This Week's Comment from Network 7 News 

Edition 391 – December 25, 2004.  

 This weeks  was written by AWR's English Language Service Director, Victor Hulbert.  The full programme can be heard in Real Audio on our web-site.

God Rest you Merry!

For a rough translation in your own language click here: Translate now

And a very Merry Christmas to you!  At least, I hope that’s OK.  I know in some places “Christmas” has been replaced by “Winterfest” and that some people are concerned that if you use the word “Merry” in the same sentence as Christmas it somehow devalues a festival linked to the memory of Jesus birth.  

Of course, meanings change with time, but back in the 15th century, when the carol was probably written,  the Oxford English Dictionary tells me that merry meant “pleasing” or “delightful” rather than slightly inebriated.  So let me wish you a very pleasing or delightful Christmas.  

And this Christmas is, for me, a special one.  Special because it gives me a double celebration.  December 25 2004 lands on a Saturday – and that, in itself makes it special.  

Let me explain: Saturday is the day I go to church. It’s my day of worship.  I have come to consider it, as Isaiah did, a day of delight (Isa 58:13-14).  I’ve found it a blessing as a day to rest and step aside from the normal busyness of the week. And I’ve come to appreciate this time more and more as I recognise God’s creative care in setting aside a special time of worship (Gen 2:1-3), his saving care and even his restorative care as we can take time to worship and revel in his love. (Ex 20:8-12, Isa 56:17.)  

There was a time, as a child, when I would have dreaded Christmas day being on a Sabbath.  In fact, I wasn’t to keen on the Sabbath itself.  It was a burden I didn’t need.  It stopped me doing all the fun things without giving me some positive alternatives.  I didn’t need that.  

Then I read in the Gospels how Jesus had fun on the Sabbath.  He healed a lame man and told him to break the Sabbath rules by carrying home the bed he’d been lying on for years (John 5)  He rejoiced with his disciples as they walked through the corn fields, enjoying nature and nibbling on the food as they went.  And when the disapproving religious leaders complain – he doesn’t answer them directly, but simply says, “Hang on a minute – if your worried about my disciples, what about King David that you so greatly respect.  He, as a ceremonially unclean warrior, led his men of war into the tabernacle and fed them on the showbread reserved only for the priests.  Loosen up.  Enjoy your day and your worship.  The Sabbath was made as a blessing for mankind, not a curse.  (A paraphrase of Mark 2:27-18)  

On that basis, this Christmas, I can happily quote the words of King David, “This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us be glad and rejoice in it! (Psalm 118:24)  

You see, this Christmas, I can combine my day of rest and rejoicing with the wonderful memory of the Christ child who was born for me.  I love a traditional carol service when a choir boy stands up and reads from Isaiah 9:2, 6 (NIV)  

 The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned. . . .

6For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isn’t it amazing that the God who set aside a time for friendship and fellowship with us right back on the first Sabbath of Creation should continue that friendship to the degree of coming and being born as a tiny child in a cave in Bethlehem.  A child that was hounded throughout his life.  Herod tried to kill him.  Satan tried to tempt him.  The Pharisees to trick him and eventually to kill him.  And yet, Isaiah tells us, he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  

Christmas Sabbaths are different for me.  There is a bit less hustle and bustle.  The service holds a special meaning.  The carols.  The Scriptures, the Prayers.  Normally the extra involvement of the children – something I always enjoy.  And the wonder and happiness you see in those children’s faces.  A wonder and excitement that can be there for everyone as we echo the words of the disciple John, “The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.”  And John adds with great awe and privilege, “We saw his glory.”  (John 1:14)  

This will be the last time you hear my voice, indeed hear this programme.  For seven years, at this point in each programme, I’ve tried to inject a Voice of Hope into the often troubled news of the week.  It’s been a very rewarding experience for me.  Now life moves on.  From next week I will, once again, be in face to face contact with those I share ministry with, rather than, as with you, via the ethereal world of radio.  It’s been a privilege and an honour to share with you these seven years.  One day I hope to meet you – in a party and celebration much bigger than any Christmas bash you’re likely to see.  Revelation 4 & 5 paints a picture of worship in heaven.  A time of rejoicing.  A time of praise.  By the time we get to the end of the book a time when pain, sin, suffering and death are all finished. (Rev 21:4)    As I celebrate my Christmas Sabbath I look forward to such a worship service.  But to be honest, I’ll be slightly lonely unless you choose to be there too.  At the end of John’s Gospel he tells us that he wrote his account of Jesus life so that we can believe he is the Messiah, and that trusting in him we can have life. (John 20:31)  This Christmas, and over the last seven years of this ministry, I hope too that this is the message we can leave with you.  Jesus is our hope.  Merry Christmas! 

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