Tag Archives: Christmas

Practices, James KA Smith and Christmas cards

I’m whetting by appetite for my next big read on worship – James KA Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom” – by listening to his 2010 lecture at Calvin College in the US where he summarised the ideas from his book. His main idea is that humans aren’t primarily shaped by head knowledge but by their desires and longings for what they believe is “the good life”; therefore cultural forms in our world (such as malls, stadiums, and universities) are actually liturgical structures, strongly formative and able to shape our thoughts, affections and worship. It’s pretty heady stuff.

Early in Jamie’s talk he made this observation:

“Practices are not just things that you do. They do something to you. Practices are not things that you go through the motions; when you’re going through the motions, they’re also doing something to you.”

So how does all that relate to me right now?

Well, Cheryl and I have been in the midst of writing Christmas cards. In between work, family, church, sleep, sickness and so forth, we probably get 1-2 cards written per day. Some days none. And there’s been plenty of days I could certainly relate to Peter and say that card-writing “really was the last thing I felt like doing.”

But as I listened to Jamie Smith explain his book, it dawned on me why, despite the cost, time and effort, I’m excited about finishing the 50+ cards still left to write.

It’s because as we go through this Christmas-time liturgy – looking up a family, praying for them, crafting and writing a message, addressing it and sealing the envelope – these practices are (just like Jamie observed) doing something to me.

The cards I write gradually shape my desires, and draws me to love the people I’m writing to. It stokes in my heart a greater concern for them. It spurs me to pray for Christ to transform them. All things I wouldn’t have done had I given up on the Christmas cards.

Likewise, habitually praying to God moulds and shapes my understanding of, and desire to pray. Each time I take the Lord’s supper during communion, this gospel parable etches a deeper love for Jesus and His sacrifice. And it was only once I started cycling regularly that I began to “want” to cycle regularly.

So although it takes time and effort, I’m starting to see writing Christmas cards as not just a chore, but an opportunity to kindle my affections for friends and family near and far, and to prompt me to pray for those I love more.

Behold the Lamb of God: By Andrew Peterson

Behold the Lamb of God

This is a fantastic idea – a concept album that tells the entire story of the Bible. Singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson has been touring and performing these songs for 10 years now. The album is made up of about a dozen songs, most brand new compositions, some rearrangements of older hymns, but all of it having a fresh, vibrant sound.

It comes across as a 21st-century version of what Baroque composer G.F. Handel did this a couple of centuries ago with “The Messiah” – crafting and presenting the gospel message of the Bible using good music. The lyrics to “Behold the Lamb of God” are great – they do use a bit of poetic licence in fleshing out some of the songs, but in general stay true to the Scriptures in faithfully retelling “the old, old story”.

Another thing that impresses me is that the album includes songs such as “Passover Us”, “So Long, Moses” and “Deliver Us” that rightly portray the Old Testament narratives (e.g. the Exodus, the rise of King David, the fall of Israel) as foreshadowing, and looking forward the coming of Christ.

And the best thing? You can hear the entire musical/album here for free:
Behold the Lamb of God: By Andrew Peterson. (HT: Jamie Brown)

My favourite song so far is “Labor of Love”, which paints a heartbreaking and gritty picture of the birth of the baby Jesus:

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

And then a bit further on, my favourite lines:

But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

What a profound thought — the baby Jesus that needed a nappy change, simultaneously sustaining the entire universe (Col 1:15-17) — captured so eloquently with these lyrics.

Thank the Lord for bringing up thoughtful and creative songwriters that help us to see the Redemption story in new and fresh ways. I’m looking forward to seeing how we could use some of this material in 2011.

But in the meantime, I’d invite you to play the whole album, whether you’re doing some housecleaning, Facebooking or just on holiday.

– William Chong

Christmas Weekend Service Redux: 25-26 December 2010

For many people, Christmas Day marked the start of the holidays. But I’m thankful to have been part of a faithful music team that sacrificed some family and present-opening time to serve our church family here at HBC.

Since Christmas fell on a Saturday this year, it meant that we ran two consective-day services, and kept the same music team for both days. Interestingly, we ended up having an overflowing auditorium on Christmas Day, followed by a congregation half the size the very next day! No doubt most people had already departed for their well-deserved holiday.

Here’s a recap of the service and the songs we chose this past weekend (You can find links to the set lists of this church and many other churches each week at theworshipcommunity.com).

Order of Service – 25 December

(worship leader: Craig Starrenburg)

1. Joy to the World – Isaac Watts, F.G. Handel. If it wasn’t so ingrained into the Christmas season, I’d love to use this one more often during the rest of the year. It’s a great way to start a service by inviting everyone to “Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing” – the arrival of God’s son. I liked what Craig said to precede this song – “we are the reason for the season” – for it is because of our sinful state that God came down as man to redeem and reconcile us back to Him.

2. Silent Night – Joseph Mohr, Franz Gruber, John Freeman Young. The lyrics in the third verse stand out to me most with its proclamation of the baby Jesus’s divinity – something that’s still hard to fully fathom the importance of:

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.

Reading: Luke 1:26-38. This passage describes the annunciation, as Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she’ll be the mother of the Son of God.

Musical item: Mary Did You Know – Mark Lowry, Buddy Greene. We followed the reading with this song, which helps us to picture what might have gone through Mary’s mind as she contemplated what her child would grow to become:

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

We were privileged to have a good friend David Chua sing the solo for this piece (you can watch it here).

Reading: Luke 2:1-14. This passage described the birth of Jesus, and the subsequent angelic chorus that startled shepherds at night, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”

3. Hark the Herald Angels – Charles Wesley, Felix Mendelssohn. A fitting song to follow the reading.

4. O Holy Night – Adolphe Adam, John Dwight. This is a favourite of many people at HBC, young and old. I enjoy singing this one, though my personal wish is that it the words would be clearer on how exactly “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease.” Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the English translation was penned by a Unitarian minister, John Dwight in 1855 – but I’m not too sure. In any case, before using it next time I’d like to explain exactly how oppression ceases in Christ’s name, and be clearer on the gospel of peace that the song refers to.

Sermon: Peter shared a short message, taking a slightly different account of the story of God coming to earth as a man. In the first chapter of John’s gospel, there’s no sign of Joseph and Mary, no angels, no shepherd, no wise men….

The Word Made Flesh – John 1:1-3,14 (Peter Somervell) from Howick Baptist Church on Vimeo.

5. How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Stuart Townend. We closed with this song, which sums up the gospel really well and spells out the reason why he sent his only Son (to make a wretch His treasure).

Order of Service – 26 December

(worship leader: William Chong)

This was my opening call to worship (penned about 20 minutes before the start of practice):

As I left church yesterday, one point Peter made during the message stayed in my mind for the rest of the day. He made the point that’s particularly relevant in this holiday season of shopping, celebrating, and partying – that everyone, Christian or not, has some sort of a Saviour. Yet for many this festive season, it’s not Jesus Christ – instead, it’s a whole range of functional saviours, to save us from our respective hells.

This morning, your Lord and Saviour could be:
– some Christmas present you didn’t get, to save you from the hell of not having what you wanted
– popularity and prestige, to save you from the hell of being called a loser
– getting married, to save you from singleness hell
– even your children, who you worship above all else, to save you from your childless hell.

But really, all these things if accepted correctly as part of God’s abundant gifts towards us should lead us to praise and worship our ultimate saviour, Jesus – who, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore 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.” (Philippians 2:6-11 ESV)

We’ll start our singing with a song that’s an invitation to continue our worship of our God, by asking Him to tune our wayward heart to sing of His grace.

1. Come Thou Fount – Robert Robinson.

2. See What a Morning – Keith Getty, Stuart Townend.

3. How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Stuart Townend.

4. O Great God – Bob Kauflin.

Sermon: Peter gave the church an end-of-year message, challenging us to be steadfast, watchful, and thankful in our prayer life.

Persevering in Prayer – Col 4:2 (Peter Somervell) from Howick Baptist Church on Vimeo.

5. Let Your Kingdom Come – Bob Kauflin.


It was a very busy weekend – in the morning prayer on Sunday morning, everyone looked shattered from a full-on Christmas Day with family and friends. But by God’s grace we made it through, and the gospel was proclaimed this weekend. So we happily cry out soli deo gloria – to God be the glory!


– William Chong

Beautiful Baby Boy

Merry Christmas everyone! Here’s a beautiful singer-songwriter style number from worship leader Jamie Brown.

It celebrates and marvels at the baby Jesus. But it doesn’t just stop there:

he was more than a beautiful baby. He was the perfect Lamb of God who, one day, would be offered as a sacrifice in our place, securing our eternal peace with God.

It’s worth a listen, you can hear it for free (and download the chord chart) here: http://worthilymagnify.com/2010/12/22/beautiful-baby-boy/

Whatever you get up to, I hope you’ll have a memorable Christmas – a day to remember the time when the King of Kings came down to earth to deliver us all.


-William Chong