Dec. 21, 2011
Psalm 96:1-4, 9
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
One of my more favorite memories with my husband Rick at the holidays involves singing Christmas carols. We were living in a parsonage and had just finished putting up the tree. It was a Monday and we were having a Christmas open house that coming Sunday. It was the only day we had to put the tree up, as I would be going back to seminary the following day and there the remainder of the week.
It had snowed significantly Sunday night into Monday morning and the area schools were closed. Basically, people weren’t out unless they had to. Rick and I needed a Christmas tree so we were one of the few people out and about. We went to a nearby tree farm, tromped through the fresh, powder-like snow until we found our perfect tree for that year. Rick cut it and we carefully tied it on top of the vehicle to haul it home.
With carols playing in the background and sipping with hot chocolate, we decorated the tree and the remainder of the house. Rick was a sport, doing his part in helping adorn our home with greens, flowers, ornaments and such. A Martha Stewart, he is not. But he was doing his very best.
I had finals that week and knew I needed to hit the books. But I sat down at the piano to run through some music for church on Sunday. Rick sat down on the bench next to me, and soon we were flipping through the pages of the Reader’s Digest Christmas Song Book, singing our hearts away. Mind you, the only thing Rick is normally allowed to play is a radio. He can’t carry a tune in a bucket. It didn’t matter. As dusk came over the house and the recently arranged lights on the tree brightened, singing carols capped off a full yet fun day.
Do you have a favorite Christmas carol? A favorite Christmas CD? Do you start playing Christmas carols in early November … or do you not really care for music?
I think Christmas carols are an important part of Christmas celebrations. I love music. I work hard to have fun, meaningful and good music during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Holy Week in worship. In the last few weeks, sometimes I’ve seemingly spent as much time selecting, preparing and practicing music for worship as I have preparing the weekly message. Music can truly shape a worship service, an experience, a day.
One of the reasons I think music is so important is because it helps tell the story. Whether it’s a long-standing carol or a newer contemporary song, music is an expression of the writer’s beliefs, understanding and feelings about the holiday. Many of the traditional Christmas carols provide theology and insights into the birth of Jesus. Yes, there’s lots of lore in the hymns also. But what child doesn’t learn “Away in the Manger” at a young age?
Each year we come to the familiar Christmas story with wonder at God’s great love in giving God’s Son. Every familiar Christmas carol reminds us that this is a story of joy … a joy we experience every time we sing about our Savior. Yes, sometimes the carols make the birth of Jesus seem like a Thomas Kincaid card: beautiful and absolutely perfect. Ultimately, I hope we know better. But we still enjoy recalling the beautiful words to our favorite carols
Last Saturday night, we attended four-year-old grandson Waylan’s Christmas program. He attends a parochial preschool a few days a week. On Saturday, the entire 4K through 8th grade school had a Christmas program. Because it is a parochial school, it was fine for Christian Christmas carols to be included. Missing were the songs about Santa coming down the chimney or reindeer on the roof. Instead, we heard about the manger full of hay and wise men going to Bethlehem.
Of course, Rick and I thought Waylan’s class, who sang with the kindergartners, did the best job. We chucked as Waylan’s motions were sometimes a beat or two behind the other kids. If he couldn’t quite remember the words, he’d wrinkle his nose. Later, in the car, I asked him to sing a jazzy song that began, “Let’s go toBethlehem!” I wanted to hear the words again. Waylan told me that he could only sing “those songs if the music is playing.” So, I’m still dying to know the exact words to this catchy little song.
As Christmas gets closer, turn up your car radio a little louder and make sure it’s on a Christmas songs all the time station. Wear out your favorite Christmas CD, listening to it over and over. Prepare to sing joyfully your favorite carols at worship on Saturday. Maybe we won’t be singing many new songs, as the psalmist wrote, but you will definitely be worshiping the Lord in holy splendor. Watch the candles burn brightly when the lights are turned down low and we gently sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm. All is bright.”
Let us pray: As we sing or hear, “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth,” may our hearts swell with emotion as we hear and sing the carols that help us recall your Son’s birth. May we know that our musical abilities are not nearly as important to you, Almighty God, as a joyful heart being moved by touching words. Amen.