I can hardly let December go without a blog! Today is our quiet day. Sunday the kids and grandkids will be here and we did the extended family thing last night. So while the dough is rising for some yummy biscuit rolls, I have time.
This season I have let several songs run through me unsung. Being a singer, this is unusual for me, but sometimes when you take a different perspective, it freshens them. Or you notice things you didn’t notice before. I was preparing to sing at the local rescue mission one evening and I had a song running through my head that I have never sung as a solo, but it has always caught my ear. “The Virgin Mary had a baby boy, the Virgin Mary had a baby boy, the Virgin Mary had baby boy and they called his name Jesus…” The day of I sat down to write out all the words, because that is what I do, and as the song goes through the Christmas story, it really screws it up! I tried rearranging verses and changing a couple words, but it was beginning to lose some of its grip on me at that point. Then when my pastor preached, he read both accounts to make sure that everyone had heard them (some had not. He checked). And then did like a question and answer time and it sounded like most had heard it like my songwriter friend had!
I had started out by telling them about the King’s College and and sang ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, the English hymn. I like to sing ‘It came upon a Midnight Clear’, even though it’s one of those traditional hymns. Often the third verse is left out. “And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,/ Who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow./ Look now! for glad and glorious hours come swiftly on the wing!/ O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.” Christmas is not about the parties, even though it should be celebrated. It is about Jesus coming to heal the broken. I am sure that the money spent on extra lights, the frenzied shopping and gift giving, and making sure you ‘do Christmas right’ is a major distraction to Christmas and serves well to make the poor, the lonely, the marginalized and the grieving left out, when they are exactly why there is even Christmas!
I love the Huron Carol. The more I read it, the less I understand why we never sing it in church. It is a priest/pastor /missionary teaching the Christmas story in words his hearers will understand. “Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found./ A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round./ And as the hunter-braves drew nigh, the angel choirs rang loud and high, “Jesus, your King, is born! Jesus is born! In excelsis gloria!’ Maybe he taught them a little Latin, too! It sounds good there anyways! I sang this one at the rescue mission , too.
I wanted to touch on different cultures and The Virgin Mary was going to be my African American one and my mind was running around during the lesson trying to think what I could do. And it had to be short. As in shrt. Ahhh… my good friend who never lets me down and is always apropos, “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands” and it makes for a great singalong!
I am not a huge fan of traditional Christmas hymns. Don’t get me wrong. They are profound and should be sung….in church. But when I am home and playing the piano and singing, they aren’t what I sing. I have two Oxford carol books, each at least an inch thick, and then a few others. What I would like is a book of Christmas spirituals! They are sprinkled throughout my other books, but I’d like to not have to go digging!
And then there are the pet peeves. Think about what you are singing. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel has come to thee, O Israel!” Not “Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel. Has come to Thee, O Israel.” I don’t know who put the pause in there but I don’t think it was the composer. It makes it sound like Immanuel is being told to rejoice. How cheeky is that! And the shepherds did not follow a star. The wise men did. Maybe the star was already there, but that wasn’t included in the directions for the shepherds. It really is a wonder-ful story without all the embellishment.
Christmas Eve usually catches me with my ear tuned to NPR. And there is much worth listening to. But some of those poems and stories express a dislike or even nauseatedness at Christmas. We had a recovering alcoholic come to church and he told us he hated Christmas music. It pulled too many triggers for bad memories for him. I get it. How in the world we got from the books of Matthew and Luke in the Bible to all that other stuff, I don’t know. But I hope till the day I die I remember this, “Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake, became poor./ Thrones for a manger didst surrender; sapphire court for stable floor./ Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake, becamest poor.” And in the remembering, Christmas is celebrated.