Great Article by Dr. Moore: Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs

Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs

Sometimes I learn a lot from conversations I was never intended to hear. This happened the other day as I was stopping by my local community bookstore. It’s a small store, and a quiet store so it was impossible not to eavesdrop as I heard a young man tell his friend how much he hated Christmas. And, you know what, the more he talked, the more I understood his point.

This man wasn’t talking about the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or about the stresses of family meals or all the things people tend to complain about. What he hated was the music.

This guy started by lampooning Sting’s Christmas album, and I found myself smiling as I browsed because he is so right; it’s awful. But then he went on to say that he hated Christmas music across the board. That’s when I started to feel as though I might be in the presence of the Grinch. You know, when every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing; they’d stand hand-in-hand. And the Who’s would start singing. The sour old green villain didn’t like that.

But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.

“Christmas is boring because there’s no narrative tension,” he said. “It’s like reading a book with no conflict.”

Now he had my attention.

I’m sure this man had thought this for a long time, but maybe he felt freer to say it because we were only hours out from hearing the horrifying news of a massacre of innocent children in Connecticut. For him, the tranquil lyrics of our Christmas songs couldn’t encompass such terror. Maybe we should think about that.

Of course, some of the blame is on our sentimentalized Christmas of the American civil religion. Simeon the prophet never wished anyone a “holly-jolly Christmas” or envisioned anything about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But there’s our songs too, the songs of the church. We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the, as this fellow would put it, “narrative tension” of the Christmas story.

The first Christmas carol, after all, was a war hymn. Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ he had demonstrated his power and “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk. 1:52). There are some villains in mind there.

Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself. Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare. After all, the light, the Bible tells us, overcomes the darkness (Jn. 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Cor. 4).

In a time of obvious tragedy, the unbearable lightness of Christmas seems absurd to the watching world. But, even in the best of times, we all know that we live in a groaning universe, a world of divorce courts and cancer cells and concentration camps. Just as we sing with joy about the coming of the Promised One, we ought also to sing with groaning that he is not back yet (Rom. 8:23), sometimes with groanings too deep for lyrics.

The man in the bookstore knew that reality is complicated. There’s grit, and there’s tension. Without it, Christmas didn’t seem real to life. It’s hard to get more tense than being born under a king’s death sentence (Matt. 2:16), and with an ancient dragon crouching at the birth canal to devour you (Rev. 12:4). But this man didn’t hear any of that in Christmas. I’m glad I overheard him.

We have a rich and complicated and often appropriately dark Christmas hymnody. We can sing of blessings flowing “far as the curse is found,” of the one who came to “free us all from Satan’s power.”

Let’s sing that, every now and then, where we can be overheard.



Moore to the Point – Let’s Rethink Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs.



Devote Yourselves to Prayer: A Brief Theology of Prayer

” Devote yourselves to prayer” – Col. 4:2

Jesus in Pray

There are many difficult questions when it comes to prayer. How do I pray? When do I pray? If God is sovereign, what does prayer accomplish? Does prayer actually change things? These are all questions that can and should be answered, however, I want to consider what is said most often in the New Testament regarding prayer, that we should devote ourselves to it. We find this specific command in several places, as well as examples of this in many others. Jesus often prayed for extended periods of time (Luke 6:12). The early church “devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The apostles saw devotion to prayer as one of their primary responsibilities as leaders of the church (Acts 6:4). It was Cornelius’ continued prayers that brought Peter to his house (Acts 10:4). God responded to the earnest prayers of the church when he broke Peter’s prison chains (Acts 12:4-7). Paul prayed continually for his churches, and exhorted them to do the same (Rom 1:10; 12:12; 15:30; 1 Cor 7:5; Eph 1:16; 6:18; Phil 4:6; Col 4:2, 12; 1 Th 1:2; 1 Tim 2:1; 5:5; Philem 1:4, 22).  In light of Scriptures clear command regarding prayer, we should ask three questions.

1)  What is Prayer?

John Calvin summarized prayer as when “we call upon Him to manifest Himself to us in all His perfections.” This definition captures three essential aspects of prayer. First, it is creatures communicating with their creator. We call upon him. It is thus for our benefit, and not his. When we call upon our creator, we enter into intimate communion with him, recognizing our utter dependance upon his provision. When we communicate to and listen to our heavenly Father, we grow in his grace and in his knowledge, becoming more sensitive to and more aware of his constant presence and protection in our lives. Second, it is plea for God to reveal himself to us. It is a means by which we call upon our creator to rule over our lives. We recognize that all things are of him, that all good gifts come from him. We realize that he is powerful and able to enter into our circumstances, and by his sovereign power to work all things together for our good, as we love him and as we trust him. When we pray we are acknowledging God’s rule over our lives, his ability to work in our lives, and his goodness in the midst of any circumstances he allows to enter into our lives. Prayer is then a demonstration of absolute trust and dependance on our Father’s perfect provision. Finally, prayer recognizes God’s perfections. If God were not powerful, able to do what he pleases on earth, why should we pray? If God were not good, working all things together for the good of his people, why should we pray? If God were not everywhere present, able to attend to the needs of ALL of his children all at once, they why should we pray? Our prayers acknowledge our finite helplessness, and God’s infinite wisdom and provision.

2)  Why Do We Pray?

First and foremost, we pray because it is commanded in Scripture, and it is the example given us by Jesus and the apostles. Jesus assumed that his followers would pray when he said, “when you pray, pray in this way…” And Paul is not short on exhortations to pray either: “pray for me”, “pray without ceasing”, “present your requests to God”, “devote yourselves to prayer”, “persevere in prayer”, etc. Second, as already discussed, prayer draws us into a more intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. We pray not to change him, but to change us. Third, prayer is effective. God his sovereign, and in his sovereign will prayer is one of the means by which he works in the world. He responds to prayer. There are so many unknowns in this world; so many doubts and fears. We pray because we know that God answers prayer, and his answer is always right and good. It gives us a greater sense of God’s purpose in all things, and we can trust his perfect wisdom as we pour our fears and needs before the feet of our God in heaven. As John Piper has said,

Prayer for God’s help is one way that God preserves and manifests the dependence of his people on his grace and power. The necessity of prayer is a constant reminder and display of our dependence on God for everything, so that he gets the glory when we get the help.”


3)  How Do We Pray?

Thankfully, this question was asked directly of Jesus, and he gave a direct answer when he said,

¶ “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:5–13 ESV)

First, Jesus tells us how not to pray. We should not pray to be seen by others, nor should we pray as though our words themselves have something to do with the effectiveness of our prayers. Both of these negatives have to do with having a prideful heart. Prayer is first and foremost an act of humble submission before a holy God, thus we pray not to receive the accolades of men, but to commune with our heavenly Father. Jesus then tells us how to pray. It is not as though we should repeat this prayer every time we pray, and then our prayer life will be complete. Rather, this is an example of the proper type of prayer. We acknowledge God as our Father in heaven. He is our Father, and thus desires to give good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11), and he is in heaven, and thus has the authority to do so (2 Chr 20:6; Psa 115:3). We are to worship our Father every time we pray. He is holy, and we should recognize it. We should also pray that his perfect will be done as he brings his kingdom into this world. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” is not a denial that Jesus has brought God’s kingdom into the world, but it is rather a request that his kingdom would come in its fulness, so that earth and heaven would of one accord do all things to the praise of his glorious grace.. “Give us this day our daily bread” is a recognition that only God can provide our daily needs. It is also a demonstration of trust, that we don’t worry about tomorrow, but trust that God will provide for our needs one day at a time (Luke 12:27-31). We also pray for forgiveness, and that we would forgive others. We don’t deserve forgiveness, yet our father forgives us when we confess our sins. So also, we must forgive, for we have been much forgiven. Finally, we pray for victory over Satan and his temptations, recognizing that Christ has already defeated the powers of the evil one (Col. 2:15), and thus has provided victory over temptation day to day (1Cor. 10:13). Prayer comes in many different forms, but the prayer of Jesus succinctly includes every aspect of what a healthy prayer looks like: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (ACTS). 

As believers, let us not neglect this essential spiritual discipline. Jesus Christ modeled it and the scriptures command it. It is our only way to commune with a holy God, and it is a humble recognition of his sovereign goodness and of his gracious provision.




























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Keeping Christ in Christmas Part 2: The True Meaning of Christmas


Last week I discussed why I don’t think boycotting stores who say “holidays” rather than “Christmas” helps accomplish the goal of keeping Christ in Christmas. Today I want to discuss the true meaning of Christmas. If we can’t articulate what the true meaning of Christmas is, then how can we do anything to keep Christ at its center? I will be focusing on the Christmas story as it is told in Luke 2.

¶ In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. ¶ And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ¶ “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”¶ When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1–20 ESV)

At the center of this story is an announcement from an angel. This is the third of such announcements in Luke. First, Gablriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that he would have a son, John the Baptist. The second announcement is when Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would give birth to the Savior. And now, an angel will announce the birth of that child. As Christians, we know this announcement to be be one of good news. So, I want to ask three questions regarding this proclamation of good news that I think will help get at the heart of the true meaning of Christmas.

1)  To Whom was the Good News Announced?

If I had somehow been in charge of writing this story (and thank God I wasn’t!), I might have had things go differently. For instance, I would have had an army of angels show up at the pinnacle of the Jewish temple in broad daylight announcing the birth of the Messiah, perhaps with a quick detour to Caesar’s palace in Rome before returning to heaven. That way, both the Jewish leaders and the Romans king could see who the true king and Messiah is. Well, God did just the opposite. The angels appeared to Shepherds…in the middle of the night. The outcasts of society…when no one else was awake…on the outskirts of a tiny town called Bethlehem. What does this tell us? For one thing, God’s ways are not our ways. He was not interested in making a public display of power right then. Perhaps it also tells us something about the message of Christmas. It is not for the prideful or the arrogant. It is not for the self righteous or those who are attempting to earn their way to heaven. It is for those who would humble themselves before a baby in Bethlehem. It is for those who would deny themselves and take up their cross to follow Christ. It is for those who would sell all they have to follow Christ and find treasure in heaven. It is for the outcasts, the meek, the poor in spirit. Christ did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He came to seek and save the lost. The shepherds may not have been the religious leaders or powerful political figures, but when the good news was announced to them, they dropped everything and worshipped the baby in Bethlehem.

2) What is the Good News?

The angel Gabriel said to Marry, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The angel proclaimed to the shepherds that unto them was born a Savior. This is the essence of the good news. This is the gospel. Jesus Christ is a perfect savior, and he came to save his people from their sins. From beginning to end, the Bible is the Christmas story. It is the story of God’s redemption of a sinful people for their good and his glory. The result of this saving word is given in the angels’ song of praise: “…and on earth peace among those on whom his favor rests.” The peace that the gospel provides comes in different forms. First and foremost, central to the good news is that it is an announcement of peace with God. Because of sin, peace with God is impossible. Sinful humans can only be God’s enemies, but the gospel makes the impossible possible. Jesus Christ took upon himself the righteous wrath of a holy God. He lived a perfect life and then exhausted in himself the punishment we deserved. I’m reminded of a song my dad used to sing:

“He paid a debt, he did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away, and now I sing a brand new song, amazing grace the whole day long. Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.”

When we repent of our sins and trust Christ alone for our salvation, then we have peace with God. Second, we have peace with one another. The apostle Paul says,

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” (Phil 3:14-16).

As followers of Christ we have no basis for resentment, unforgiveness or quarreling of any kind, for each of these things assume we are entitled to something. All we have is of grace. How can we breath hostility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, when that very breath is evidence of God’s mercy toward us? How can we harbor unforgiveness and resentment in our hearts, when its very next beat is proof of God kindness towards us. No. We forgive because we have been forgiven; we are merciful because we were shown mercy; we are gracious because he is gracious to us; we pray for our enemies for even now he prays to the Father on our behalf. We should strive for peace because we understand the gospel of peace. Finally, we have peace in the midst of suffering. This world is full of pain. The recent events at Sandy Hook make this ever present reality even more real. Even in my own family I look around and see the suffering that comes in a fallen world. My dad’s brain tumor, my mom’s recurring cancer, and my brother and I having a rare disease on top of it (as if raising us wasn’t hard enough!). I think of my sisters, both dealing with sons afflicted with the same disease; one of them finding out her next boy will have it as well (that makes 2), and the other having to deal with an unforeseen situation where her son’s previous bone marrow transplant failed and he will receive another one in the next few days. No one knows what to expect. These are just a few stories of sorrow in a world in which no corner is unaffected by tragedy, pain, sadness, sickness or suffering. But Christians remember the wonderful promise of Romans 8:28:

“For all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”

3) What is the Result of the Good News?

We see this in the response of the Shepherds:

“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

From beginning to end, this story of God’s redemption of the curse of sin is to result in one thing: his own glory. When we truly understand this gospel, the true meaning of Christmas, we praise God for his grace. We praise him for his mercy, his love, his kindness, his provision, his salvation. We praise him for the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus Christ. Me we, this Christmas season, seek to do nothing less than praise and glorify our God who provided and secured our salvation through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ, who was born so long ago in that small town, yet continues to call and draw his people to himself. Glory be to God for salvation, and this salvation has a name: Jesus Christ. This is the true meaning of Christmas.

Keeping Christ in Christmas Part 1: Holiday Boycotts

Star of Wonder

I recently received an email listing all the major businesses that don’t say the word “Christmas” and was told that I should boycott them until they nix “happy holidays” and start saying “Merry Christmas.” I am told that these businesses

“…continue to insult and offend Christian shoppers by sticking with their politically correct “holiday” term.

While I can perhaps appreciate the sentiment of such efforts, I believe them to be misguided. Christians should not wage war as the world does, for the kingdom of Christ is not of this world. A boycott simply says, “do what we Christians want or we’ll show you how powerful we are.” However, in proving that we have a big enough power base so as to hurt someone’s business, don’t we also risk losing the essence of the gospel? I believe so. As Christians, we do not spread the gospel by forcing a business to use the term “Christmas” with our financial threats, nor must we prove that we are powerful enough to do so. No, Christians spread the gospel by doing just that…spreading the gospel. We keep Christ in Christmas by pointing to the true meaning of Christmas! Jesus Christ came in humility, not worldly power; in meekness, not threatening. He was reviled, but did not revile in return. He loved the hurting and had mercy on those who didn’t deserve it. And most importantly, he preached the gospel at all times, using words. And he practiced what he preached.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

(1 Peter 2:23; 3:9 ESV)

And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.¶ “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:40–48 ESV)

The problem in our nation is not that people use the word “holiday” rather than “Christmas.” This is only symptomatic of a much deeper problem: people do not understand the message behind the word. They do not understand the message that caused angels to break out into song in open fields one night long ago. They do not understand the message that caused shepherds to drop their staffs and worship a baby. They do not understand the message that compelled wise men to travel from distant lands. They do not understand the message that struck fear into the heart of a wicked king. They do not understand the message which brought the son of God into this world to die on a tree for sinners. They do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” ¶ And I, when I came to you, brothers,did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 1:22–25, 31–2:4 ESV)

Perhaps keeping Christ in Christians should not involve  boycotting a store who says “holidays,” but rather in going there! Maybe Christians should go to those stores, show the love of Christ, and genuinely wish the people there a merry Christmas. Maybe we share the gospel with those at the checkout, or leave a tract explaining the true meaning of Christmas. Let’s invite them to our Christmas services at church, let’s demonstrate the love of Christ, not by power or influence, but by gentleness and kindness. Let’s demonstrate the gospel by a genuine concern for people’s souls. We should not expect lost people to act Christian, nor should we boycott them if they don’t. We should reach out to the lost, loving them and sharing the gospel with them. Change will not come by boycotts or protests or displays of power and influence, but rather by a genuine love for the lost and a desire to see all people everywhere know the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. This is the true meaning of Christmas. This is how we keep Christ in CHRISTmas.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

(John 18:36 ESV)

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