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Monday, December 17, 2012

Church Bells
Church bells

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Note: For several weeks some of the Daily Encouragement email messages have been failing to deliver. For several weeks Comcast addresses have been delivering sporadically. Last Friday AOL and Yahoo addresses were also affected. I am working with Net Atlantic, our listserve company, to to get this resolved. A reminder that messages are also posted to the website.

"When Hate Is Strong"

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:16-18).

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a Christmas Carol Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote 148 years ago for a church in Boston, MA during the cruel miseries of the Civil War. The beautiful chiming bells of Christmas reminded Longfellow that God was still in command and in His pre-ordained time He would cause the right to triumph. Our loving Father would bring the sounds of peace and good will to the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. In light of the recent unthinkable tragedy it seems a fitting song to consider in our selection of hymn carols.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Many times we have passed through Newtown, Connecticut along I-84. In fact we stayed nearby on our trip to New England two months ago. However prior to last Friday I don't recall paying much attention to the town name though it lies on a stretch of busy highway where we've often been stalled in traffic so we've surely seen the sign.

So much has already been written about the horrific school shootings alongside the 24/7 news coverage. One wonders how many more senseless acts of evil must we endure in our lifetime. We join with others in prayer regarding this abhorrent massacre of innocent lives. We pray for a supernatural sense of God's presence to uphold and lift from despair those personally affected.

We associate Christmas with love, joy, and peace, but also in the same Scriptural narrative there is the written record of widespread evil
. We know the story but it's not a section of the Christmas narrative we choose to focus on. We might prefer to skip over it since the backdrop seems to be unconducive to what we perceive as the proper setting for the Christ Child's arrival.

King Herod, in an effort to dispose of the Christ Child King, ordered his soldiers to kill "all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under" (2:16). What a horrible slaughter this must have been. Herod was an evil man. I also consider the moral depravity of the soldiers in carrying out such an evil command. Even though we know Herod's motivation there is no reason to believe the inhabitants of Bethlehem did. I am also quite sure there was no official investigation let alone sympathy from the government afterwards.

"Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more" (2:17-18).
One can only imagine the inconsolable agony of all who resided in Bethlehem. Surely each family was affected, directly or indirectly.

Deep grief and despair has always existed in the human experience ever since the original fall. Longfellow experienced this as he received news that his son who joined President Lincoln's army, contracted typhoid fever and malaria. After months of recuperation he returned to the battle field, only to be shot through the left shoulder, causing near paralysis. After his injury stabilized Charley was returned to his home. For weeks Henry sat by his son's bedside, slowly nursing him back to health. (Longfellow's wife had died two years earlier in a tragic fire.)

*On Christmas Day, 1863, Henry Longfellow gave vent to his feelings in this plaintive carol that can only be understood against the backdrop of war. Two stanzas now omitted from most hymnals speak of the cannons thundering in the South and of hatred tearing apart "the hearth-stones of a continent." The poet drops his head in despair, but then he hears the ringing of Christmas bells. Their triumphant pealing reminds him that "God is not dead nor doth He sleep,"

And 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, good will to men.”

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.”

We who believe in Christ still live in a fallen world with much evil and unrest. The peace of which the angels sang is not speaking of the external circumstances that surround us. Rather it is the peace that Christ imparts within our hearts when we know Him as Savior and Lord.
The Prince of Peace reigning within our hearts is truly a gift from God that surpasses all other gifts.  Won't you receive the Christ of Christmas today!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, our hearts are heavy today as we continue to see the disastrous results of a country that has turned away from its original purpose for existence. Our current laws have dictated that Your Ten Commandments have no place in the discourse of public education. The government has stripped itself of the right to pray and seek Your approval when establishing the laws that govern our lives. Many cry out, "Where was God?" when the gunman killed 20 young children along with six courageous instructors. Yet, all that Scripture teaches us about how to live and show love one to another is referred to as old-fashioned, irrelevant, a thing of the past. Experts come from every direction to discuss their thoughts, but we know the only lasting answer to our need is provided for us in the arrival of Your Son, Jesus, who came to deliver us from our sins. How we pray for a mighty revival to sweep our land, revive our hearts and turn people away from their sins. We thank You for Your infinite mercy, and pray for Your comfort to be heaped upon those whose loved ones were stolen from them by the enemy fire. May our brothers and sisters nearby have an inroad to these hurting families as they reach out to them with the love that only You can provide through their loving endeavors. We also pray for the rescue workers and officials overseeing the crime scene, that You would guide them in wisdom. Fade from their memory the visual horrors to which they are exposed. We pray this in Christ's name. Amen.

Church Bells
We have been very busy with Christmas dinners at our various companies. We enjoy meeting family members at these special celebrations. This is a lovely centerpiece from our Friday night dinner that we now have in our home.
Mollie and Dottie 12-17-12
On a Lighter Note: Dottie, our cat, wanted to come inside to warm herself in front of the coal stove. But Mollie followed her in and robbed her of her usually peaceful, warm setting. Dottie's alternative to being pestered to pieces was to barricade herself inside the end table, much to Mollie's frustration.

Today's Suggested Music
and Supplemental Resources

"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"  Video  
Casting Crowns  A very moving version of the song.

"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"  Video  Traditional version by Steven Curtis Chapman

"All Is Well"  Video  

The story behind "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"

Robert J. Morgan tells the story in "Then Sings My Soul" Book 2

Some thoughtful perspectives on the shootings:

"Rachel Weeping for Her Children—The Massacre in Connecticut" by Albert Mohler

"An Orthodox Response To the Death of the Innocent" by J. Sanidopoulos

School carnage: Blame church, not God or guns by William Murray son of atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

Brian Lam, a pastor in Texas, preached on today's text and placed the sermon on his blog: Advent Message 2: Rachel Weeping, Matthew 2:16-18

Yesterday our pastor shared this thoughtful perspective that he had come across. I slightly edited the statement adding a few causes I think are relevant especially gaming:

It's a "me first" mentality. It's a problem that comes from people viewing others as disposable. It starts with not valuing human life in the womb and ends with not valuing human life with the elderly. It comes from  not recognizing a Creator who made each of us precious and unique from conception. It comes from a culture which alienates parents and children, encourages rebellion, elevates self, and discourages service to others. It comes from a world which promotes irreverence, immorality, divorce, immodesty, hyper-sexuality, and grotesque violence in movies, music, gaming and on television. There is no legislative solution. The only solution is Jesus, and that happens at a personal level. We are praying for the families in Connecticut.

Resources for Christmas Celebrations
(We will leave these resources posted below our daily messages through Christmas)

Each year we share several online resources that we have used over the years and that may be a blessing to families and churches during this Christmas season.

"In Remembrance of Me" pdf  This is a passion-filled Scripture reading for two adults. Brooksyne and I have used this reading with great receptivity during Christmas Eve services many years.  We suggest, if possible, a musical background as the message is read. It is also a great lead-in to a Communion service. It should be thoroughly practiced and read with great feeling.

"When Christ Was Born" pdf This is an adaptation to the tune of "How Great Thou Art". It's a great song to sing as a congregation since most are familiar with and love the tune.

Responsive Christmas Scripture readings for church or family:
John 1:1-18  pdf
"O Come Let Us Adore Him"  pdf

My First Christmas In Heaven  This is a blessed reminder for all who lost a loved one this year.  This is the poem that Brooksyne read and wrote about in this message.  

Christmas Knowledge Test

We have also posted two Christmas carol quizzes here (scroll down).

a message to Stephen & Brooksyne

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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