Publication:Pastoral Letter,December 2016
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray this letter finds you well. This month, it is my honor to write this Pastoral Letter to you on behalf of my father, Charles Simpson, and all of us here at CSM Publishing. I have some very Good News to share with you … Christ, the Savior is born!
This is not some old musty museum newspaper headline of yesteryear, but a powerful reality that directly affects how we live today and how we can enter 2017 with new and living hope. Why do we
still celebrate that Holy Night? Why do we sing and shout about it?
A little boy and his older sister were singing their favorite Christmas carol, “Silent Night”. When they arrived at the final phrase in verse one, the boy sang, “sleep in heavenly beans.” “No,” his sister corrected him, “not beans! PEAS!”
During this season, many songs are sung. Some of them actually have to do with the true meaning of Christmas. I love singing Christmas carols, which were written to tell the story of Who Jesus is and why He came. One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Joy to the World” because of the great spirit and truth that it carries.
“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts
Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing
The song always reminds me of that night, when shepherds were tending their flock in a quiet field near Bethlehem. Unbeknownst to them, the Savior of the world had been born in a humble stable
not far from them. They could never have imagined that they would become a vital part of a story that would still be told 2,000 years later.
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!’ So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child” (Luke 2:8-17).
Recently, I was listening to Nat “King” Cole sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and I was struck again by the powerful theology in that song, written by Charles Wesley: “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” John Lennon imagined a form of peace on earth divorced from God; Jesus Christ demonstrated that true peace can only be found in God.
The first words of the Gospel that the angel declared were, “Fear not!” The world had long been in the chains of sin and error, crying out for a Savior. The people were under judgement and fear. The sudden appearance of a mighty angel of the Lord must have startled these shepherds. This was no Tinkerbell, no cute, fluttering bare-bottomed cherub; this was a tremendous, majestic, and huge Heavenly creature speaking in a thundering, commanding voice.
But the message the angel brought was one of joy. Where there had been alienation between God and humanity, now there would be reconciliation, because of the birth of the Savior. God’s perfect love had cast out fear; mercy had triumphed over judgment. It was Good News for the shepherds and for the nations of that day, and so it remains for us and the world in our day.
MESSAGE OF JOY
Charles Haddon Spurgeon has noted three basic lessons in the message of the angels:
1. The joy which is spoken of
2. The persons to whom this joy comes
3. The sign that was given
We believe that Jesus is God incarnated … God made flesh … God with skin on. We see at His birth that Jesus is also joy with skin on! He is the joy that broke through the long night of sin and fear bringing joy to the world. Jesus is what joy looks like!
His birth brings not only joy, but great joy … joy beyond words or measure. Joy that is unshakable, unbeatable, unstoppable … joy without end; eternal joy. It is that joy of the Lord that gives strength to all who will receive it. It is joy unspeakable and full of glory! It is a pure and holy joy, sourced in heaven and delighting all of heaven, beginning with the Father. This is the same Heavenly Father who literally leaps and dances for joy over His people in Zephaniah 3:17.
RECEIVING THE JOY
This joy is for everyone, everywhere, for all time. It was announced first to humble shepherds. It was not given to great kings or celebrities; it did not come to the societal elites. This in itself is a significant sign. The shepherds were given the mission of going, seeing, and telling. This is the model from the beginning, lived out by the shepherds. Kings received the gift of the Gospel from the humble.
The Gospel message transcends nation, race, tribe, family, and time. Jesus is a child of the Jews, whose salvation is not only for the Jews, but for all people, fulfilling God’s eternal purpose and promises through the prophets. He is not only a Savior, but the Savior; the very Messiah, the One in Whose Name there is forgiveness of sin, victorious living, and restored fellowship with Father God. Jesus is the One Who comes, sent by the Father, to seek and save the lost.
THE SIGN OF JOY
The sign that was given was that this great King came as a baby, born in a manger, in the most humble and desperate of circumstances and times. The people of Israel were suffering under the oppression of Rome and the darkness of sin. Surely, many must have believed that God had forgotten them. No one would have considered it “the best of times”. But, that’s when the Savior came. That is so often when His presence comes to us, even now.
Joy can break into your darkness like the dawn. And consider this: even before the sun breaks over the mountains and lights them with the flames of dawn, they are still there. Just because we can’t always see God’s purpose at work doesn’t mean that God is absent. It certainly doesn’t mean that He is uncaring. If your situation is rough, remember that Jesus specializes in showing up in tough times. We can look at our circumstances, or we can look for the Savior.
Jesus came to us in vulnerability; looking at Him, few would have imagined they were looking at the King of kings and the Lord of lords. No fine linens or clothing wrapped him. No beautiful cradle
rocked him. There was no work of mankind that made the scene glorious; it was the very presence of God that surrounded Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and all those who came to worship Him.
Sometimes we miss God because we’re looking for the wrong thing. We want the spectacular; we want pageantry; we want something we can trust by appearance. But Jesus came to a seemingly insignificant village in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, in a miserable little stable, laying in an animal’s feed trough. Who would have guessed it? It just goes to show that we need to trust the Lord and His Word rather than our own logic or senses or even the authoritative pronouncements of media pundits.
STILL THE SAVIOR
The glory of God still surrounds those who worship Him today. “Joy to the World” is not merely for Christmas. Certainly, joy is not necessarily found in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping. Whoever wrote “Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile” has never been to Wal-Mart in December! A lot of the stress of the season now comes from misplaced priorities.
I notice that a lot of movies in recent years focus on some apocalyptic event or a future dystopian society. Mankind, even in our fallen condition, is internally aware that something is wrong; something is seriously amiss. Even those who have never heard the Gospel, or have rejected it, seem to know deep down inside that our path as a society is leading to a bad place.
But the good news of Christmas, which is for all people, everywhere, is that the Savior has come. Those who reject Him will see further chaos and disintegration; but those who will make room in their hearts for Him, and receive His salvation, will find righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Like the Shepherds, we have heard the glad tidings. May we, like them, go and see Him, worship Him, and tell others about Him.
This is a vital part of our mission at CSM: to proclaim Jesus and to equip others to do the same, to the ends of the earth. Would you continue to remember CSM in your prayers and in your budget in a special way this December? Your support plays a significant part in advancing this cause. We are committed to embracing the truth with our lives; to speak it in love and boldness wherever the Lord leads. Thank you for your friendship and support in this mission.
Anyone can spread gloom and cynicism. But the people who have received the joy of the Lord have also received the call and the power to share it with someone today. Go tell it on the mountain, over
the hills and everywhere: Jesus Christ is born!
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.