Begin and Never Cease

The Oh Hellos Family Christmas Album is by far and without a doubt, the best Christmas Album I have ever heard. Within four movements, the Oh Hellos manage to perfectly intertwine well known Christmas melodies and lyrics into a twenty-five-minute soundtrack that you wished would never end (no pun intended). Of all four movements, the second is my favorite and in celebration of Jesus’ birth, this year I’ve decided to research more behind the meaning of the song.

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” is a traditional Christmas carol written in 1700, by Irish-English poet and lyricist, Nahum Tate. It was written in the context of Luke 2:8-14—summarizing the whole passage of Luke 2:1-21—and tells the story of Jesus’ coming through the perspective of the Shepherds. The hymn is sung to the tune of “Winchester Old,” arranged by George Kirbye in the year 1592, furthermore inspiring the beautiful rendition of “Begin and Never Cease” by the Oh Hellos. In this version, the Oh Hellos piece together lyrics from “While Shepherds Watched,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “The First Noel,” and “O Come Let Us Adore Him.”

The words of the last verse or stanza have been a recent stronghold in my life, especially in the context of everything that’s happened this year.  As I listen to the melody and dwell over the lyrics of these short—yet profound—four and final lines, I am reminded of the purpose God has for each of our lives.

All Glory be to God on High

As Christians, we are tasked with giving glory to God despite the trials faced in everyday life. We don’t have to wait for life to be “good” or “okay.” Rather, we praise Him in the waiting, in the hard times and even in the good ones. In every situation, God deserves our praise, for He made everything and everything is done according to His plan. Every blessing I have received, I have received as a result of God’s grace and every sorrow I have endured, I have overcome with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Daniel 4:34-35 His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”

Philippians 2:9-11Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Revelation 4:8,11 “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” “Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

After reading these scriptures I am reminded to praise God simply because he created all things and because without God we are regarded as nothing. In the beginning of time, when God made Adam, we were made in His image and it was “good.” Even though we were made with the capability to commit the grossest of sins, God said that we were “good.” Although knowing that the Garden of Eden is God’s desire for us, I believe that the fall may have occurred in order for us to choose to love God. Before Adam and Eve sinned, they followed God, unaware of the possibility of evil. Yet, after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became aware of their need for God and had to make a continual commitment to seek and serve the Lord. Perhaps the most beautiful and perplexing part of Christianity is the love God has for us and the grace he freely extends in exchange for a mustard seed of faith. We can’t do anything to receive except believe and neither can we do anything to lose it. All we have to do is say “All glory be to God on High” and He will do the rest.

And to the Earth be Peace

Peace: the freedom from civil disturbance; a period in which there is no war or a war has ended; harmony in personal relations

In the year of 2020, life seems to be anything but peaceful. COVID, elections, political strife, family stress, work stress, sickness, and death—add them all to the mix and life is more like a rocky boat than peaceful waters. Even before COVID, there were things in our lives which cause us to doubt the promises of God.

Matthew 8:23-27 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

As I read this passage, I think “how could the disciples not know God would provide when he was physically present on the boat?” “How could they not believe he would restore them to calm?” But then I think about my own struggles and recall questioning God about why he would place certain storms in my life; why he would allow me to endure such pain. I’m now starting to realize that life is a storm. There may be parts of the storm in which strong winds blow and loud thunder erupts, but in all moments the storm still exists. It is easy to trust that God will provide when the winds are a gentle breeze, yet we doubt he will follow through in the tornados and hurricanes of life. People often say “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I think that’s wrong. God constantly gives us more than we can handle, so he can show us how much He can handle. Out of His love for us, God sent his son to die on the cross for our sin and furthermore, he seeks us out in times of calamity. He desires to restore us to calm by way of His word, His Holy Spirit, and through His people.

Ephesians 2:14-18 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Isn’t it funny how when we live for ourselves, we become hostile and divisive toward others, yet when we trust in God and lean on Him, we are united and made one in the body of Christ? We are without peace when we lean on our own understanding and seek our needs above those of others. We are made to know peace when we share in the community of believers God has given us and live according to the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 11:28-30Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In the peace of Christ, my burden is light because He bears it with me; because He bears it for me. Before you were born, God knew you full well and decided you were worth the sacrifice. You and I were worth bearing the ultimate burden for and thinking about it I’m left marveling as the disciples did: “What man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Additionally, “What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” He is the Prince of Peace. He is Christ the Lord!

Goodwill Henceforth from God to Man

The terms goodwill and henceforth are a bit confusing to be honest. What is meant by goodwill? And what does it mean that it came henceforth from God to Man? Or—in the original hymn—from heaven to earth? Across various dictionaries, goodwill is defined as being friendly, cooperative, approving, or in support of someone or something. Superficially this may be true, but I believe that God meant it to be much more than that. Strangely enough, I find goodwill to be more accurately portrayed through its synonyms: words like fellowship, brotherhood, friendship, charity, and benevolence. Jesus did not come down to be friendly, cooperative, or approving of us. Instead, Christ came because he wanted fellowship and communion with us. God loved us so much that he sent love henceforth from heaven to earth—from God to Man—so that there might be a way for us to receive eternal life. Jesus was and still is the bridge between heaven and earth.

This story is not all romance, though. There is hard truth to learn in this message. God loves us, yes; but Jesus was also sent after the destruction and division that occurred before His coming. Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, Cain murdered his brother Abel, A flood was sent to rid the earth of all its wickedness. Time and time again, people fail. We became subject to sin and God knew that in order to fellowship with his people, he would have to send His only son to prepare a way. Thus begins the Christmas story, progressing to the Easter story, and is retold each and every time we sin. Creation, Fall, Redemption; repeat. It’s an important reminder to reflect on God’s first grace—simply creating us—so that we can then understand the depth of our sin. First and foremost, we are blessed to even exist, to be able to share in the gift of life and to influence the lives of others. But with the distractions of the world, we start to think that life is within our control; that it is meant to be lived as we wish. And to some extent we do. God allows us to choose how we behave and how we think, but we need not forget that even our worldly possessions were a possibility, only because of what he first gave us. This realization may come quickly or—more often—slowly and over time. It is a continual and tedious process in which Christians must choose to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Christ. However, we have hope in knowing that “goodwill henceforth from God to Man” over and over again.

Luke 2:13-14 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Begin and Never Cease

Genesis 8:20-22 “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”  

Lamentations 3:22-23 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

When I think about the grace given to me, I am often lost in thought over how vast it is; deep and wide, like you learn in Sunday School. It doesn’t make sense how God loves so unconditionally when earthly relationships are so conditional. Due to our human nature, we believe it is not natural to love someone completely. Instead, to an extent, we trade love for others in exchange to be loved ourselves. On earth, love is transactional. But listening to this song and in reading scripture, I am challenged to love those who are difficult, who are unworthy; because I am unworthy. In one of my favorite movies, Woodlawn, there is a scene where the preacher speaks to this. He asks “If you only love those who love you back, what kind of love is that?” It struck me. If I love those expecting to be loved in return, then I only truly love myself. Love requires sacrifice. It requires action and when it’s earnest, it motivates others to do the same. Through our actions and our words, it should be extremely evident whom we serve. In everything we do the glory is to God on High, because he himself became peace; because he extends His grace from Heaven to earth and does so without ceasing. 

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