It was a cold Sunday morning two weeks before Christmas and each seat in the sanctuary was filled as the worship team began singing; Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty. Soon the collective voices of the congregation rose in praise as faces and hands were lifted up towards heaven; early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.
Toward the back of the sanctuary and several seats in from the isle Henry reluctantly stood with the other worshippers. He was feeling uncomfortable and wished his wife had chosen seats in the very back so he could leave without disturbing anyone. Henry could hear the passion in the united voices; holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! But his heart felt no passion; it was heavy with guilt and defensiveness.
Henry’s guilt and shame gave birth to a defensive attitude which was the direct byproduct of a bad decision he had made several months ago and no matter how hard he tried to escape it the guilt clung to his conscience like fly paper. He’d tried to creatively explain away this bad decision but his conscience knew better, the result was an unhappy, defensive, and very guilty feeling Henry. His mind obsessively said”you’re guilty, you’re not worthy of God’s love”. Henry’s spirit was uncomfortable and he wanted to leave but couldn’t, people would notice and wonder what’s wrong. The singing continued; God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Distracted, Henry began to examine all the worshipers with their faces and voices lifted towards God. Oh how he wished to be like them entering into worship without the guilt and heaviness that was wrapped around his black soul. Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee.
Henry noticed Ralph a local business man who was known as a bit of a conniver, worshipping. There was Ellen a suspected homosexual, worshipping. Henry moved his eyes up and down the rows making a mental note about the imperfect humans who were worshipping God. There was the gossip, alcoholic, ex-drug addict, the twice divorced, the liar, the abused and abuser, and of course the rigidly religious one who was always doing the right thing but also managed to judge harshly those who didn’t add up to her exacting standards. They all kept singing; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, who was and is, and evermore shall be.
A tiny bead of warmth started to grow in Henry’s chest as he thought about how flawed each worshiper was; they were all sinners just like him. Not a one of them stood without sin before man, but before God they were sinless through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. The third verse continued: Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee, perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
It was just a few weeks before Christmas and Henry hadn’t bothered to think about the birth of Jesus he’d been too consumed with his own quilt not to mention stressing over work and the family budget. But, as the bead of warmth spread through his body Henry began to consider the miracle of Jesus’ birth and how this child was born to save the world from sin. “God, please forgive me and help me to accept your forgiveness” Henry prayed as tiny tears moistened the corner of his eyes.
The bondage of guilt and defensiveness was loosened in Henry’s spirit by the divine knowledge that God saw him sinless through the blood of Jesus. For the first time in months Henry’s spirit felt free to worship. Henry lifted his voice in praise with the congregation; Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea. Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty, God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
May the deep meaning of Jesus’ birth and the cleansing power of his blood be made real to you this Christmas season.
Debora Shelford Hobbs
The lyrics to Holy, Holy, Holy by Reginald Heber
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee, though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee, Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea; Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty! God in three Persons blessed Trinity!