Some think it’s for SHOPPING! Retail certainly hopes so. Some think it’s for time off from normal obligations. Family and friends look forward to these times. Some think it’s discriminatory to single out a point of view that is only one among many. And some think it’s all too much.
But, the Lord Jesus Christ, through His servant, Luke, wrote:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)
The holiday commemorates this prophecy’s fulfillment: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us.) Matthew 1:23, quoted from Isaiah 7:14.
The angel opens his discourse by saying, that he announces great joy; and next assigns the ground …of joy, that a Savior is born. These words show us, first, that, until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to him through the grace of Christ, all the joy that they experience is deceitful, and of short duration.
Ungodly men frequently indulge in frantic and intoxicating mirth; but if there be none to make peace between them and God, the hidden stings of conscience must produce fearful torment. Besides, to whatever extent they may flatter themselves in luxurious indulgence, their own lusts are [, themselves,] tormentors.
The commencement of solid joy is, to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which alone gives tranquility to our minds. And this “joy,” in which, Paul tells us, “the kingdom of God” consists, is “in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17.)
By calling it great joy, he shows us, not only that we ought, above all things, to rejoice in the salvation brought us by Christ, but that this blessing is so great and boundless, as fully to compensate for all the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life.
Let us learn to be so delighted with Christ alone, that the perception of his grace may overcome, and at length remove from us, all the distresses of the flesh.
…Christ proclaims peace, not only, to them that are [near], “but to them that are, far off,” (Ephesians 2:17,) to “strangers” (Ephesians 2:12) equally with citizens. But as the peculiar covenant with the Jews lasted till the resurrection of Christ, so the angel separates them from the rest of the nations.
Here, …the angel expresses the cause of the joy. This day is born the Redeemer long ago promised, who was to restore the Church of God to its proper condition.
And the Lord prefaced His instruction with a reassurance: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
So, should we merely repeat this prayer verbatim, or use it as a template for our own requests of the Living God? Let’s see what John Calvin had to say:
Do therefore pray thus …It was not the intention of the Son of God… to prescribe the words which we must use, so as not to leave us at liberty to depart from the form which he has dictated. His intention rather was, to guide and restrain our wishes, that they might not go beyond those limits and hence we infer, that the rule which he has given us for praying aright relates not to the words, but to the things themselves.
This form of prayer consists …of six petitions. The first three, it ought to be known, relate to the glory of God, without any regard to ourselves; and the remaining three relate to those things which are necessary for our salvation. …In prayer, Christ enjoins us to consider and seek the glory of God, and, at the same time, permits us to consult our own interests. …It would be altogether preposterous to mind only what belongs to ourselves, and to disregard the kingdom of God, which is of far greater importance.
Concerning our address to God, he says:
Our Father who art in heaven Whenever we engage in prayer, there are two things to be considered, both that we may have access to God, and that we may rely on Him with full and unshaken confidence: his fatherly love toward us, and his boundless power. Let us therefore entertain no doubt, that God is willing to receive us graciously, that he is ready to listen to our prayers, — in a word, that, of Himself, he is disposed to aid us.
…Now, as it would be the folly and madness of presumption, to call God our Father, except on the ground that, through our union to the body of Christ, we are acknowledged as his children, we conclude, that there is no other way of praying aright, but by approaching God with reliance on the Mediator.
Next, to the crux of the first petition, he says:
May thy name be sanctified …It is of unspeakable advantage to us that God reigns, and that he receives the honor which is due to him: but no man has a sufficiently earnest desire to promote the glory of God, unless (so to speak) he forgets himself, and raises his mind to seek God’s exalted greatness.
…To sanctify the name of God means nothing else than to give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, so that men may never think or speak of him but with the deepest veneration. The opposite of this is the profanation of the name of God, which takes place, when men either speak disrespectfully of the divine majesty, or at least without that reverence which they ought to feel.
…We need not …wonder, if we are commanded to ask, in the first place, that the reverence which is due to [His Name] may be given by the world. Besides, this is no small honor done to us, when God recommends to us the advancement of his glory.
And, to the second petition:
May thy kingdom come …The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.
Now, he commences his reign by subduing the desires of our flesh. Again, as the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come.
Finally, to the third:
May thy will be done …It is said, that the will of God is done, when he executes the secret counsels of his providence, however obstinately men may strive to oppose him. But here we are commanded to pray that, in another sense, his will may be done, — that all creatures may obey him, without opposition, and without reluctance.
…It is a prayer, that God may remove all the obstinacy of men, which rises in unceasing rebellion against him, and may render them gentle and submissive, that they may not wish or desire anything but what pleases him, and meets his [approval].
…When we pray that the earth may become obedient to the will of God, it is not necessary that we should look particularly at every individual. It is enough for us to declare, by such a prayer as this, that we hate and regret whatever we perceive to be contrary to the will of God, and long for its utter destruction, not only that it may be the rule of all our affections, but that we may yield ourselves without reserve, and with all cheerfulness, to its fulfillment.
Now Calvin tackles what he calls ‘the second table:’
…Of the form of prayer which Christ has prescribed to us this may be called, as [it were], the Second Table. I have adopted this mode of dividing it for the sake of instruction. The precepts which relate to the proper manner of worshipping God are contained in the First Table of the law [above], and those which relate to the duties of charity in the Second [below].
…We must not be so exclusively occupied with what is advantageous to ourselves, as to omit, in any instance, to give the first place to the glory of God. When we pray, therefore, we must never turn away our eyes from that object.
He has much to say about the first petition of the second table:
Give us today our daily bread …Though the forgiveness of sins is to be preferred to food, as far as the soul is more valuable than the body, yet our Lord commenced with bread and the supports of an earthly life, that from such a beginning he might carry us higher. …Since God condescends to nourish our bodies, there can be no doubt whatever, that he is far more careful of our spiritual life. This kind and gentle manner of treating us raises our confidence higher.
…It is indeed the true proof of our faith, when we ask nothing but from God, and not only acknowledge him to be the only fountain of all blessings, but feel that his fatherly kindness extends to the smallest matters, so that he does not disdain to take care even of our flesh.
…Such a petition as the following: “O Lord, since our life needs every day new supplies, may it please thee to grant them to us without interruption.” The adverb ‘today,’ as I said a little ago, is added to restrain our excessive desire, and to teach us, that we depend every moment on the kindness of God, and ought to be content with that portion which he gives us, to use a common expression, “from day to day.”
…These words remind us that, unless God feed us daily, the largest accumulation of the necessaries of life will be of no avail. Though we may have abundance of corn, and wine, and everything else, unless they are watered by the secret blessing of God, they will suddenly vanish, or we will be deprived of the use of them, or they will lose their natural power to support us, so that we shall famish in the midst of plenty.
There is …no reason to wonder, if Christ invites the rich and poor indiscriminately to apply to their Heavenly Father for the supply of their wants. No man will sincerely offer such a prayer as this, unless he has learned, by the example of the Apostle Paul, “to be full and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need,” (Philippians 4:12,) to endure patiently his poverty or his humble condition, and not to be intoxicated by a false confidence in his abundance.
…Why [do] we ask that bread to be given to us, which we call OUR bread? I answer: It is so called, not because it belongs to us by right, but because the fatherly kindness of God has set it apart for our use. It becomes ours, because our Heavenly Father freely bestows it on us for the supply of our necessities. …What we seem to have acquired by our own industry is his gift.
We may likewise infer from this word, that, if we wish God to feed us, we must not take what belongs to others: for all who have been taught of God, (John 6:45,) whenever they employ this form of prayer, make a declaration that they desire nothing but what is their own.
Next, he comments on a second petition composed of two complementary parts:
And forgive us our debts …Christ has included in two petitions all that related to the eternal salvation of the soul, and to the spiritual life: for these are the two leading points of the divine covenant, in which all our salvation consists. He offers to us a free reconciliation by “not imputing our sins,” (2 Corinthians 5:19,) and promises the Spirit, to engrave the righteousness of the law on our hearts. We are commanded to ask both, and the prayer for obtaining the forgiveness of sins is placed first.
…For, though the righteousness of God shines, to some extent, in the saints, yet, so long as they are surrounded by the flesh, they lie under the burden of sins. …For, when he commands all his disciples to betake themselves to him daily for the forgiveness of sins, everyone, who thinks that he has no need of such a remedy, is struck out of the number of the disciples.
Now, the forgiveness, which we here ask to be bestowed on us, is inconsistent with satisfaction, by which the world endeavors to purchase its own deliverance. For that creditor is not said to forgive, who has received payment and asks nothing more, —but he who willingly and generously departs from his just claim, and frees the debtor…
Thus reminding us: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So, then, it follows:
As we forgive our debtors This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment. And yet the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others: but the design of Christ was, to exhort us, in this manner, to forgive the offenses which have been committed against us, and at the same time, to give, as it were, the impression of his seal, to ratify the confidence in our own forgiveness. …If the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every description of ill-will and revenge ought to be banished.
Finally, Calvin tackles the third, a second compound petition that happens to be recently in the news:
And lead us not into temptation Some people have split this petition into two. This is wrong: for the nature of the subject makes it manifest, that it is one and the same petition.
…The meaning is: “We are conscious of our own weakness, and desire to enjoy the protection of God, that we may remain impregnable against all the assaults of Satan.” We showed from the former petition, that no man can be reckoned a Christian, who does not acknowledge himself to be a sinner; and in the same manner, we conclude from this petition, that we have no strength for living a holy life, except so far as we obtain it from God. Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations, acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling.
The word temptation is often used generally for any kind of trial. …We are tempted both by adversity and by prosperity: because each of them is an occasion of bringing to light feelings which were formerly concealed. But here it denotes inward temptation, which may be fitly called the scourge of the devil, for exciting our lust.
…All wicked emotions, which excite us to sin, are included under the name of temptation …We ask that the Lord would not cause us to be thrown down, or suffer us to be overwhelmed, by temptations. …We are liable to constant stumbling and ruinous falls, if God does not uphold us with his hand.
As the news says, some would want to change this petition. To this, almost five hundred years ago, Calvin said:
Christ used this form of expression, (μὴ εἰσενέγκὟς,) Lead us not into temptation: or, as some render it, Bring us not into temptation.
It is certainly true, that “every man is tempted,” as the Apostle James says, (1:14) “by his own lust:” yet, as God not only gives us up to the will of Satan, to kindle the flame of lust, but employs him as the agent of his wrath, when he chooses to drive men headlong to destruction, he may be also said, in a way peculiar to himself, to lead them into temptation.
In the same sense, “an evil spirit from the Lord” is said to have “seized or troubled Saul,” (1 Samuel 16:14) and there are many passages of Scripture to the same purpose. And yet we will not therefore say, that God is the author of evil: because, by giving men over to a reprobate mind,” (Romans 1:28,) he does not exercise a confused tyranny, but executes his just, though secret judgments.
And, Calvin concludes the third petition with:
Deliver us from evil …The meaning remains nearly the same [to the previous clause], that we are in danger from the devil and from sin, if the Lord does not protect and deliver us.
Lastly, Calvin comments on a sometimes omitted clause:
For thine is the kingdom [Left out of the Latin, this petition] was not added merely for the purpose of kindling our hearts to seek the glory of God, and of reminding us what ought to be the object of our prayers; but likewise to teach us, that our prayers, which are here dictated to us, are founded on God alone, that we may not rely on our own merits.