Putting Down to Pick Up
Of Carols and Kings
I was visiting my daughter and her family back in mid-October – great time, and lots of fun with her two little ones. It’s very common for a continual stream of music to be playing on the VERY LOUD speaker system, something to which I have become accustomed. About midway through the week, the selection turned from the worship music genre typically played, to Christmas music. No, that wasn’t a typo (i.e., I really meant Christian music). Katie had decided it was time to start getting into the Christmas spirit, despite harvest and pumpkins and the fall colors one would normally enjoy during that season. She expressed that it was something “I just need this year.” I tend to be a bit old-school and come from a time when even Thanksgiving and Christmas were quite separate holidays. So, I would prefer to have my carols with a cup of cocoa a lot closer to at least the end of November, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the festive Yuletide entertainment as well.
After I returned home later in the month, my husband purchased a little gizmo that plays music on demand. Saturday, October 25th, it was gray, cold, and snowy outside. It seemed like a perfect fit for another round of Christmas carols. I requested Christmas music and listened to about four numbers, but it still felt early (for both the snow and the holiday music). Interestingly, the next morning as I did my exercise routine, I turned on the local Christian radio station. They too had opted to put together a Christmas playlist, explaining that while they would return to regular programming until closer to the holiday season, they thought that their listeners needed a little bit of Christmas cheer. One of the first songs I heard was “We Need a Little Christmas.”* Apparently, many people felt like Katie.
It is undeniable that this year has been extremely trying for so many reasons. Before it began, likely no one would have predicted that unlike the year’s numerical meaning of clear vision, insight, and near perfection, 2020 brought us months of uncertainty, frustration, and even hostility. We certainly are looking for something in our lives to lift our spirits and help us to harken back to happier days. But is it merely a feeling of goodwill, comfort, and joy that we seek, or do we need something more?
Before Jesus was born, the nation of Israel had a challenging existence. There had not been a prophetic utterance from God for over four hundred years. They were under the severe rule of the Roman Empire, and they were looking for a leader to bring deliverance and restoration of their once powerful kingdom. Much is found in the Old Testament about the Messiah, and God’s people clung to words like those found in Isaiah, “The government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6b-7, ESV). So, the people of Israel wanted someone to rescue them practically and politically, and when God sent his Son into the world as the Word says in the Book of Acts, “[The people in Jerusalem and their rulers] did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath” (Acts 13:27b, ESV). God sent them the King of kings and Lord of Lords, the One who would provide for their deepest needs and longings, the One who would set them free from the ravages of sin and provide them more than an abundant life on earth, but life eternal. They did not understand that God’s kingdom is one like no other, and the guarantees of peace, prosperity, and power are realized within the heart, above and beyond one’s circumstances.
And so, we too need King Jesus whom God sent into the world over two thousand years ago. Though he came in a humble manner, he wields infinite power to give us his strength. Though he came into an impoverished setting, he bestows his riches for salvation on all who call on him. Though he came as a servant, he reigns eternally and extends that authority to all who follow him. At Christmastime, we think about the baby who came in the environs of a stable to a poor family in the unassuming town of Bethlehem. But let us remember and embrace him as the King, majestic, glorious, splendid, who rules and reigns forever. We need his leadership, his provision, his peace, his protection, his guidance, and his gift of redemption, and we need it now!
“Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray… let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield” (Psalm 5:1-2, 11-12, ESV).
*Herman, Jerry, “We Need A Little Christmas” (1966). Vocal Popular Sheet Music Collection. Edwin H. Morris & Company, Inc. New York, New York. Score 5566
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Perfect Surroundings; Christmas
For those of you in colder climes where the appearance of snow is a winter norm, there can still be something unsettling about the amassing of the white powdery stuff, especially if it appears too early in the fall or hangs around too late in what should be spring. For me, there is really only one time of year when cold and snow feel absolutely right—the Christmas season! That will surely make sense to you when I share that I grew up southeast of Buffalo, NY within five miles of Lake Erie. But even when we lived in a basically one-season part of the US, locals suggested turning the air conditioning down to about fifty degrees on Christmas Eve and donning sweaters to pretend we were spending an idyllic Christmas in the perfect surroundings. In truth, even during the years in Buffalo, we would often have a dry, green Christmas Day and then an Easter with three-foot drifts. Those are the times when the environment did not seem to match the occasion.
Our first snow here this year in The Springs was on 10 October, way too early in my estimation. We were out of town when the next storm hit, and then at the end of October, Mr. Snow showed up again. By that time, I was beginning to do some early shopping for Christmas since we were traveling for Thanksgiving, and it made sense to take Christmas gifts with us versus shipping them to each family. The snowfall had subsided by the time I drove, and with the sky still a nice US northeastern gray (only appreciated by those of us who grew up there), I donned my sweater, winter coat, scarf, and gloves to keep me cozy. It felt like the perfect day to get holiday shopping started. One over-eager radio station had even started playing carols in their mix. It all went really well until the sun emerged through the clouds. At our altitude, the sun appearing can bring up the temps quite quickly and intensely. I turned off the heater, and I began shedding layers faster than a Siberian Husky relocated to the tropics. By the time my left ear began to burn from the sun in the driver’s side window, I was not going to continue the drive, much less the quest for the perfect Christmas gifts that had been “so much fun” just an hour before. The environment had changed, and my desire to make some early purchases melted with the snow on the ground.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem on what we now refer to as the first Christmas morn, the environment could not have been more out of place for a coming King. The first roof over his head was a stable. His first bed was a manger filled with hay. His welcoming committee, aside from his mother and earthly father, were common animals. His first visitors were the lowest of the low in society, shepherds. Nothing could have been further removed from true royalty, and yet, there he was in such humble surroundings, born into the world for ALL of the world! God knew; God planned for it to be just so. As much as he deserved the finest reception for his advent here, his entrance in humility opened the door for anyone with a needy, repentant heart—rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, young and old, the mighty and the weak—to come to him and receive his loving embrace and saving grace. Only God in all his wisdom knew that his Son, the King, would best come in a time and place that would defy the world’s preconceived notions and norms so that he could change the hearts and lives of any and all who would turn to him.
So, come to the place where he lay. Imagine the environment where he first entered the world, and know that in spite of what you may see around him, here lies the Savior. The occasion of his coming can melt the heart of all who choose to bow before him and make the biggest change in each repentant life. Those who trust in him can look forward with anticipation and joy to a perfect time and glorious surroundings when he comes again. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 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 2:7-11, ESV).
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The story of its creation and promotion has several variations and differing nuances. The length of its rise to fame spans decades; its influence has continued for two hundred years. Not only is it known throughout Christendom, but also it is likely recognized and employed during the holidays by even those who have not come to faith in Christ. What, might you ask, would have such an enormous impact on humanity save for the Word of God itself? It is the beloved carol sung and played throughout the Christmas season, Silent Night.
This year is the 200th Anniversary of the musical composition and inaugural performance of the song known for its beautifully simple lyrics and melody. An authentic score was found in 1995 pinpointing the date of Mohr’s original writing as being in 1816. Tales abound as to the reason this carol was written, as well as about the circumstances of its employ. A faulty organ at St. Nicholas church in Oberndorf, Austria is often given as the reason for Mohr’s request that the song be accompanied by guitar. Some credit ravenous mice for the problem, believing they damaged the organ’s bellows. No matter. When Father Joseph Mohr passed on the lyrics to organist, Franz Gruber, his request was for the stringed instrument, two voices, and a choir to bring the first sounds of this tender carol to the listeners’ ears. And so it was that Franz Gruber created an accompaniment and fashioned a melody that along with Joseph Mohr’s poem has touched the hearts and lives of people ever since.
As I think back to the night about which Silent Night is written, the birth of our precious Lord and Savior in a lowly stable, I wonder just how silent a night like that could be. Wouldn’t there have been a lot of hustle and bustle around a young mother about to give birth in such an unlikely place? Could the animal occupants, perhaps shooed and unsettled from their regular stalls, hold back their moos, baas, bleats, and other utterances that would normally be heard among them? And what about Mary herself, a young lady having her first child? Would she have delivered without a sound or a cry as she brought forth that baby boy? Though the Word itself is silent on the probable ambient noise surrounding the birth of the infant King, it is not hard to imagine that the awe and wonder of his arrival was met with a holy silence all around as his presence dawned on our fallen world. The Savior, the promise and hope that all mankind so desperately needed, captivated his mother, his earthly father, the animals surrounding him, and the shepherds who came to worship him, and the earth held its collective breath. The same awe and wonder must have captivated Father Mohr as he penned his apt lyrics.
And what about us? How silent is our reception for the Savior of the world? Our lives are most likely filled with parties, plays and concerts, shopping days, baking and cooking, visiting and being visited. We barely have room to breathe let alone make room for an uninterrupted audience with him. The title of the song in its original German language is Stille Nacht. In English, “Stille” can be translated silent, but also quiet, peaceful, calm, and of course, still. How often do we take the time to just be still before the Lord? His Word does encourage us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, ESV). It is only in the still moments that we can truly reflect on who he is and what his coming means to us and to the world. It is only in the realm of silence that we become aware of the awe and wonder experienced by those who were first in his presence, and we can then become captivated with the One and Only Son of God sent into our world to save us. Can you take some time to be still to focus on his coming this Christmas season?“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12, ESV).
Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin mother and Child;
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace. – Father Joseph Mohr
World’s Best Loved Carol
The Story Behind Silent Night
History of the Song