~From my heart to yours~
My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you!
(Excerpts from Music! found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)
Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; celebrate his lovely name with music.
~ Psalm 135:3 NLT
I love Christmas music. I love the deep meaning of its hymns. I love the imagination of its fanciful carols. I love its familiarity, and I love the new songs that break into the season and claim their place until they are sung enough years in a row to become a piece of someone’s Christmas memories.
I love the “Hallelujah Chorus” and the “Nutcracker Suite.” I love the lullabies and the madrigal. I love “Silver Bells” and Bing Crosby’s crooning. I love “Mary, Did You Know.”
I love song, and I especially love singing Christmas music.
I hadn’t thought of it until today, but maybe I love it so much because it was the one part of Christmas celebration that could never be denied me. It slipped over the radio in a moving car, rang out in the grocery stores, and glory of glories, every school choir had a Christmas performance. Oh hallelujah! My parents believed that singing in choir developed talents I could use in church for Jesus, and I never complained about getting to sing.
Here I could give myself over to worship as we sang Christmas music about Jesus (it was okay back then to at least include a song or two that talked about His birth). Here I could also embrace the fun of the season. Because Rudolph and Santa were all connected to the stuff my family said was sinful, I sang those songs with a bit of guilt and a lot of hidden delight. But I freely belted out “Frosty the Snowman” and “Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland.” They were technically called Christmas carols, but I could sing with no guilt for they didn’t talk of Christmas!
When my then-boyfriend now-husband proposed to me in the snow beside Lake Tahoe on December 31, 1988, how that childlike wonder grabbed hold of the romance of the moment! A snowman populated the shore where we sat gazing over the water, and I dubbed him “Parson Brown.” I still sing “Winter Wonderland” with a joy bubble in my heart and a gaze that longs to catch my dear husband’s attention, hoping he’ll remember and celebrate with me.
I was delighted when my brother-in-law, who was then worship pastor in a church in the denomination of my childhood, decided our congregation shouldn’t be denied the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth. Maybe, like me, he was on his own journey to freedom. I don’t know. I never asked him. But he began a tradition of singing the beautiful songs of Jesus’ birth in October, to coincide with the church’s belief that the date was more accurate to when Jesus was actually born. You should have heard all of us belting out Christmas carols! What joy! What freedom!
When we first left the church of our childhood years ago, it was music that drew us to a new church home. Soon I was singing not only in the choir but also in a small group. And guess what that small group did at Christmas? We sang, of course! Making stops in the malls and on stages of small-town festivals, my holiday season was filled with the celebration of music. There was not yet freedom to worship in my own home, my three-year-old would not get her Christmas tree, much less a nativity story on the twenty-fifth, but God in His goodness provided my heart with celebration.
When Sarah was a teen, I taught a high school girl’s Bible study class in our homeschool enrichment program. Most years we chose a nursing home where we could offer the gift of music during the holiday season. Each year I sang with a lump in my throat, enjoying those whose eyes lit up as we approached, and grieving those whose light had dimmed. One year we caroled in an Alzheimer’s unit. I’ll never forget what happened. As we walked the floors of this place where many looked at us with vacant gaze, one lady began following us around, singing! I heard whispers among the staff. This dear woman had not spoken for some time, her thoughts too garbled to vocalize, but the songs of Christmas found a way past the barriers in her mind, and she celebrated. Even the disease could not steal the words, rhythms, and melodies of Christmas. For a brief moment Alzheimer’s had no power.
Oh the music of Christmas!
My family and I attend a nondenominational church now, and this is where our family attended its first Christmas Eve service as a unit. I love the roar of celebration there. It is full of fanfare and energy and excitement. Extra services are offered and the auditorium bursts at the seams with each one. Years ago, before my family was amenable to attending a Christmas Eve service, I wanted to visit one. I chuckle at the memory because the one person who would go with me was my dear Jewish neighbor, Bernice. Before her death she made peace with Jesus, choosing to believe He was the Messiah promised her people, but that year she wasn’t sure. She and I searched together, and I chuckle at the memory of the two of us slipping into a service at a nearby Lutheran church. Here we were, Jew and Christian, elderly and young, two sojourners who hadn’t yet made our peace with all this Christmas stuff, but who longed to celebrate. Bernice and I loved Christmas music.
The last December before her death Bernice attended a Christmas Eve service with my family. As we drove to our church where the music is loud enough Jerry wears ear plugs and multiple services overflow with thousands of people, I worried about my dear friend navigating the chaos with her cane. I also feared the volume of worship would overwhelm her. I shouldn’t have. People for several rows near us chuckled when she leaned over during a lull in the service and said (well, actually yelled, as those hard of hearing often do), “At least I can hear what’s going on in this church!”
Nowadays I work part-time as a staff singer in a nearby Lutheran church. Growing up in a denomination that gave no credence to a traditional church calendar, I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to delight in all the seasons of worship denied me as a child. I love the changing of the decorations in the sanctuary, the intentional shifts in the liturgy, and the music.
Oh the music!
As I reflect on my struggle to celebrate Jesus at Christmas, I am filled with gratitude that He gave me song! This part of seasonal worship could not be denied me. Hallelujah! Whether wearing jeans or a choir robe, I was born to celebrate the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the car, on a stage, or in my shower at home, I sing. Sent to this earth by a joyful God who joyfully responds to joyful worship, He Himself filled the sky with angels proclaiming the wonder of Christ’s birth.
Oh sweet friend, there is no greater gift given us than the gift of Jesus.
Do you feel it? The lifting of your heart to worship?
Let’s be real, I know at least some of you are rolling your eyes right now, already sick of Christmas music even though it is barely past Thanksgiving. But may I ask you to embrace the joy of it? The celebration? The fact that songs about our Lord are actually playing in stores and on radios where He is typically excluded?
When you hear a carol can you celebrate for me—with me—and every little child who’s longing to celebrate his or her King has been stifled? Can you sing with the Alzheimer’s patient who, for a brief moment, remembers and connects with her surroundings? Would you remember those who’ve not yet met our Lord, but who are drawn to the music of the season? And most of all, would you give your heart permission to celebrate—to worship the Jesus of the nativity—even if your mind is numbed by the repetition of the season?
Thank You, God, for the gift of music! For every truth singing out over the earth in this season. For every chuckle of delight or sigh of a romantic heart at the seasonal renditions of imagination or romance. Replace my irritation with celebration. The mind-numbing repetition with an ability to claim the music and worship. I may not love every song I hear, but I love You!