Christmas Eve 2011 saw my family and I attending a ‘Service of nine lessons and carols’ in Bath Abbey. The carefully chosen Bible readings, along with the traditional Christmas carols, proved a great blessing.
The service concluded with a prayer, which this Christmas I would like to share with you:
May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary and the peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmas; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
Unpacking it, we note it refers first to the joy of the angels. It was angels from heaven who announced the Saviour’s birth. They described this as ‘good news of great joy which will come to all people’ (Luke 2:10).
What exactly is this joyful news though? The next verse from the Bible tells us: ‘For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’. The joy then is that there is a Saviour.
Our greatest need is for a Saviour as we are sinners under the judgement of God. In the Christ born at Bethlehem we find the Saviour for our greatest need. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15).
True Christmas joy is knowing Jesus as our own personal Saviour, being a beneficiary of his saving work, and receiving through him the forgiveness of our sins and the sure hope of eternal life.
Secondly, the prayer refers to the eagerness of the shepherds. As soon as the shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem heard the good news of the Saviour’s birth, they responded.
They said, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us’. They did not dawdle, but went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:15-16).
And indeed there is urgency about the message of salvation, since salvation is the most crucial matter of all. Our attitude towards Jesus actually determines where we will spend eternity. If God is calling us in the gospel, we must eagerly embrace the grace he offers us, without delay.
Thirdly, the prayer refers to the perseverance of the wise men. This takes us to Matthew chapter 2, where we read of Magi from ancient Babylon who made the long, arduous journey to Bethlehem to see the infant Christ.
Before the days of modern transport, their journey was no doubt difficult and uncomfortable, but they persevered. Their faith, hope and love were abundantly rewarded, for, at their journey’s end, their eyes eventually beheld the longed-for Messiah.
‘Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother and they fell down and worshipped him. Then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh’ (Matthew 2:11).
God still rewards earnest, persevering seekers after Jesus. Those whose faith is merely nominal are strangers to true Christian blessing, but God states in his Word, ‘You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart’ (Jeremiah 29:13).
Fourthly, the prayer mentions the obedience of Joseph and Mary. Joseph and Mary, of course, figure prominently in the Christmas story, although even they take second place to Christ.
Little is said about Joseph in the Bible. After being given angelic assurance that Mary’s conception of Christ was by the Holy Spirit, he provided quiet support for Mary. Mary herself gives us an example in her meek submission to the will of God. When the angel Gabriel explained that she was to give birth to the longed-for Messiah, after initial amazement, she said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38).
God’s will is always best. Knowing and submitting to the will of God is surely the secret of true happiness.
Lastly, the prayer mentions the peace of the Christ-child. The best has been saved to last! Isaiah’s ancient prophecy describes Jesus as ‘the prince of peace’ (Isaiah 9:6).
The Christ of Bethlehem alone can give sinners peace with God. He ‘made peace by the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1:20). Our sin alienates us from God and puts us under his wrath. But the Christ of Bethlehem grew up to become the Christ of Calvary. He lived a sinless life and at Calvary died an atoning death.
He reconciles to God every sinner who believes in him. So Charles Wesley was spot-on when he wrote, ‘Hail thou heaven-born prince of peace’ and ‘Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled’.
Jesus was born to reconcile sinners to God. When our faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ, the peace of God becomes eternally ours. ‘Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1).
If this delightful Christmas prayer is answered in you, you will have a truly happy Christmas and the blessing of Jesus Christ will be yours for ever.