Grace Grows Best in Winter

. . you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 1:76-79 ESV.

Advent Reflections the Day after a Tragedy

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In writing an introduction to a song our choir will be singing tomorrow night (entitled “A Communion Hymn for Christmas”; lyrics below) I was reminded of a dear woman in the recent history of the church: Edith Margaret Clarkson. I pray her story and her words may be helpful to you during this advent season.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The music of the sanctuary is in no small degree indebted to the trials of the saints. Affliction is the tuner of the harps of sanctified songsters.”

The hymn (A Communion Hymn for Christmas) we are about to sing is no exception.

Recent events will not allow us to forget: We live in a broken and hurting world. Margaret Clarkson, the woman who wrote the hymn we are about sing knew that. After migraines and a bout of sickness as a little girl, she was diagnosed with arthritis that would plague her for the rest of her life. Her parents would be divorced at an early age and this hurt would also hang over her. Her only solace was found in the presence of God and his people – she used to climb to the highest tree with a songbook (on her good days) and sing at the top of her lungs. She would say she wanted to always be somewhere where “good preaching as well as good hymns could be found.” She, though physically and emotionally hurting, would write her first Christmas hymn for her church as a teenager. She would write on and off throughout the years producing many favorite and important hymns that tell of the love of the God and His Sovereignty. Still, as she would remain single for her entire life, she felt a deep sense of loneliness and would write many books that have been an encouragement to many. One such book, entitled, Grace Grows Best in Winter is a reminder that though winter comes; though the dark, cold, and difficult days are upon us, there is a new day dawning. Margaret would retire early after many surgeries on her spine and would end her days in a retirement home in Ontario, but her books and hymns continue to remind us of a God we can trust, even when life hurts.

She wrote in this book:

“The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God…All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.”

As we sing this song, let us reflect upon the reality that lies before us in the manger – a little baby Who would grow and live in perfect submission and obedience to His Fathers’ will. One who would take upon His own shoulders the sins and brokenness of this world, making a way for wretched sinners to be saved from their sins by His own broken and hurting body and releasing us from the fear of death and the grave by rising again and laying upon us His own righteousness. That is what we sing tonight and that is what we celebrate tonight.

A Communion Hymn for Christmas

Gathered round Your table on this holy eve,
Viewing Bethlehem’s stable we rejoice and grieve;
Joy to see You lying in Your manger bed,
Weep to see You dying in our sinful stead.

Prince of Glory, gracing Heav’n ere time began,
Now for us embracing death as Son of Man;
By Your birth so lowly, by Your love so true,
By Your cross most holy, Lord, we worship You!

Bethlehem’s Incarnation, Calvary’s bitter cross,
Wrought for us salvation by Your pain and loss;
Now we fall before You in this holy place,
Prostrate we adore You, for Your gift of grace.

With profoundest wonder we Your body take–
Laid in manger yonder, broken for our sake:
Hushed in adoration we approach the cup–
Bethlehem’s pure oblation freely offered up.

Christmas Babe so tender, Lamb who bore our blame,
How shall sinners render praises due Your name?
Do Your own good pleasure in the lives we bring;
In Your ransomed treasure reign forever King!

For more specific reflections on yesterday’s events and the gospel, please consider: The Gospel and Newtown by David Platt and How Does Jesus Come to Newtown? by John Piper.

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