I love Christmas music! We have hardly gobbled up the turkey and cleared the Thanksgiving table and I’m ready for Christmas music 24/7. From Silent Night and Handel’s Messiah to White Christmas and Jingle Bells, I’m ready to sing. Few things get me into the spirit like the music of Christmas.
That’s the way it has always been. Whenever, wherever people hear the amazing good news of Jesus they want to sing. A teenage girl named Mary could scarcely hold back, but broke into song when told she would birth the world’s Savior. Celestial choirs turned out in number that first Christmas to sing Jesus’ praise. Aged Simeon caroled the tiny Babe from heaven as he cradled Him in his arms.
Long before there ever was theology, there was song. People first celebrated the Good News and spread it to the world through singing. I hope this year’s Advent devotional gets you singing!
Our last two Advent devotionals have been about two of the three great “Christ Hymns” of Scripture. The 2017 devotional, “Our Humble God”, celebrated the Christ Hymn found in Philippians 2:5-11. The 2018 devotional, “We Have Seen His Glory!”, pondered the lofty praise of Jesus in John 1:1-18. These are two elegant hymns that break forth amidst the prose of Scripture.
This year we are pleased to take up the third of the “Christ Hymns” found in Colossians 1:15-20. While the song’s tune is lost to the ages, we savor its powerful words about Jesus:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
A WINDOW INTO THE WORLD OF THE COLOSSIANS CHRIST HYMN
Pliny the Younger (A. D. 61-113) was a first century Roman governor at a loss to know how to handle the rapidly growing Jesus movement. So Governor Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan for direction in how to deal with Christians in his province of Bithynia, near the city of Colossae. Pliny reported in his letter that Christians met “on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god.” (Pliny, Letters 10:96) I like to imagine that the hymn to Christ they sang might have been this Christ Hymn we take up for the days of Advent.
Some scholars think the Christ Hymn of Colossians was an existent hymn Paul included in his letter, much like people today include a hymn in their Christmas letters or cards. Other scholars think that Paul actually composed this hymn. While opinions differ as to the hymn’s origin, its original Greek language reveals a carefully, poetically, rhythmically balanced wording, all the features of a song. The words were meant to be sung, memorized, and shared.
As Paul writes to the Colossian Christians he is under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial before Nero. But Paul’s concern is for his brothers and sisters at Colossae. Disturbing news has been brought to Paul by Epaphras, the pastor of the small Colossian house church (Colossians 1:4, 7-8; 4:12-13; Philemon 23). Paul learns that the Christians in Colossae have become distracted, taking their eyes off Jesus. False teachers have made their way into the church peddling a false gospel of “Jesus plus” something more. They have concocted a witches’ brew of Jewish legalism, gnostic philosophy, and asceticism focused on spiritual powers and angels rather than on Jesus alone. While Jesus is prominent for them, He is not preeminent. They deny both the deity of Jesus and His humanity, claiming that He is but one more avatar, or emanation, of the divine.
Paul’s remedy for false teaching and heresy is always to set forth who Jesus is and what He has done. The church does not need new rules, new revelation, or new methods, but a fresh grasp of the fullness of life in Jesus Christ. Paul has no patience for “Jesus plus” anything! Thus, Paul reminds the Colossians of the message: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him” (Colossians 2:9). Paul seeks to put into human language the unutterable language of the Creator entering His creation. The fullness of God has come down to earth in bodily form so that we are complete in Him, and in Him alone.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE COLOSSIANS CHRIST HYMN
The Colossians Christ Hymn is essentially answering the question Jesus asked His disciples at Caesarea Philippi: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). The hymn is a stunning revelation meant to stretch minds and hearts and lift spirits.
This Christ Hymn comes in two parts, each one celebrating the preeminence of Christ Jesus as Creator and Lord of all:
• Jesus is Creator and Lord of the old creation, the cosmos
• Jesus is Creator and Lord of the new creation, the church
We will see in the hymn that every part of the cosmos, visible and invisible, was created in, by, and for Christ, with every part touched by the reconciling work of His cross. The One through whom all things were made became one flesh with us so that in Him we might possess the fullness of God.
In times of crisis the church has always needed a fresh vision of who Jesus is and what HE has done! May the Spirit of Christ give us that fresh vision!
AN OVERVIEW OF THIS DEVOTIONAL
Each day’s devotional reading comes in three parts: PRAY, READ, PONDER.
PRAY: It is always important for us to open God’s Word with prayer. Thus, each day’s devotional begins with a brief moment to become still before God and pray. For this year’s devotional we have taken the prayer of Mary as she submitted her life to God’s Word:
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with
me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)
READ: Here we take a few moments to read the day’s scripture and reflection. We prayerfully listen for the Spirit of God to speak to us as we worship Christ.
PONDER: After reading it is important to take a few moments to ponder. Each reading will conclude with a question or two to get you going. Again, we take the young Mary as an example of how, after hearing God’s Word, she ponders:
“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
We are praying for you this Advent that as you PRAY, READ, and PONDER, you might say “Yes” to God’s Word and know the Holy Spirit forming the life of Jesus in you.