Cantique de Noël

Cantique de Noël was written in 1847, by Placide Cappeau. An atheist poet, Cappeau was surprised when a Catholic priest asked him to pen something for Christmas mass. Despite not believing in Jesus, Cappeau delivered in a big way. This 6-minute video explains the story behind the song. The video is also posted at the bottom of this post.

Cantique de Noël’s English equivalent is the tremendous hymn “O Holy Night.” Cappeau’s poem is a bit different but, in my opinion, it’s a whole lot better. Here’s the literal English translation.

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
When God as man descended unto us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Saviour.

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,

It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken every bond:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Here is Abraham Lincoln’s short proclamation to institute Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the United States. Read more about it.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward
Secretary of State

A Walk through Northampton

It’s not often when a family of five with three kids five years and under decide on the spur of the moment, on a crisp Saturday morning in November, to drive nearly two hours for a history lesson.

That’s exactly what we did yesterday. And it was completely worth it.

Around 8am, my wife, half serious, half joking, said, “Let’s go to New Haven” (in Connecticut, where Yale is located). A two hour and 40 minute drive—a bit ambitious. I suggested we drive to Northampton, MA, a bit closer. That’s where Jonathan Edwards lived and ministered from 1726-1750. As a pastor and someone who has read and benefited from the life and ministry of Edwards, I’ve wanted to visit for some time. “Really? Are you serious?” Bailey, our five year-old, asked with a hesitant, yet anticipatory smile. Yes! Fifty minutes later, snacks were packed, all were dressed and in the van. Day trip here we come.

We spent the entire afternoon walking (with a little bit of driving…lots of little legs in our crew) around Northampton. Relive the journey with us here.

Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center
We were clueless about where to go and what to see. We thought this museum was a good place to start. It’s small and quiet with no visible Edwards artifacts. “I’m a fan of Edwards. Is there anything you can point us to?” I asked the curator. She showed me two original printed copies of sermons from Edwards. Bingo.

Below, on the left is his farewell sermon after he was dismissed (i.e. fired—yes, Jonathan Edwards was fired by his congregation). It was preached in 1750 and published in 1751. On the right is A Divine and Supernatural Light (which I had the pleasure of reading a few years ago). It was preached in 1734.

The curator then showed us a guide for a walking tour throughout the town. Bingo #2.

The Bridge Street Cemetery
We began at the end. On resurrection ground.

cemetery-us

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards are buried at Princeton Cemetery in New Jersey, but their cenotaphs are located here. You can see the surname “Edwards” at the bottom of the large monument (left). It has their names and birth/death dates on the front and the names and dates of their eleven children on the other three sides. Jonathan Edwards’ individual cenotaph is on the right.

There were other graves we wanted to see. I couldn’t find Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’ grandfather, the prominent Northampton pastor who preached at the church before Edwards. Carly, not even realizing who she had found at the time, took this photo. She said later that she had a sense, probably given by God, that “this was an important man.” She was right.

stoddard-grave

We found the gravesite of David Brainerd, a missionary to Native Americans, who died at age 29. His stone could have said, “Here lies a man who did not waste his life.”

We told our kids today, as we often do, that those who know Jesus will rise with new bodies someday. On Resurrection Day. As I walked this cemetery, set in the birthplace of the Great Awakening, I couldn’t help but wonder, How many of these souls first trusted in Jesus during that revival? How many of their family came to Jesus in the years following? How glorious will the celebration be in this place when Jesus returns?

On to the meeting house.

Meetinghouse Hill
The Meetinghouse is where the town gathered for all sorts of things, including worship. The First Meetinghouse stood from 1655-1661. Edwards preached in the Second and Third Meetinghouses. The Fourth Meetinghouse was destroyed by fire. Pictured below, still standing today, is the “Fifth Meetinghouse,” built in 1878.

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Walking in to the house, we stood on a semi-circle step (you can see it in the picture on the left) which was one of the original steps of the Third Meetinghouse. Sunday after Sunday, Edwards walked over this slab as he went to preach the gospel to his congregation.

Inside, a memorial tablet of Edwards that was unveiled in 1900.

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Near the front of the room, just to the right of the pulpit, rested a door with several notes tacked to it. They are affirmations of what “I do not believe [in].” To say that these notes are in this location is ironic is a massive understatement. Edwards, who proclaimed the sovereignty, supremacy, and goodness of God in all things (including evil), the definite atonement of Christ on the cross, and the judgment of God on unrepentant sinners, would have been appalled.

It grieved and angered our hearts, too.

On to the Edwards’ home.

Edwards’ Homestead
The Edwards’ actual home no longer exists. The adjacent street was renamed Edwards Square in his honor (top).  The homestead was made up of dozens of acres on King Street in Northampton. A Catholic church (more irony) now stands where his home was located (bottom left and center).

Across the street was a cafe and bakery. It had been a long day. We needed a snack. Jonathan probably never had the pleasure of enjoying a chocolate chip cookie. We enjoyed a few for him.

On to The Edwards church.

The Edwards Church
Founded in 1833 when the number of people outgrew the First Congregational Church’s  “meetinghouse,” this church was named in honor of Edwards. The current version was built in 1958 (left). On the side of the building is a stone tile of Edwards, one of four tiles depicting scenes of early religious life in the area (right).

We had to walk along Main Street to get here. I later told Carly that while we walked, “I felt alone. Like we—the five of us—were alone.” It’s difficult to describe. We are heirs of the theology and heart of Edwards. It became evident on our walk that Northampton, the cradle of the Great Awakening, is not. Carly, in her wise, clear, and concise way articulated it: “I know what you mean. It felt oppressive.” 

One more stop. On to the library.

Forbes Library
In the rear of the library was another semi-circle stone—a granite doorstep from the Edwards’ homestead.

After Edwards was dismissed from his church, he became a missionary to Native Americans. I’m no Edwards—not even close. But for me, as pastor and soon-to-be missionary in an area with many Native Americans, to have my family stand on the stoop that Jonathan and Sarah and their eleven children would have walked on hour after hour, day after day, was perhaps the most serene and wonderful moment of the day.

As we drove home in the dark, overlooking a faint orange and purple sunset hovering above the Berkshires, I said to Carly, “Today made him a bit more real to me. I’m thankful for that. I can’t wait to meet him.” She agreed.

And someday, on Resurrection Day, if not before, we will.

A Sermon for Election Day

I wrestle with posting my sermon manuscripts. Why? First of all, often I don’t preach from a manuscript but only an outline or an expanded outline that might just look like scrap notes to others. So often I don’t have one.

There is a deeper reason, however. Sermons are not written communication, but oral. Sermons are meant to be heard with the ears, received with the mind, and chewed on with the heart. In the moment.

Because sermons are oral communication, what I preached yesterday to our congregation, while not dramatically different from my prepared script, is noticeably different. Some things were cut because of time. Some things were not said because I was looking at people’s faces and not my paper. Some things were added because of the looks I saw on people’s faces and I realized they needed something more, or different, than what I had prepared. You could say preaching is oral communication that lives.

When we read a sermon we find online, we are often looking to learn something. An oral communication like a sermon, while certainly helping people to learn things, is primarily meant to move people to worship Someone. Books and blogs can reproduce the content of a sermon, but they cannot reproduce the power of God to draw people to Jesus. It is a gift from God that, in a singular point in time, he moves through human proclamation of his word—whether preached to five people, a hundred, or ten-thousand. Sometimes you can tell he moves and other times you can’t. Most preachers never see or know the impact of their preaching.

Enough. That’s my rant on posting sermon manuscripts. And still, I decided today to post one. Here is my sermon manuscript yesterday from Psalm 2. Though it’s only in written form, I pray it not only edifies your mind but moves you to worship Messiah and take refuge in him.

The Rage of the Nations and the Reign of Messiah
Psalm 2

In two days we will end the most divisive and angry election season we have ever had in this country. You could say we have been witnessing a political circus for the past 9 months or so. But that’s just the surface. What is happening underneath is plotting and scheming of individuals and a nation to be free from all God-interference. We are witnessing a spiritual version of the game “king of the hill.” People and parties are clamoring for first place and God will have none of it.

Listen to Eugene Peterson:

A lot of people reject the word of God; they not only reject it, they turn their rejection into a world power. These people command most of the armies of the world, direct the advances of science, run school systems, preside over governments, and rule in the marketplaces…we [need] an act of imagination that enables us to see that the world of God is large—far larger than the worlds of kings and princes, prime ministers and presidents, far larger than the worlds reported by newspaper and TV.

We need something to enable us to see that our presidential election is not the most important thing. In every election there is the temptation to shrink our world down to the size of our world. Elections are like footnotes. Important, but not the whole story, and we need to remember that.

What will answer our need? Thankfully, God’s world is much bigger and he invites us into it. He answers our need in Messiah—Jesus Messiah.

Psalm 2 helps restore perspective in the midst of an anxious and divisive election. It opens our eyes to a big world, a grand world, where God and his Messiah reign. Let’s read Psalm 2 together.

Two Levels of this Psalm
There’s two levels to this psalm—and every psalm. The first is on the historical level. The background for this psalm is God’s covenant with David. It would be through David’s family that God would establish a royal line who would represent his rule on the earth. The throne would be in Zion—which is another name for Jerusalem. And like today, back then kings had rivals who would do all they could to scheme and plot to take over land and people and industry. God established his king in Zion and the other nations didn’t like this. They hate the king. They hate God. Psalm 2 is a song God’s people sang to remind themselves who their true king is and to declare to the nations that their efforts to subvert the king would be futile. That’s level one.

The second level stretches across redemptive history. As you read this psalm, it become obvious that the king mentioned is no mere human. Some of things said of him could not be true of David. He died after all, and so did all who came after him. But we know that many times the New Testament authors and Jesus himself would quote the Psalms—even this one—and apply it to Jesus. In fact, the word for “Anointed” in v. 2 is mashiach—Messiah. Do you know the Greek word for Messiah? Christos, Christ in English. Let’s look at one place that uses Psalm 2: Acts 4. The believers are praying.

[24] “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, [25] who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? [26] The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

[27] for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [28] to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

The peoples of the world have always plotted against God and his Anointed ones and the apostles saw that this comes to climax in the plot against Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate King. He is the greater David. And when it’s all said and done, there will only be one King of the hill. And our response must be to take our refuge in Messiah. Let’s turn to Psalm 2 and explore what God has to say to us.

We are going to ask three questions of this text today: Why do the nations rage? How will God respond? Where will you seek refuge?

Why do the nations rage?
These opponents are both numerous (nations and peoples) and prestigious (kings and rulers). Most of the people in the world, and most of the important people, don’t want God to reign over them. Here’s what they’re saying about God and his Messiah, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us” (v. 3). If you are a Christian, you see God’s word and his rule as freedom from sin, but the world sees it as shackles. They want to be king of the hill and they will not rest until they have sovereignty. That’s why they are raging. That’s why there are conventions, campaigns, debates, and elections, summits, espionage, and wars. It’s one big global game of king of the hill.

To be included in this raging, you don’t have to marshall a crusade against God. In David’s day, some of the kings who opposed him did not even know Yahweh by name. So this quote in v. 3 isn’t something any king said specifically. This is poetry and in poetry there is license to generalize and describe a mood or tone or feeling. Verse 3 simply gives words to the general disposition of all who are not on God’s side.

All you have to do to fulfill Psalm 2 is speak or live in a way that rejects Jesus’ right to reign over you. You don’t have to speak ill of him by name, write a nasty blog about him, be a criminal, or curse his followers. If you do not submit to the authority of Messiah Jesus—whether you are an elected official or not, whether you speak the words or not—you make war on God.

Now, most people don’t do this consciously or even maliciously. Nobody, candidate or otherwise, wakes up saying, “I wonder how I can subvert the reign of Messiah in my life and in this country today.” Of course they don’t say that. They want you to vote for them! No one talks that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

These first three verses expose why our nation is the way it is. Why our world is the way it is. The United States and our political candidates are not immune to the raging. Now you might object and think I’m saying throw the whole political baby out with the election bathwater.

No. Government is a good thing ordained by God—please hear me on that. By God’s grace, this country has created the most ingenious system of government the world has ever seen. So, you should vote. You should love you country. You should care about your country. You should pray for your leaders.

But there is a dark side and I do not want you to be fooled. I love this country but it is not ultimate. To care about your country and this election on one hand and see it for what it really is on the other are not mutually exclusive. You can do both. 

Now, we must ask: what’s God’s response to all this?

How will God respond?
Earlier I said that the problem with elections is that the often shrink our world to the size of our world. The raging of the nations and their leaders tempt us to believe that this is all there is. The thing about Psalm 2 is that it doesn’t leave us in a shrunken world. It opens up to us a big world. A grand world. A God-sized world, much bigger than any nation or ruler can imagine. Psalm 2 expands our vision into the world of Messiah.

Messiah is God’s person in history. Messiah is the person God will use to usher in his kingdom. It began with David and would conclude with the grater David, Jesus.

Look at God’s response in verse 4: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Derision means mocking. The NIV says, “The LORD scoffs at them.”

You can take the arrogance of politicians too seriously. God laughs at their pretense and calls it silliness. Everyone is try to be him! Can you imagine?! Do you join him in the laughter? Have you gotten to the place in this election season that you can laugh? Laughter restores perspective. It’s not a laughter like, “haha, I’m better than you!” Not at all. It’s more like the kind of laughter when you play king of the hill with your 14-month old and he thinks he can take you out.

God’s laughter then moves to mocking, scoffing. And then to wrath. “As for me,” God says, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” God’s response to the human game of king of the hill is to install his own King. King Jesus.

While we are consumed with our politics, something bigger is going on. There’s a more expansive kingdom and a more powerful king exercising his authority in the world. You can’t see it but it’s real.

How is Jesus installed as King? Unlike the leaders of the world, Jesus showed his authority by giving it up and dying on a cross. He is raised up…but as a sacrifice! And by believing in that sacrifice for your sins, you come under his reign. But if that’s the only image of Messiah you have, you have a truncated view. Look at vv. 7-9. This is a very interesting moment when messiah actually speaks–originally the Davidic king, and now Jesus:

“I will tell of the decree: the LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

It is through Jesus’ death that the nations become his, but there’s more. God’s response to the raging of the nations is to wipe them out. Break them. Dash them. He didn’t do it then. He didn’t do it the first time Jesus came. He’s not doing it now. He’s patient. But in the end, there will only be one kingdom.

Revelation picks up on this image. Listen to Revelation 19:15-16:

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

These images are obviously figurative—but the point is made. Jesus will take vengeance on those who reject him, particularly the nations. Does it make you tremble to think that in the end all nations, even our own nation—which we rightly love and care about—will be wiped out by Jesus? Does it take your breath away that all the leaders in the history of the world will give an account to Jesus on the last day?

Countries and elections matter. They just aren’t ultimate. And they will come to an end. Right now, God is patient with the raging and plotting. He even restrains evil so that most human governments actually do people good. But his patience will come to an end and that leads to our last question.

Where Will You Seek Refuge?
Verses 10-11 transition into the application: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear; rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.”

The kings of the earth also need a king. The only thing that will keep them from rejecting Messiah is to worship him. Kiss the Son. Recognize your unworthiness and how worthy he is.

Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a president who knew Jesus is king? It would be splendid. But friends, we must remember that it is hard for politicians who kiss the Son to be elected by millions of people who refuse to do so. And It is hard to kiss the Son when you have some measure of power over people. Most leaders in human history have not obeyed these words. That’s why the warning is here.

What happens if they don’t heed the warning? God will be angry with them and they will perish because, it says, his wrath is quickly kindled. Now, you might ask, “Isn’t God slow to anger?” He is. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. But God’s slowness to anger does not mean he never gets angry. He has a long wick, but he does have a wick, and it does burn. And eventually, his patience wears out. And when the wick is done burning, he will not delay.

In some ways, this Psalm is a harsh, terrifying psalm. But it ends incredibly positive. Let’s not miss it. The last line expands the warning but turns it into a benediction: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (v. 12).

There are two ways we can respond. Seek refuge from God or in God.

Which will you chose? Will you find refuge in men and women or in Messiah? The rulers of this world see refuge in Messiah as bondage, shackles. They are trying to break free. But when you find your refuge in Jesus you have security and true happiness, true rest from all the raging and plotting and silliness. And the truth is that there is truly no refuge from Messiah. Only in him.

Finally, here’s how you can know if you seek refuge in Messiah.

You will be able to participate in our political process without despair because you know the present world is passing away and that in the end, there will be only one King and one Kingdom.

And on Tuesday night, no matter what happens…

  • you will pursue your joy in Jesus.
  • you will be humble if your candidate wins and respectful if your candidate loses.
  • you’ll be able to pray for your new president and not argue with people on social media.

No matter what happens in the future because of this election, you will have a sense of rest and peace in Messiah because you will have believed God’s word, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”