A Classic Christmas Prayer

Merry Christmas, everyone! My gift to you today is a Christmas prayer written more than 100 years ago by Henry Van Dyke, American author, educator, and pastor. You may be familiar with some of his other works such as the Christmas short story, The Other Wiseman (check it out if you have never read it!), or the lyrics to the beautiful hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” His Christmas prayer expresses in simple, beautiful words, joy for the gift of Jesus and hope for the gifts He still wants to bring us.

A Prayer for Christmas Morning

By Henry Van Dyke

The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven,

    and crowns another year with peace and good will.

Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus,

    that we may share in the song of the angels,

    the gladness of the shepherds,

    and the worship of the wisemen.

Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love

     all over the world…

Let kindness come with every gift

     and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings,

    and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy

    to be thy children, and the Christmas evening

    bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts,

    forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.

Amen.

 

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What Do You Want for Christmas?

It’s not real unusual for God to ask me questions. But I really wasn’t expecting the one that came the other day. True, I was talking to Him, but about something else. He abruptly changed the subject with this out-of-the-blue question: What do you want for Christmas?

“Excuse me? Did I hear that right?”

Yes, child, what would you like for Me to do for you for Christmas?

I was surprised, of course. In spite of the fact that prayer is, at its most basic level, about talking to God about what we need, I really wasn’t thinking about giving Him a Christmas wish list. But here He was, inviting me to ask.

I knew right away that the gift He had in mind wasn’t on the “Top Gifts for 2013” lists—stuff like Keurig brewers, iPads, and anything with the North Face® insignia. No, God is into giving gifts of the more imperishable kind. He also likes to give gifts that we could never buy (or make happen) for ourselves. And, because He’s such a good Father, He likes to give us gifts that He knows will fit and serves us well.

It didn’t take me long to decide what I really wanted. It is something that I cannot buy for myself and I cannot make it happen—I know because I’ve tried! Humanly speaking, it is pretty much impossible. Because it’s so impossible, I have all but stopped praying about it. Instead, I pray a kind of “help me endure, help me cope, build my character in this disappointing situation.”

But it would be easy for God to give me this particular gift. What I want is right and good. It would please Him to give it to me, I have no doubt about that. In fact, He would have as much pleasure watching me enjoy this gift as I would have enjoying it.

Nevertheless, I have no idea how He might accomplish it. I cannot begin to imagine how He could pull this off. But the Christmas story is all about impossible. God becomes Man? A virgin bears a child? Angels announce the news to shepherds? Wise men follow a star to Bethlehem? Christmas is all about impossible.

So I asked. I said, “Father, what I’d really like for Christmas is . . .”  and I told Him the longing of my heart. Of course He already knew . . . and I think maybe that’s why He asked me in the first place.

How about you? What do you want from God for Christmas this year? Will you ask Him for it?

A Heart Like Simeon’s

 I want to be more like Simeon. He knew his priorities, he had a ton of faith, and he knew how to wait. Luke says that he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). In other words, he was waiting for Israel’s promised Messiah. He was an old man. I get the idea that his main reason to get out of bed every morning was the hope that this might be the day Messiah would come—the day he had prayed for all his life.

Simeon hung in there. It had been more than 400 years since the last promise about Israel’s consolation had been given. It’s questionable just how many people were still holding onto that hope. I mean, four centuries is a long time. For me, if something I’m waiting for doesn’t happen after a few weeks or months, I’m prone to give up and move on to Plan B. But Simeon never stopped hoping and waiting for what God had promised.

I am sure that Simeon’s faith pleased God. Why? For one thing, when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, Simeon was the first person to whom God revealed the incredible news. The Holy Spirit personally revealed to Simeon that this little Baby was the One, the Messiah, the child on whom the hope of the entire world hinged. We can’t help but sense his joy when he holds God’s Promise—all seven or eight pounds or so of Him—in his arms. 

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:28-32).

We, too, are waiting for the Messiah. It’s been a long time—centuries—for us, too. I have to admit that waiting and praying for His coming are not usually on my front burner. I’m not at the temple every day (as it were) straining my eyes and begging heaven for His return. I haven’t actually given up on His coming—I know that someday He will come back—but it’s all too easy for me to busy myself with other things, to settle down and try to make the best of things here in this broken world. I definitely don’t think about His coming all the time like Simeon apparently did.

God probably wishes I would, though. After all, Paul says that there is even a special crown–the crown of righteousness—that the Lord will give to all who have eagerly waited and longed for Jesus’ appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

But what might that hoping and praying and longing look like?

I think it might involve a deep longing to be with Jesus. Sure, He is present with us now, though the Holy Spirit. He is near. He speaks to us. We see Him working. But still, it’s not the same as seeing Him face to face. It might be the difference between a Skype conversation and sitting next to a loved one on the couch. I want to be with Jesus up close like that.

I also think it is a deep longing to have His kingdom come fully and His will be done fully here on earth as it is in heaven. We get glimpses of that from time to time, but the full realization of it will only happen when He comes the second time.

And I think it is a deep longing to be like Him. Yes, bit by bit, we are being transformed into His likeness. But it is only when He appears that “we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

There’s probably a lot more reasons to long for His appearing, but those are enough for me to get me started. Thinking about what it will be like when He comes again really does stir my heart. And so a good Advent prayer for me has become “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). That, and “Lord, give me a heart like Simeon’s, that won’t be content until I see You face to face.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Timing

When I read the Christmas story again this year, I couldn’t help but notice just how ill-timed Gabriel’s announcements of good news seemed to be. In the first case, Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for a baby for years, probably decades. But by the time Gabriel showed up to tell them that God was finally about to answer their prayer, they were old, past their prime. They’d have to buy BENGAY® and diaper ointment in the same shopping trip. They and their baby would both be eating pureed food at the same time.

On the other hand, we can be pretty sure that the teenaged Mary wasn’t praying for a baby at all. She wasn’t married yet. Having a baby out of wedlock would not seem like good news. Still, that’s the news Gabriel gave to her when he made his surprise visit to her.

In hindsight, we know very well that the arrival of both babies, Mary’s in particular, truly was good news. Sure, the news may have stunned their parents, and maybe even stressed them out some. But the timing was perfect. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child, John the Baptist, arrived on the scene just in time to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah. And Mary’s baby, Jesus, came at “the right time” (Galatians 4:4, NLT), at the perfect intersection in history when He could best do His work of redemption for all mankind.

As I was pondering the unusual timing of these two births, I’ve thought about how prone I am to judge the appropriateness of an event’s timing. I deem some things as “too late” and others as “premature.” I view some things as interruptions, others as delays. Every once in a while, I realize that something is perfectly timed—but those times are fairly infrequent. Usually, if it were up to me, I’d prefer that things happen at some time other than when they actually do.

I am a time-bound creature. God, on the other hand, is not. Rather, He controls time. It is He who “changes times and seasons” (Daniel 2:21). He is the one determined my days and who has written every one of them in His book before one of them came to be (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16).

Sometimes the Lord seems to dawdle about answering my prayers. The wonderful old King James Version word for that is “tarry.” Other times He shows up suddenly, when I am not really ready for Him. I haven’t counted them, but it seems like there are fairly equal numbers of times where the Bible tells us to wait for Him and times when it warns us to be ready because He might show up when we’re least expecting Him.

In other words, God’s timing and mine don’t always match up. And when they don’t, I sometimes worry. After all, it’s not convenient to have a baby when you were just starting to think about retiring. It’s also not convenient to have a baby when you’re not married yet and society doesn’t look kindly upon unwed mothers.

I haven’t faced anything as radical as those situations, but I have had plenty of both delays and interruptions that have thrown me for a loop. However, I shouldn’t doubt the timing. I can look back on every one of those and realize that God’s timing, though different from mine, was always just right.

That shouldn’t be surprising because God’s Word assures me that “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise” (2 Peter 3:9). It tells me that there is a perfect time and season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Nothing happens early, nothing is late—it’s all in His perfect timing.

This is a helpful perspective when thinking about prayer. I can think of a few prayer requests I’ve been waiting on for a long time now. I actually have been asking Him to “Please hurry.” And there’s nothing wrong with that—King David sometimes did it in his prayers (Psalm 40:17, 70:5). However, when, in spite of my pleas for Him to answer quickly, He does take a while, I don’t want to get discouraged, frustrated, or give up. I want to trust Him.

Likewise, when the Lord chooses to surprise me with something I wasn’t quite ready for, I want to trust Him in that, too.

Bottom line? I really do believe that God knows what He is doing. His timing is far better than mine, so, Ancient of Days, I want to set my watch to Yours. Please help me to get into sync with You because You are never early and never late, but always just on time.