine Lessons.”  These are Scripture readings (nine of them) from both the Old and New Testaments that describe the story of Christ’s birth.  Each lesson is followed by a “carol,” or song that reinforces the specific message from that Scripture.  It is a musical journey that leads us along the story of Christ.

I would be justified in reviewing the quality of the music in this article, since it seemed to me that Mr. Bosscher had raised the level of the performance this year to new heights.  Simply put, this was an overall high quality presentation in both planning and execution.

However, what really struck me was THE Spirit of Christmas that was present, beginning with the opening remarks from a member of the board for the organization.  She pointed out that this concert was not just a nice musical presentation, but was intentionally focused to be a spiritual reminder of the truth about Jesus Christ.  In addition, the program notes had the following comment:

“Tonight the choir will offer its’ art…music.  But, in fact, each one of us is God’s work of art, and we cannot be faithful to His design without believing in this child born in a Bethlehem manger.”

And herein lies the difference in my experience at these two concerts.  In submission to God’s purposes, Jesus came as a baby and later died on a cross.  In humble recognition of this life-changing truth, the GR Choir of Men and Boys proclaimed that message.  They did so with musical excellence, but the music was not the primary focus.  Rather, the music was the vehicle for the message about Jesus Christ, come as a babe for the salvation of the world.

As the Holy Spirit reveals this truth to the hearts and minds of people, then the true Spirit of Christmas is understood.  We may describe the spirit of Christmas in many other ways – gift giving, family gatherings, celebrating friendship – but the foundation of all those is that God showed His love for us in the person of Jesus Christ.  We can only love as a reflection of the love He extended toward us.  As we are reminded in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”

May you find THE Spirit of Christmas this year as He reveals Jesus to you!


Ideas for Advent Worship Planning

The Season of Advent

The Season of Advent is an ancient church tradition which helps us to focus on different aspects of the celebration of Christ’s birth.  The word “advent” means “coming” – and we celebrate His coming to earth, as God become man, to redeem us and give His life for our sins.  We will also utilize the Advent Wreath as a symbol of our celebration.  Over the course of the next four weeks you will see the wreath candle lit, each representing the following themes:

Advent week 1 – “Vigilant waiting for the birth of Christ”

Advent week 2 – “Personal preparation for the birth of Christ”

Advent week 3 – “The Joy of our waiting”

Advent week 4 – “The incarnation of the Word in the womb of the virgin Mary”

Christmas Eve/Day – “Celebrating His birth!”

Notes and Ideas for Celebrating each week

Advent week 1 – Vigilant waiting for the birth of Christ

Reading:  Readings on the coming of Christ

After the Scripture reading, this will be read by way of explanation:  During this first week of Advent we focus our thoughts on looking and waiting for the celebration of the birth of Christ.  We wait with anticipation and longing.  We wait with expectation and hope.  We know He has come, and is returning once again, to restore us to the Father in a relationship of love and service.  Let us celebrate the hope that has come to us, and the hope that is yet to come.

Lighting of the Advent Wreath:  One (1) blue or purple candle

Song:  O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Advent week 2Personal preparation for the birth of Christ

Reading:  Readings of a penitential nature

After the Scripture reading, this will be read by way of explanation:  Our consideration of the second week of Advent is to help us prepare our own hearts and minds for celebrating Christ’s birth.  Christ came to save us, to die for our sins.  It was your sin, it was my sin, it was our sin that nailed Him to the cross.  As we consider this truth, let us humble ourselves and remember His forgiveness and love.  He is a gracious God, full of lovingkindness.  Even when we rebelled against Him He loved us enough to send His Son to die for our sins.

Lighting of the Advent Wreath:  Two (2) blue or purple candles

Song:  Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners

Advent week 3The Joy of our waiting

Reading:  Readings that celebrate the Joy of Christ’s coming

After the Scripture reading, this will be read by way of explanation:  Our third week of Advent brings us to the week of celebration.  Today we sing, we praise, we lift our voices with the joy that comes from God’s love sent to us in Christ.  It was for freedom that Christ set us free – and we are free indeed!  Free from the bonds of sin with new hope each day as we rise to serve Christ throughout the patterns and relationships of our lives.  With our families, with our co-workers, with our friends and with those we just meet – we are free to serve them as the love of God flows to us and through us and to them.  Let us celebrate His life.

Lighting of the Advent Wreath:  Two (2) blue or purple candles, and the Rose candle

Song:  Joy to the World!

Advent week 4The incarnation of the Word in the womb of the virgin Mary

Reading:  Readings that explore the Incarnation of Christ

After the Scripture reading, this will be read by way of explanation:  The fourth Sunday of Advent brings us to the real miracle of the Christmas season:  God in all of His fullness dwelling with man in the person of Jesus Christ.  Theologians and Scholars have studied and proclaimed this truth for centuries, yet each time we consider the wonder of this idea it brings us new hope and reminds us of God’s great love for us.  Jesus, as the God-man, is the only solution to the sin problem.  He came, as a humble babe, yet fully and completely the Word of God.  Let us remember today His unique place as God who became man and dwelt among us.

Lighting of the Advent Wreath:  Two (2) blue/purple candles, Rose candle, blue/purple candle

Song:  Emmanuel

Christmas Eve and Day – “Christ has come: Celebrate His birth!”

Reading: Luke 2 (The Christmas Story)

After the Scripture reading, think on this by way of explanation:  Christmas has arrived! And with the arrival of Christmas we celebrate Christ. We no longer wait, as in previous weeks, but we rejoice in the presence of God among us. We celebrate God sending His kingdom in the presence of His Son. We celebrate the salvation Christ brings, the forgiveness of sins, the conquering work of the cross over death, and the subjugation of Satan in Christ’s victory. Praise God for His indescribable gift!

Lighting of the Advent Wreath: All colored candles — and the WHITE Christ candle!

Song: Angels We have Heard on High

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