The Curiousest Seesaw of them All

Ah, the illustrious lights of our ever-illustrious times;
Ah, the busy little bees whispering in our elephantine ears
here and there and everywhere:
the songs of power, the rising towers,
the chiefest outrages of our times.

Yea, Verily, yea, they sing our
rising songs and stats,
our stately diplomats
and eternal plaintive ditties:
“ah, but this and that.”
“Ah, but also that and this.”

Such it is; such it is;
tis the curiousest seesaw of them all.

Today an unforgivable smirk says
(It says everything in the world, it does)
“I shall sit idly by and
Tempt and tease, tease
and tempt and tempt.”

We sayest in return:

He and she: “No, nay, and nevermore,
Say it isn’t so, say it ain’t so!”

She and he: “By electronic uvulas,
by giga-belly buttons incongruous,
what an unmitigated outrage, that.”

The boggled of us,
the curiousest seasaw of them all.

Truly, these are the giga-bellies;
they glorify the seesaw,
upside, downside.

The boggled of them.

For
no it ain’t so,
No, nay, nevermore for
the whole tip-to-tip
atom-meet-atom
thing of us is all upside, downside
with all philosiphication
and useless contemplation with our ears like elephants
and the love of popularization and fickle sycophants,
and piles of other things sitting idly
on this tip-to-tip seesaw
stretching its long beam
across this all blue-green strip that is.

Tis the curiousiousest seesaw of them all.




REO Radio

If you have paid any attention to REO, you know we love music. All kinds of music, in fact. I’ve lost track of how many articles we have published that revolve around music and song. We’ve published multiple playlists, a series on the forgotten history of Christian rock, and many, many other articles that are inspired by our love and appreciation of all the wonderful music that has been and is being created.

I love listening to the radio. It’s always fun to hear a song you love play over the airwaves. At least, it is for me. I love Christian music – CCM. I have since childhood. While I love secular music as well, my first love will always be grounded in songs that are infused with a sense of faith, grace, and redemption. You can find that kind of music in the secular world, but you might have to wade through a lot of garbage as well. So naturally, my heart turns toward music that is created by believers.

Unfortunately, most Christian radio these days is stuck in an endless loop of recency bias. Christian radio stations play the same handful of songs, all of which have released in the last year or so, and they play them repeatedly. (We dealt with this idea in more depth on our Christian Rock series – you can read those starting here.) Based on the popularity of those articles and playlists, I know we are not alone in our desire to hear songs from every generation and multiple styles and genres.

That is where this playlist comes in. We have been putting this together for some time. We’ve spent hours selecting the songs, sequencing the order, and doing our best to find the right blend of sounds, artists, and styles. If you are familiar with secular radio stations that play hits from various eras and genres, this is that, only featuring Christian music. We tried very hard to include as much variety as possible. If you have any history with CCM, you will be familiar with a lot of these songs though I’m sure there will be some news songs to just about everyone – that is intentional. While we focused on including artists and songs that would be easily recognizable to as many people as possible, we also wanted to do our best to introduce our readers/listeners to some music that they might have missed. And for those that love the newest Christian music, don’t worry. We included plenty of those songs and artists as well.

So, without any more delay, we present to you REO Radio. The playlist is 150 songs. We recommend that you follow it on Spotify and listen to it in the order we created – though that is not an absolute necessity. We think you could easily put this playlist on in the morning when you get to work and listen to it all day and you will not repeat a song. We hope it will serve as a journey through the varied textures, styles, and sounds of Christian music. We hope it’s a journey that many of you will take and enjoy. We know we enjoyed putting it together. Thanks for reading and thanks for listening. Feel free to share this playlist with your likeminded friends. Oh, and this playlist will evolve over time. We will continue to tweak it, adding and subtracting songs as they come to mind.




500 Words or Less Review: Winchester ’73

While growing up the Jimmy Stewart Western, Winchester ’73, was a much-loved family treasure. Through the years this movie has been quoted by our clan hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. While it has long remained close to my heart, I long considered I loved it so much because I had grown up loving it along with my kin.

Nay, my friends. Nay, I say. For after much time of having not watched it (A couple of years), I viewed it again this past weekend. It earns all the praise it gets and well deserves to be considered a great Western classic.

Released in 1950, Winchester ’73 was not Stewart’s first foray into the Western genre. He had dabbled in it years before. His most recent prior to Winchester ’73 was Destry Rides Again in 1939. However, this was his first entry in a string of Westerns throughout most of the rest of his career. It was also his first time working with director Anthony Mann, with whom he would go on to do four more Westerns by 1955.

As the title suggests, the movie is partially about a prized gun and how it is stolen from the man who won it legitimately (Stewart) and thereafter passes from one ill-fated possessor to another. However, it is also about a long-standing feud between two childhood friends, both crack shots.

The story commences in Dodge City with a shooting competition to win the legendary gun. The deadly feud began many years before, but both are there for the much-heralded prize. After a phenomenal competition, our hero Lin McAdam wins by successfully shooting through a stamp midair. However, his sworn enemy (“Dutch” Henry Brown) steals the gun from him immediately following the competition. And so, the movie follows two storylines, the line of the Winchester as it is passed from one person to another and another line following McAdam and his friend and partner High Spade as they continue the pursuit of Henry Brown.

To give any further details would be to ruin it for those who have yet to see this gem. The two story-lines run close together, sometimes even crossing paths until they are finally united. Along the way, you will meet a battle-scarred Indian chief, an Indian trader, a beleaguered cavalry unit, and a “crazy yellow” coward. While most of these guys are bad to some degree, the main baddies are two bank robber gang leaders (a very memorable “Waco” Johnny Dean and the aforementioned “Dutch” Henry Brown.)

The movie stars some heavy hitters of the silver screen of yesteryear including Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Milliard Mitchell, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, and Jay Flippen. Out of context, the dialogue isn’t that extraordinary, but these actors (and probably their director) made it eternally quotable.

Suggestion: Don’t watch this movie expecting the best Western you have ever seen. If you do, you will be disappointed. While Winchester ’73 is a superb example of the classic Western, it is not in the very top tier of all time.




Lucy Hosts a Dinner Party

Lucy Hosts a Dinner Party

The setting is Ricky Ricardo’s Club Babalu. Lucy has invited three book club friends and one guest of these friends to join her, Ricky, and their besties the Mertzes for dinner. The nine gathered dinner guests include Lucy, Ethel and Fred Mertz; Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine Benes; Lucille and Gob Bluth; Kate Austin and Jack Shephard. Prior to their arrival Ricky has just finished performing his favorite song. All except his wife, Lucy, silently rejoice at this since they all unanimously hate it with every fiber of their being. Gob is sure that act can be vastly improved with a bit of magic…and candy. Now they impatiently and hungrily await Ricky while he changes backstage. (The waiters have been instructed not to begin dinner until he arrives.) Like a gracious host, Lucy breaks the ice.

Lucy: Early this afternoon Ethel and I were really bored and I just looked at Ethel and said, “You know what we ought to do? You know what we ought to do?! You want to go downtown and have dinner with the boys tonight?” And she said…tell them what you said, Ethel.



Ethel
: I said, “yes!…What boys?”


Lucy: And I said, “Fred and Ricky, silly.” And then she said, “Oh yeah.” Just like that “Oh yeah,” and she obviously wasn’t at all excited about it. So I suggested we invite some of our book club friends and their significant other.


Ethel: Or a friend.



Jerry
: Or mortal enemies (He looks meaningfully at Elaine).


Lucy: Good times! Now, all we need is Ricky.



Jack Shepherd:
 Shouldn’t he already be here?


Lucy: Hold your horses. And, say, won’t he be delighted to see you all.


Ethel: You mean he doesn’t even know yet?


Lucy: Well, he knows the three of us are.



Mrs. Bluth
: GAAAH! Why am I even here? Gob!…


Jerry: And why haven’t we given our orders yet?


Lucy: We’re waiting for Ricky. He has to tell the waiters when we’re ready.



Elaine
: I’m ready.


Jerry: I thought we had reservations.


Lucy: We did. I made them. 


Jerry: Did you? Do you even know how reservations work?


Lucy: Yes, I know how reservations work, Jerry, thank you very much.


Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, we’d be eating.

(He looks at Fred). Am I wrong?



Fred
: Don’t look at me, I’m just here to for the chow.



Elaine
: (scoffs) Lucy.


Lucy: Excuse me…Have we met?


Elaine: No, but I’ve heard of your show. “Murphy Brown”, right? I’m writing a script for it.


Lucy: What? I’m on “I Love Lucy.”



Elaine: Yeah, whatever, I don’t care.


Jerry: Let me get this straight, you haven’t even seen the show and your writing a script for it?


Elaine: (Ignores Jerry and looks at the food on the other tables). GAAAH, I am so hungry!


Lucy: Now listen, Ethel, when Ricky gets here and sees everyone you distract him with something that will make him forget about being mad at me.


Ethel: Huh? How?


Lucy: Dance with him, talk, sing…That’s it! Ask Ricky to sing.



Ethel
: Sing?! You know he won’t!


Lucy: Oh, WON’T he! There is nothing he would rather do, ever!


Jerry: My but isn’t it great to see such familial love and trust in action.


Elaine: What’s the point of waiting for this guy. Let’s eat!


Lucy: “This guy”? I’ll have you know—


Kate: Just a little plate of chocolates. Is that too much to ask? Just one plate. 



Gob
: Oh come on! She just wants some chocolate. Garkon! Garkon! A plato ofo chocolatos for the senioraitos and the seniorettees.


Lucy: No! No, never mind, Sam. No chocolates.


Fred: You just had to ask for chocolates. Ethel and Lucy have had it with chocolate since that time they scarfed down all those chocolates at the chocolate factory.


Lucy: Well…that was all your fault.


Fred: My fault?


Lucy: Yes. Yelling all those crazy things.


Fred: That was dinner talk.


Lucy: Yeah well…you scared me!


Ethel: My sentiments exactly, Lucy. (scowls at Fred)


Lucy: Thank you, Ethel.


Jack: I got to tell you ladies, if you don’t learn to get along with your husbands…you’re going to eat alone.



Kate
: (turns to Gob) He always says stuff like that.


Jack: Yeah, well. I love you.



Kate
: I love you more.


Jack: No, I love you more.


Kate: Okay.


Gob: That’s the Christmas Spirit.


Jack: Back on the island we didn’t celebrate Christmas at all and liked it.


Kate: (To Gob) He loves talking about the island.


Jack: The island told me to.


Gob: (Pulls out a deck of cards and shows the top card) Hey Kate, see this King of Diamonds?


Kate: Sure.


Gob: That’s me. You’re the queen who the king of diamonds showers with diamonds. (pulls a queen of clubs from the deck)…I mean Clubs…Club sauce! He showers her with club sauce!!!



Mrs. Bluth
: Ugh, I hate club sauce. If I wanted my sauces touched, I’d eat the inside of your ear!


Gob: What does that even mean?!


Lucy: Okay, okay, okay, everyone. While we wait for Ricky, let’s play “Going On a Picnic.”


Jerry: Yeah, cause we really need to work up an appetite right now.


Ethel: Really?


Jerry: No.



Mrs. Bluth:
Lucy, dear, I don’t like these games and I won’t respond to them.


Lucy: I’m sorry you don’t enjoy these games more. I guess you are just a heathen who doesn’t “get” what fun is all about.


(Lucy and Ethel enthusiastically begin the game but Fred refuses to continue and everyone else is good with that. Except for Gob)

Gob: I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking an artichoke, a bacon sandwich, and….a Chimpanzee with a cup of cold coffee…and an illlluuuusion.


Elaine: (Says quietly to Jerry) Ya know, we shouldn’t have to wait for her husband to eat. I feel like just going over there and taking some food off somebody’s plate.


Jerry: I’ll tell you what, there’s 50 bucks in it for you if you do it.


Elaine: What do you mean?


Jerry: You walk over that table, you pick up an empanada, you don’t say anything, you eat it, say ‘thank you very much’, wipe your mouth, walk away. I give you 50 bucks.


Elaine: 50 bucks, you’ll give me 50 bucks?


Jerry: 50 bucks. That table over there, the three couples.


Elaine: OK, I don’t wanna go over there and do it, and then come back here and find out there was some little loophole like I didn’t put mustard on it or something…


Jerry: No, no tricks.


Elaine: Should I do it, Lucy?


Mrs. Bluth: (applying lipstick) Its Lucille. Don’t mistake me for that red-headed bimbo over there.


Lucy: I’m right here.


Mrs. Bluth: (Ignores Lucy) Sure, why not. It’s your grave. Frankly, I don’t trust anything served in this place.


Jerry: True. You also notice most of the waitresses are really ugly. Totally undateable!


Elaine: Just when I think you’re the shallowest man I’ve ever met, you somehow manage to drain a little more out of the pool.


Mrs. Bluth: (ignoring Elaine) I noticed that. The male waiters are pretty hideous as well….That settles it. (She gets up and leaves without telling Gob who just said he is taking a lovely lava-lamp on a picnic).


Elaine: (Leans over to Gob). Hey buddy, your ride’s leaving.


Gob: What?…come on! (He gets on his Segway which is beside his chair and quickly exits).


Lucy: Oh, don’t leave you two! Ooooh!


Jerry: (He turns to Elaine) So?


Elaine: So, what?


Jerry: The bet?


Elaine: On one condition. That you follow me and that having completed the task, we immediately leave and go get something to eat.


Jerry: Yeah, whatever. (Leans across the table) Hey Lu, we got to go.


Lucy: Oh no. Not you two too.


Jerry: Yeah, we gotta go.


Lucy: Ohhh, why?


Jerry: Yeah, its Elaine, uhhh…she’s like really frightened and has to go home.


Jack: Frightened?


Jerry: Yeah, she has what the doctors call a condition, it comes and goes and if she doesn’t go home soon she could die. DIE!



Jack
: Let me tell you something about being frightened. On the island–


Kate: Comes and goes?


Jerry: Mm…it comes…and it goes, it comes and goes.


(Elaine takes a bite of an empenada from another table after which she and Jerry leave. At the same time Gob reenters on his Segway and approaches Kate)



Gob
: So mon senioritaria, can I get a ride home. I have candyyyyyy…in a piniata.


Kate: Why don’t you just go on that thing?


Gob: Are you insane?! That’s like an hour on this baby. An hour!


Narrator: 15 minutes.

Kate: (Thinks) And you say you have candy.


Gob: And an Xbox. And more…oh, so much more.


Kate: I’m sold, let’s go. Later Jack.


Jack: What? Kate, we go home together, or you’re going to die alone.


Kate: (smiles) Oh honey. I love you, but seriously, I’m with Gob now. He has candy! (exits with Gob on his Segway).


Ethel: I wonder why he didn’t offer us any candy.


Jack: I have to go back!


Lucy: No, oh, don’t go!


Jack: I have to go back! (Exits)


Fred: We might as well go to, Ethel.


Ethel: Fred!


Fred: Well I’ve had it. I’m hungry. (Exits)


Ethel: (Turns to an increasingly distressed Lucy.) Oh!


Lucy: Just go ahead, Ethel. I’ll be okay here all alone.


Ethel: Oh! Say, now you and Ricky can have a real nice romantic dinner. See you later, dear. Love you. Ooooh! (Exits)


(Lucy sobs)

(Ricky enters. Kisses Lucy)

Ricky: Hello honey. What’s the matter?


Lucy: Don’t you honey me!


Ricky: What happened!


(Lucy gives him the evil eye)

Narrator: It was then that Ricky discovered he’d made a huge mistake.

Ricky: Cometí un gran error.





500 Words or Less Review: Watership Down (Netflix/BBC)

Watership Down, the novel written by Richard Adams, is one of my favorite books of all time. When I try to explain why I love it so much, words tend to fail me. It is a book about rabbits, after all. How could a book about rabbits be something an adult man would love? Easy. Think of it less as a book about rabbits and more as an epic story about friendship, survival, and hope. The ties that bind these heroic rabbits are easily identifiable and relatable.

That’s the book. The new Netflix/BBC series is a different thing. Fortunately, it’s not different enough to significantly lessen its impact. A few caveats about the new series: First, the animation is not up to the big-budget Pixar or DreamWorks standards. That might be a deal-breaker for some. Trust me and be patient with it. The story is worth it. Second, if you are a book purist, try to set that aside as much as possible when watching this series. Stuff gets changed. Know that going in and it might save you some frustration.

There is good news, though! While liberties are taken the filmmakers prove they have a deep love for the source material and do their best to maintain the spirit and the tone of the book. The series is divided into four 51 minutes sections – each with their own title and focus. I loved this format because it gave the filmmakers a chance to really dig into the story – more time than a two-hour film – but not too much time which would have tempted them to really mess with the key dynamics. It’s a good balance and makes for a mostly focused story.

For my money, the two standouts in this version are the voice actors and the music. The cast does great work in bringing these wonderful characters to life. We get to know Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Kehaar, General Woundwort, and the rest. James McAvoy and John Boyega are particularly good in their key roles. And the original score by Federico Jusid is in turns epic, subdued, and poignant.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that while these characters are relatable, they also operate on very non-human levels – driven more by instinct and need. For the most part, the series gets this right. There are attempts to shoehorn in a few modern points of view, but they wisely avoid making those things the focal point.

I highly recommend this new series by Netflix and the BBC. It is entertaining and moving. There is a beautiful melancholy that hangs over most of the series, which is also true for the book, and that made my heart very happy indeed. A word of warning: neither the book or series are intended for young audiences, even though they are about rabbits. Older children should be fine but be aware that the story goes to dark places and there is some bloodshed as these brave rabbits fight for their futures.




REO Presents: New Year’s Recommendations

We write reviews often. We’ve also had a semi-consistent book review/recommendation series. (We really need to update that…) This will be a little different. Instead of focusing on one thing: movies, books, music, etc… we are going to try to paint a broad view of things we love that we think you should check out. These blurbs are going to be fast and furious – all around 200 words and all about things we think are pretty great. Consider them our New Year’s gift to you.


Gowdy Cannon

TV Show – Chuck

This is not a popular show but my wife and I watched it this year on Amazon Prime Video. I was blown away. It’s not like any other TV show I’ve watched. It defies any genre box. It may be a comedy at its heart but it has extremely well-executed action scenes and its most important story arc is romance. In a world full of Ross and Rachels it dared to give us Bartwoski and Walker. This show reached deep and pulled wonderful emotion from me often.

Levi, Stahovski, Gomez, and Baldwin are unforgettable as the main players and like any TV show worth watching the role players are dynamite, highlighted by Jeffster! and their hijinks and musical concerts (which were basically the same thing). It is also replete with unforgettable guest stars and if you loved the 80s as much as I did, you will probably get giddy with their choices.

It can be a tad campy and goofy at times, but that never bothered me. It is exceptional at its strengths and it was fantastic entertainment for five seasons.

Food – Bojangles

It’s a shame that so often in America if you claim you like something, people sometimes interpret that to mean you do not like other similar things. I love Chick-Fil-A and think it is blessed by God, but I also eat and thoroughly enjoy KFC and Popeye’s. And to me, the second best chicken place I’ve had in my life is Bojangles, which seems to be less known than these other three. Probably because it is so regional (though its regional fans are pretty passionate from what I can tell).

Whether sandwiches, strips, sides, or those glorious biscuits, Bojangles has excellent quality in taste. There used to be one in Turbeville, SC and any time I was down there visiting family and someone said, “Let’s just pick up some Bojangles for lunch” I would get quite excited. No place has equaled CFA to me but this place is close. And it deserves a huge fanbase.


Ben Plunkett

Book – Strange Stories, Amazing Facts of America’s Past

Throughout most of the second decade of my childhood (about 11-18) I was obsessed with what I called fact books (Most people know them as books of trivia, but I prefer fact books. I suppose they might not be useful for a person’s day to day life, but is any information actually useless? I think not.)

Anyway, when I was 16 my parents got me this particular quality hardback fact book for Christmas. While I am no longer consumed with fact books and have sold most of them, I still have this one and still read portions of it now and then. This book does not attempt to cover all the important basics of American history. What it does do is to highlight fascinating stories about its history that are not discussed much or at all in history class. My edition was published by Reader’s Digest in 1989. They published a new edition in 2007. I cannot comment on that edition since I have not read it yet.

TV Show – Better Call Saul

I realize this show is fairly popular but I don’t understand why this show isn’t more popular than it is. My guess is that people were disappointed that Better Call Saul, which serves as a prequel to Breaking Bad, wasn’t a clone of its predecessor regarding its how the story plays out. It is true that the two shows have the same basic outer feel and framework. It is also abundantly clear that the two are part of the same universe (if you are familiar with both, that is). But the individual stories themselves are very different. Better Call Saul is less dark, intense than Breaking Bad. It is also basically an extremely well fleshed out legal story with multiple intriguing plotlines and angles. The show stars Bob Odenkirk who plays Jimmy McGill AKA Saul Goodman but also stars an amazing ensemble cast. Odenkirk and every one of his co-stars bring it every episode. Forgive the hyperbole but most of them deserve every acting award in the history of mankind.

I will probably be destroyed for saying this, but I believe Better Call Saul is better than Break. In fact, it is in the running for my favorite show of all time. It had an extremely good first season and has been greater every season (It recently finished its fourth).


D.A. Speer

Board Game: Dropmix

One of the most off-the-radar board games right now sounds like something right out of the future. DropMix (created by Harmonix studios…you know, the same team that created Rock Band) has players placing cards onto an electronic, Bluetooth-powered board with six spaces for cards. Each card in the deck has a chip inside of it, and each card space is equipped with a wireless chip reader. When you place a card on the board, the game (which runs on a tablet or phone that sits at the front of the board) reads it, syncs it to BPM and the set key, and then incorporates the loop into the mix. There are cards that have drum loops, vocal tracks, instrument tracks, or even custom-designed effects.

You can DJ your own set in “Freestyle” mode, go head to head in a VS mode, or even play a new Puzzle game based on a surprisingly interesting card game that is incorporated. The music source material is all over the place (electronic, rock, country, pop), and more expansion packs are coming out all the time. You can find the base set on sale frequently…I bought a new one for $30! At the very least, check it out on YouTube and marvel at the technical genius:


Phill Lytle

Food – Aldi “Journey to India” Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce

In the past few years, my wife and I have fallen in love with Indian food. Unfortunately, it’s cost-prohibitive to get it as often as we would like. Enter: Aldi and their amazing sauce in a jar. I was skeptical it would taste anywhere close to restaurant quality, but I was wrong. We keep things simple with some seasoned chicken we sauté in olive oil and some steamed veggies added to the sauce to make it a bit more “healthy.” We serve it over white Basmati rice and we are good to go. It’s moderately spicy so if that’s not your thing, you shouldn’t be eating Indian food anyway.

Comedian – Nate Bargatze

Maybe you’ve seen him on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Maybe you’ve seen his special on Netflix. Perhaps you’ve just seen clips on YouTube. Or maybe, sadly, you’ve never heard of Nate Bargatze. Well, be sad no more! If you like your comedy clean (yet not lame), dry, and just a little bit odd, then Nate is the man for the job. He holds a special place in my heart because he graduated from the school where my wife teaches and my children attend (Donelson Christian Academy). If Nate came from DCA, then there is hope for my family as well.




Book Review: The Gospel Comes With A House Key

When I was in college studying youth ministry and biblical theology, my degree professor read from “My Utmost From His Highest” to begin some of our classes and he referred to it as “The Hammer.” That’s the word that first came to mind as I read the book I’m about to review. There are clearly parts of the Bible and especially the Gospels that are woefully under-practiced in America and our culture is good about making excuses and rationalizations as to why. This book crushes those two things with a mighty swing of a basic theology of what the author calls “radically ordinary hospitality”.

Rosaria Butterfield splashed onto the scene a few years ago with The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, which my dad strongly encouraged every teenager and adult in my immediately family to read. That work put her on the map and for very good reason. It is a unique story of transformation that only the Christian God could have written. But using her to tell it made her a must-read author to my mind and I am thrilled my senior pastor informed me about this book. In reviewing it I am not going to get fancy; I will tell you what I loved about it and then talk about the things that I was unsure about. I aim to give the benefit of the doubt so I won’t go as far as to say I do not like them. But they are things I would love ask Rosaria about if I ever got to talk to her.


Things I Loved

First, I loved just the simple premise of the book and how plainly yet boldly the challenge is laid out and exegeted: The Bible calls us to hospitality and that means doing the sacrificial thing and opening up our homes to people in extremely intimate and absolutely inconvenient ways. In the Preface on page 11, she articulates her thesis very simply: “A truly hospitable heart anticipates every day, Christ-centered table fellowship and guests who are genuinely in need.” I may be in the minority but I do not know many people who practice this. The fact she wrote this makes me think I am not in the minority. The way she uses the Bible (passages like Luke 9:44-50) and her own experience (including her daily schedule!) to support this statement is the heart of the book. It is what convicted me for nearly 200 pages. She is not afraid to be offensive by speaking a hard truth. I deeply respect that.

Secondly, I love how brutally honest she is about how rough hospitality can be in 3D. After a few dozen pages, you may think (if you are like me), “Man she sure is bragging on herself a lot.” That thought was not enough to get me to put the book down because the material was far too good, and I know that sometimes my own insecurity and defensiveness cause me to perceive other people preaching truth to be haughty. But Butterfield eventually makes sure that God’s grace is manifested through human weaknesses. She tells of a time her family adopted a daughter at 17 years old and how the girl did not take to them and as she aged out she left them behind. She tells about how when her mother lived with them it wrecked their hospitality efforts and put a strain on their family that exposed her (Butterfield’s) own sinful nature. She tells of a time her family got robbed and how no one in her house “found okay” for months. She talks about how to deal with hospitality with a “Judas,” the individual at a church under church discipline and how complicated that makes living out her thesis. By the end of the book, I appreciated significantly how Butterfield demonstrates that life in Christ is not picture perfect and that community can be ugly, messy and filled with rejection. She has a sober view of self in my opinion and does not come across as falsely humble. Any time a Christian is honest about themselves, humility should be the result. She is raw and transparent in her stories.

I also love how she brings self-righteous people like me to their knees by pointing out when church leaders get caught in sins and prove that our judgmental, inhospitable approaches to people we perceive to be more sinful than us are not biblical. Jesus got his hands and feet dirty reaching out to the people in society that no one would touch (the way she explains Jesus’ response to leprosy is masterful) and he was morally perfect. Who am I to walk to the other side of the road to avoid others? People in my circles of Christianity know Jesus ministered to the disenfranchised. Yet who among us is living as he did? We often are too worried about getting taken advantage of to really live out the story of the Good Samaritan or too concerned with dignity to bend down and associate with the dirty sinners among us. The truth is that quite often that the same pride that prevents us from ministering to those people is the same pride that leads to our own downfalls. Butterfield is at her best here, providing a searing rebuke to modern Pharisaical Christianity. Trust me, I need this. I get this teaching at my church but her skills as a writer really accentuated things I can get complacent about. Just recently I heard about a girl who got pregnant at 11 years old and my first thought was a Pharisaical one (I didn’t have sex before marriage!), even though I’ve lusted after women thousands of times in my life. I need this book for this reason.

Lastly I love how she makes a point to say that hospitality is not just receiving people but going into their homes as well. It is being a host and a guest. This is something I have noted good churches in Chicago have been promoting in recent months—why not do what Jesus did with Zaccheus and others and invite ourselves to others’ homes to evangelize and disciple them? This is definitely counterintuitive and countercultural to me but this book motivates me to try it.


What I Am Unsure About

If you have read anything by Butterfield you know it seems like she has passionate and pointed opinions about secondary things, like singing only biblical psalms and not “man-made hymns”. But at the same time, I do not know her personally so I tread very carefully in judging the things she writes that cause me to furrow my brow. One of the things in this book I am speaking to is from page 103:

“Next in the biblical family is a mom who is home and available to serve. While I am employable in a full-time way outside of the home, our family has always needed me at home, and so home I am. As a stay-at-home mom I can do one hundred helpful things for the people I love most in the world in the first thirty minutes of waking. Things that matter and cannot be farmed out to others for pay.”

Now, of course as a man married to a Chicago Public School teacher who is paid pretty well to experience some of the most frightening aspects of humanity, all to be salt and light to inner-city children, I wonder at first exactly what she means by that. Other parts of the book make me think that it is not as myopic as it may sound. Part of the issue is that stay-at-home/homeschooling debate has created a lot of scars, for all kinds of people. But setting aside this baggage, which biblically I should do to live in community, I can try to understand Butterfield better here. She and I are absolutely on the same team. We can sharpen iron with iron on topics like these.

Another thing that gave me a bit of pause is her willingness to bring the government and politics into the discussion on hospitality. Now, I agree with everything she said, but I come at it with a bias. Also, I have zero issue with Christians calling out politicians on their words about people who are different, especially those who are not from America. But on the issue of policy I am less clear how much the Bible says about what a sovereign nation is required to do in the compassion vs. national security debate. I appreciate how plainly she speaks and the risks she takes here, but I am not sure how much I agree with every jot and tittle of her conclusions. I vote for compassion but I have Christian friends who think differently so I do not consider this an absolute truth issue, as some people on both sides seem to want to.


Overall this is a necessary book for 2019 America. It has messed with my mind in the best way possible. I hope to practice it, even with a baby coming. Because as Butterfield teaches, our excuses, even those that involve the protection and safety of our children, can at times succumb to the weight of Biblical demands to love the unlovable and to allow others to infiltrate our most secure dwelling: our home. I recommend it to all Christians everywhere.




Narnia’s Aslan and The Biblical Trinity

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

The greatest fantasy works of the last century all have a character that feels larger than life, a leader that seems omniscient at times and full of wisdom all the time. I’m thinking of course of wizards like Gandalf and Dumbledore in literature and the Jedi Yoda in film. Each in their own way has an air of both invincibility and goodness to them so that you know the hero of each story is in good mentoring hands as they seek to vanquish the evil they must face.

Even among this specific genre of character, there is something wholly unique about C.S. Lewis’ Aslan the Lion, who impacted a wide range of heroes across seven distinct stories. As a Christian, his uniqueness is obvious after even a cursory reading of The Chronicles of Narnia—far more than a wizard or Jedi, he seems sovereign and completely transcendent over humans and every other being in the fantasy world in which he resides. To say it another way, he is godlike. And seeing as how C.S. Lewis’ intention in creating Aslan is not a secret, I think we can say he is Godlike. Capital G. It would be an exaggeration to say that I’ve learned more about God from Narnia than from Lewis’s non-fiction but it’s closer than you would think. Every time I’ve read these stories, this aspect of Aslan has struck me as more and more meaningful.

This year I completed my 4th reading of this series all the way through (having read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe maybe ten times), taking notes on this topic. And I was able to really zero in on this one thought as I read this time—Aslan not only communicates the attributes and personality of the Christian God, but also of each of his three persons, which are at times distinct. I think you can clearly see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in his actions, words and general character. Today we at REO discuss them.  

 

Note that because the allusions to the Trinitarian God in LWW are so famous—notably that Aslan dies as an act of atonement and rises from the dead and that the Beavers refer to him as “good” but not “safe”—I will bypass that book and focus on the other six. Note also that as I cannot cover them all due to space restraints I strongly encourage our readers to share any I may have missed in addition to commenting in general. Lastly, I will be going in publication order. If you disagree with that, prepare for a Prince Caspian-esque fight to the death! (Just kidding.)

Prince Caspian

One of the remarkable things about Aslan is that, other than The Magician’s Nephew if I’m not mistaken, for such a dominant player in the story he actually has sporadic appearances. By the page count in my big one-volume version of The Chronicles of Narnia, this book begins on page 317 and Aslan doesn’t show up until page 373 and then it is only by Lucy seeing him ‘off camera’ so to speak. He doesn’t speak until page 378 and doesn’t appear in all his glory until the following page.

The fact he shows up before he is heard or “seen” is exactly what I’m talking about. Lucy sees him with her childlike innocence and faith (a carryover from LWW), and the whole scene smacks of the story of God calling Samuel, as well as biblical statements like, “The last will be first,” and “A little child will lead them”. Which Lucy subsequently does. Literally. And while there is no one verse I can point to that mirrors this, I love that Aslan tells Lucy that he seemed bigger because she had grown. On the other hand, Aslan telling her “All of Narnia will be renewed” has a clear parallel in Revelation 21:5.

Aslan’s later moment with Susan, forgiving her for not believing, definitely has a Jesus/God type feel to it. Especially since it’s the sin of unbelief.

Finally, I love that Prince Caspian responds to Aslan that he doesn’t feel sufficient to take up kingship in Narnia with Aslan replying, “Good. If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you are not.” There are few things as crucial to the Kingdom of God as being humble and meek. The New Testament reminds us over and over that the humble will be exalted. Just as Caspian was.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The most obvious example of my thesis as seen in this book is Eustace explaining how he regained his human form after being stuck as a dragon for a time. The way he describes Aslan removing his dragon skin as being painful and pleasurable at the same time sound exactly like something you’d read in the Bible, where conflicts live in tension. And where transformation happens in Christ.

And later Aslan says, “I call all times soon,” echoing a thought the Apostle Peter has about how God views time in his second epistle.

I also appreciate how at the end he is a lamb at first before metamorphosing back into a lion, since both animals are used to describe Christ in the New Testament.

The Sliver Chair

I confess Jill’s first encounter with Aslan in the second chapter of this book was the first passage that really birthed the idea of this article. There are few passages in the whole series that cause my heart and mind to dance with joy the way this one does.

Aslan inviting her to drink makes me think of Divine invitations in both Old and New Testaments to do the same (Isaiah 55, John 4). Drinking the water immediately quenches the thirst and not drinking it leads to death.

And I adore this quote by Aslan: “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” followed by the explanatory note: “It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.” That brings chills to my soul like few things outside of Scripture itself.

Their continued conversation just adds more and more to the image: He gets her to see her sin; He tells her that she would not call to him unless he called her first; at one point he replies to her question with “I am”, and he mandates her to “Say [the signs] to yourself when you wake up in the morning and when you lie down at night and when you wake up in the middle of the night.” The whole scene is overflowing with Scriptures—Deuteronomy 6, John 4, 6 and 8–that point to how God interacts with humanity.

Finally, it is perfect to me that Aslan uses his breath to send Eustace and Jill to Narnia from the cliff in this chapter, the same means he uses to bestow forgiveness on Susan in the previous book. Both Hebrew and Greek have a word that can be translated to “spirit” “breath” and “wind” and hence, it feels like yet another echo of deity.

The Horse and His Boy

Shasta’s intimate confrontation with Aslan is one that I could read over and over before moving on in the book. Especially this: “I was the lion who forced you to join with Ararvis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile that you pushed bait in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight to receive you.” I can clearly imbibe of the sovereignty of the Father, the comfort of the Spirit, the protection of the Son (as promised to Simon Peter), the invisible God who protects and never gets tired. All in this one short speech.

And then Shasta asks him “Who are you?” And Aslan says, “Myself,” which sounds semantically different yet quite similar to YHWH’s answer to Moses in Exodus 3 to a similar question. Mere mortals do not give that kind of answer unless they are being obtuse. Which Aslan, nor God, ever is.

The Magician’s Nephew

There can be no doubt about the chosen passage for this book:

“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it.” 

And then:

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

There are few things as Godlike as the act of creating. Not just making or producing, though there is that, but creating from nothing. By nothing more than the spoken word. Creating life. Life with personality. As Aslan does here. This is Narnia’s Genesis 1 and John 1. And what is remarkable in view of this article, between those two biblical chapters we know the Trinity is fully represented by the creation of the universe. There can be no mistaking who Aslan is to Narnia. Creation depends on the Creator but not vice-versa.

I will also add that even though I said I would not reference LWW in this article, this part of The Magician’s Nephew takes me back to this exchange in the LWW movie containing a truth that is only implied in the LWW book:

Jadis: Have you forgotten the laws upon which Narnia was built?
Aslan: Don’t cite the deep magic to me, Witch! I was there when it was written.

Boom!

The Last Battle

This scene gets me all choked up because it is so much bigger than fiction:

Then he fixed his eyes on Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling and flung himself at the Lion’s feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, “Well done, last of Kings of Narnia, who stood firm at the darkest hour.” Not only does it sound like how Disciples Peter (Luke 5:8, pre-resurrection) and John (Revelation 1:17, post-resurrection) react to Christ, the words Aslan uses are clearly Christ’s to all those who remain faithful until the end (Matthew 25, Luke 19).

A similar scene with Emeth a few pages later has the same effect. He falls at Aslan’s feet only for Aslan to (again) breathe on him to raise him back to his feet, reminding me of Ezekiel’s encounter with God in Ezekiel 1 and 2. And he too is welcomed in, despite a life lived quite differently than Tirian, showing grace that our God does manifest in Scripture to people like Cornelius.

And there are these words of the Lord Digory:

“Listen, Peter, When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. They had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and will always be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. 

A whole article could be written just on the way this series ends. But suffice it to say that Aslan’s role in the world he created and the “real” world is a clear a picture of the Christian God as could be. It makes me long for the New Heaven and New Earth unlike anything else in fiction. And not to merely experience the new but to experience seeing my Savior with my own eyes, and not the eyes of faith. I feel like that is the most real thing there is.

I believe God’s fundamental attribute is that he is “other”. He is not like us. He is exalted, highly lifted up, above and beyond and distinct from all beings in history. There is none like him, he says over and over in Isaiah. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. If that is what it means to be “holy” (and I believe it does) then that is who God is at his core, far more than other adjectives we use for his nature.

That is the air Aslan has about him throughout the seven stories. And that is why he has taught me so much about our God. Kudos to Lewis for this timeless children’s series that impacts adults in such a meaningful way




The 5 Most Theologically Rich Christmas Songs

Thousands of Christmas songs and hymns have been written these past 2000 years. While many songs discuss sights of Santa and Rudolph, there have been others written to express the significance of God coming to earth and being born into a sinful world. These songs hold theological richness and can edify a group of believers during the Christmas season or any time of year.

Rather than reviewing every Christmas song that has been written since the time of Christ’s birth, this list was limited to those Christmas songs that are familiar to most modern Christians. In assessing the most theologically rich Christmas songs, it was considered: 1) Whether the song does more than cover the basics of the biblical story, digging into the deeper theological implications behind the story and; 2) Whether the song reveals these truths in a beautiful way that sincerely indicates the living presence of the Holy Spirit. Here are the five most theologically rich Christmas songs:

5. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Phillips Brooks penned the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in 1868. The words came to him one night as he rode from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by horseback to deliver a Christmas Eve message.

Many people are very familiar with the first two verses of the song. However, the last two verses are exceptional and should not be forgotten. The third verse in this classic hymn is particularly noteworthy. It speaks of “the wondrous gift” that was given. The thing about a gift is that it is not something we earn; a gift is freely bestowed. This “wondrous gift” is Jesus, who God the Father gave as a living sacrifice for humanity (John 3:16). He came to be our living sacrifice and to give man spiritual knowledge (John 10). In this fallen world we all must humbly accept our fallenness and our need for divine help. Only then can we rightly choose His hand of salvation (James 1:21). When our “meek souls” receive Him, “Christ enters in.” He has called us to eternal salvation through Himself. Will we listen?

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

4. “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”

Emily Elliot wrote “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” in 1864. The primary point of this song is the tremendous humility God expressed by lowering Himself for our benefit. He left His heavenly throne to come as a man to save us.

Echoing Philippians 2:7, the first two verses convey the awesome magnitude of His humiliation in becoming a lowly man. Jesus was born of a “lowly birth” and came in “great humility.” He did this for us—people who don’t deserve it.

The third verse alludes to Matthew 8:20, where Jesus stated that all earthly creatures had a place to rest—all except for Himself. He was saying His life was a difficult one and those who followed Him could expect the same.

The first four verses end with a refrain that declares we can now freely choose to make room for Jesus in our hearts forever. With our entire being, we fully trust Him as our eternal Savior (Romans 10:9). The fifth verse concludes with a declaration of victory, rejoicing that God has made room for us in His heavenly home!

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.

3. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was originally written in Latin, and many believe it dates back to the twelfth century. In 1851, John Mason Neale translated it into English. The English translation of the song contains several variations, and some versions include up to eight different verses.
It is easy to notice all the names and descriptions of Jesus presented in the song: Emmanuel (Immanuel), Dayspring, Wisdom from on High, Desire of Nations. These are all tremendous names and titles that describe the Messiah.

Each verse highlights one of them. What is traditionally viewed as the first verse highlights the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” In Scripture, the name first occurs in Isaiah 7:14. This passage is quoted in Matthew 1:22 in specific reference to the infant Jesus who was God.
Another verse highlights the name Dayspring, which indicates how the Light of Heaven has delivered us from spiritual darkness. This was a name proclaimed by Zechariah in Luke 1:78 under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This song also gives Jesus the title Wisdom from on High. This may be a reference to Isaiah 11:2. The entire book of Isaiah is full of prophecies of the coming Savior. Only through this wisdom from Heaven (Jesus) may we may exit our fallen life and enter a new life with God.

The writer of this song also described Jesus as the Desire of Nations, a reference to Haggai 2:7. This is another prophecy of Jesus in which God foretold that great glory would one day once again fill the temple. Because He has finally come in His glory, we are freed from living lives of isolation and discord.

There are even amazing additional/optional verses of the song that refer to names like “Lord of might,” “Rod of Jesse’s stem,” and “Key of David.”. As this incredible song mentions, Jesus Christ has opened wide our heavenly home and therefore we can rejoice.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come Thou Dayspring come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Additional/Optional verses:
Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From every foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in victory through the grave.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

2. “O Holy Night”

The French poet Placide Cappeau wrote the words to “O Holy Night” in 1847. In 1855 John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister, translated it into English. It is considered one of the greatest and most popular Christmas songs of all time, and for good reason. Its theological greatness cannot be denied.

The first verse describes our plight. Original sin introduced mankind to death (1 Corinthians 15:21-23). All of humanity inwardly longed for a deliverer who would set us free from this plight. So long did humanity toil under this that our individual souls got used to being away from God and we “lay in sin and error pining.” But then Jesus came with a message of hope and the “weary world” rejoiced. He did all of His saving work to retrieve each individual person (Luke 15:1-7).

The second verse makes us firsthand witnesses of the holy child. We are one with the wise men who, like us, followed a light by faith to find Jesus. Jesus would not be a mere prophet of God or just a good man. The baby in the manger was the “King of Kings.” He was and is the Son of God who is one with God the Father (John 5:16-18).

The third verse exalts in the implications of Jesus’ earthly ministry leading up to His death. He taught mankind “to love one another” (cf. John 13:34-35) and broke the chains of oppression. Like the first two verses, the third verses finalize the song with an exuberant call to praise God the Son for His wonderful salvific work. This time the call is for everyone to unite in a magnificent song of praise lauding the holy birth.

It is rare to find a song whose melody actually works with and bolsters its message quite this well. In my opinion, “O Holy Night” does that better than any other song under Heaven. The last refrain of each stanza is full of genuine passion, exalting in the beauty that is the incarnation of Jesus.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

1. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

Charles Wesley wrote the words to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in 1739. This song is absolutely loaded to the brim with incredible theological meat!

The first verse reveals why the baby in the manger is so special. This is not just any king who has been born. Through this baby “God and sinners [are] reconciled” after a long separation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18). This makes very valid the call for “all ye nations rise” and joyfully rejoice!
The second verse explains how this “offspring of a virgin’s womb” was qualified to do any divine reconciling. He was able to do this because He was the “Christ,” which means, “anointed.” In other words, He was the Messiah and king of mankind (Luke 23:2-3). But He was more than a mere human king. He was God in human form—“veiled in flesh” and the “incarnate Deity.” Jesus lowered Himself by taking on the complete form of a man (Philippians 2:5-7). Our God could have remained in His comfortable position in Heaven but He was “pleased as man with man to dwell.” He was literally our Emmanuel—our God with us.

As a result of the work of Christ, the third verse calls us to praise Him for His infinitely gracious act. He is our “Prince of Peace” and our “Sun of Righteousness.” God’s Son came to give all men the truth of God’s redeeming and life-giving grace. How did He do this? By being born. He did this so we could experience a second birth and be born again into a new life in Him, living forever in His kingdom.

The fourth verse in some of today’s hymnals is a fusion of the original fourth and fifth verses. Since the fused version is the one many are most familiar with, that is what I am including here. It tells us that as a man, Jesus was physically born into a very humble home. Now that He has died for all mankind, we should invite Him to reside within us by confessing full belief in Him (Romans 10:9). Its last few lines hearken both to Genesis 3 and 1 Corinthians. In Genesis 3 we find the world-changing act of original sin. In this same chapter, God placed a distinct curse on each of the two human wrongdoers and all of their descendants. He also cursed the snake (Satan). His curse to the snake included a prophecy of Jesus’ final victory over Satan (Genesis 3:15). This is a prophecy of the Son of God who would one day come to earth to die. In so doing He would finally “bruise . . . the serpent’s head.” Wesley lauded the beauty of this story. Jesus’ work of atonement successfully displayed His saving power. It is in 1 Corinthians 15 that the first man and Jesus are famously referred to as the first and second Adam. Jesus, the second Adam from above, sacrificed Himself for all mankind, reuniting us with God.

Charles Wesley’s beautifully penned words not only bring about a feeling of the Christmas spirit, but beautifully explain the gospel message and give us reason to proclaim “glory to the newborn king!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings:
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home:
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head;
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Final Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

This article first appeared in The Brink magazine




The Season, the Music, the Resonance

For Western Christians, and quite possibly for all believers everywhere, music is inseparable from Christmas. I’m aware that some folks delight in reminding us that the angelic choir that appeared to the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth didn’t sing. “And the angel said to them…” (Luke 2:10). Then it says there was a multitude “praising God and saying.” (2:13)

That’s all well and good, but I still think they sang. For one thing, he/they might have spoken and then sung those or other words. Also, Job 38:7 tells us the “sons of God sang for joy” at creation, and I’m thinking those were angels, not humans since presumably no humans were present at creation.

No matter. Much of Christianity down through the centuries has inseparably linked the celebration of the nativity with singing.

From the 5th century “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” a piece so hauntingly beautiful that pastor Rob Morgan considers it one of his favorites, to Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley and their powerful all-time hymns “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” to “Mary, Did You Know,” we all have our favorites, and I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Every year some song or songs resonate with me. Maybe something new, previously unknown. Maybe an old favorite. This year there are several:

1. The afore-mentioned “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”. I’ve listened to it several times and mediated on the poignant lyrics. The story of Christ retold in the 5th century. The Incarnation described in beautiful, ancient poetry. The recurring “evermore and evermore.” By the way, if memory serves this was the lead-off song for the Welch choir project from several years ago, “Alpha and Omega.”

2. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Written by Charles Wesley. Wesley is one of my all-time favorite songwriters, and this hymn has become a favorite Christmas song of mine. It’s the kind of song the ancients would have sung, had they known their Messiah’s name. We do know and celebrate accordingly.

3. The country gospel classic “O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” We sang it at our church a couple of weeks ago and the excitement was palpable, as “amens” were heard at the conclusion. Watching the Gaither video years ago as Ben Spear chokes with emotion as he sings the line “for Jesus is now that star divine, brighter and brighter He will shine,” touches me, as does the whole song.

Just for good measure, I’m going to throw in a few more. They aren’t really Christmas songs but are so fitting for the season. “I Call Him Lord,” by Dottie Rambo, reminds us “but the angel called Him Jesus, born of a virgin, Mary called Him Jesus, but I Call Him Lord. That lyric enables me to celebrate just a little more worshipfully this Christmas.

And there’s the old Fanny Crosby hymn “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” The first stanza has a powerful incarnation lyric “…Tell how the angels in chorus sang as they welcomed his birth, glory to God in the highest, peace and good tidings to earth.. ”

Finally, an older song by Bill and Gloria Gaither, not so well-known. I’ve enjoyed hearing it again, as it tenderly breathes out its Christmas message: “love went on reaching, and love went on longing, right past the shackles of my mind, and the longing and the reaching became Mary’s little son, and his love reached all the way to where I was.”

Christmas and music. Christmas carols. The birthday of our King. Still, a few days to go. I hope we all make the time and find the way, or ways, to worship the Newborn King this Christmas season. Going through the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Reading and studying Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2. Singing the old songs joyfully, and adding in some newer ones. Going to a Christmas concert or candlelight service. “Let every heart prepare him room, and Heaven and nature sing.”

Now I need to listen to “Handel’s “Messiah,” and Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God.”