Christmas has always been my favorite.
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been romanced by twinkling lights, mittens, cards in red envelopes, pine trees, hot cocoa, and carolers singing their sweet refrains with lyrics that have been sung for hundreds of years now, each promising that peace has come, and that there is hope and joy for each of us, ready to be opened like a shiny new package. But this year has been different. With the terrorist attacks across the sea and so close to home, all of the reminders of my favorite season, from popcorn garland to ice skating, seem so temporary and frivolous. When carolers or pop stars on the radio blare, “Peace on earth" and "good will to men,” I am forced to ask, “where?”
With this brokenness, I joined my family at church for a Christmas-themed night of worship. I was crossing my fingers for an impressive version of “Drummer Boy” (check,) and a night full of cheerful, classic music about Santa and Rudolph. Was it ridiculous to hope for secular music at church? Most likely. But I was hoping for an escape. I wanted to pretend that the world was all right, and that our traditions and legends could distract from the heaviness of the realities at hand. Please note that I am not saying that church promotes or endorses escapism. But for that moment, I wanted it terribly.
As you may be shocked to discover, there were no songs about elves, the North Pole, Dasher, or Dancer. (Jaws drop and eyes widen!)
For the hour-long concert, we listened to lovely songs describe Jesus’ birth and its effect on the world. (Are you still sitting down?)
I was miffed.
It was beautiful, though. We prayed for San Bernardino, and they passed out glow sticks for a rocking version of “The First Noel.”
And when they played, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” my insecure heart couldn’t help but scoff.
God rest ye merry, gentlemen Let nothing you dismay
I wanted to cover my ears. How could we rest?! The world is in bad shape! Politics are more ugly than ever and terrorists have damaged our community. There was absolutely enough to be dismayed over.
Remember, Christ, our Saviour Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power When we were gone astray
My grammar nerd took over. To have “Let nothing you dismay” precede “Remember, Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day,” is to use a cause/ effect clause.
We are not to dismay because our savior was born.
It does not say to not to dismay unless terror strikes or people disagree or if injustice reigns in this world and darkness threatens the light.
Jesus was born because we have gone astray. Because we do not love one another well. Because we are selfish and don’t lend a hand because we are hoping someone else will reach out their hand instead. Because we look away when the wrongs become too much to take.
Jesus came for these terrible things that are devastating this earth. These horrors are no surprise to Him, and He will be victorious over this evil.
That is why we sing:
O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy O tidings of comfort and joy
Because the baby born 10,000 years ago came to be peace and justice for those who would later kill him. He was comfort for the lonely and joy for the lost. And He slept in an animal’s trough of hay, completely uncomfortable, so that our souls might find rest in His sacrifice, and in His promise.
You guys, I have a confession to make.
I have a slight obsession with Christmas decorations. Whenever the holidays roll around, I am constantly on the lookout for the latest adorable Christmas decor for my house. This year I started to notice a pattern in my shopping habits. Anytime I see the word “Noel” I am instantly drawn to that piece! As I sit on my couch now, I can see at least three decorations that include that word! My affinity for the word Noel has neither rhyme, nor reason. The Christmas carol is a favorite of mine, but it’s just such a pretty word, isn’t it? It glides off the tongue with such grace, ease and simplicity. Yet, as I read further into the history of the word, I discovered that an alternate spelling, “Nowell” can be traced back to English roots.
Nowell. Hmm. Not nearly as pretty! Why does that spelling of the word strike such an uncomfortable chord with me? Surely I do not like the word simply for the way it is spelled. Let’s keep digging, shall we? It is ultimately derived from the Latin word natalis, which means birthday, or anniversary. Ah there we go! Birthdays and anniversaries, THESE are a few of my favorite things! Cupcakes and presents, anyone?!
In the Christmas carol, The First Noel, the song talks about the birthday of Jesus, as chronicled in The New Testament. The birth of our Savior is arguably one of the most profound, yet humbling beginnings recorded in human history.We all have one; we all have beginnings. This beginning, however, was special. This beginning marked a day that the world changed, the Earth was still, and ahush fell over creation.
Everyone knows this universal beginning. Most anyone can recognize this famous opening verse of The First Noel. Go ahead, sing it to yourself - I’ll wait.
"The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep"
Can you imagine what it must have been like on that crisp, deep, still night? Many of us have probably envisioned that scenario at some point or another. You might even know the next part of the story…
"They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night."
The shepherds took a leap of faith. They followed a star. They wandered and walked in the cold to witness the humble beginning of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We know how important this story is! We know it holds such weight and meaning and so we finish the song by singing:
"Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and Earth of nought
And with His blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel! Born is the King of Israel!"
But did you know there is more to the story? Did you know there are three more verses in the traditional carol? I would be willing to bet there are very few who can recite these words:
"And by the light of that same star
Three Wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
This star drew nigh to the northwest
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both Pause and stay
Right o'er the place where Jesus lay.
Then entered in those Wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense."
Now, I am not saying that we should sit for hours and hours at church this year and sing every obscure verse of every Christmas carol ever written. But I do think there is something to be said about those middle verses.
Without the middle, we can’t quite grasp the whole story.
In this middle of this carol, we hear about the wise men. We read about people seeking a King, we sing of the place where Jesus lay! The middle of this song is where all the meat is! Oh, how I would love to sit across the table from each of you and dig into the juiciness of this song! Isn’t it beautiful and wonderful and remarkable and all of those other adjectives?
But friends, the point here is that if we fail to acknowledge the middle, we fail to see the entire story. When we disregard the middle, we run the risk of missing out on some of the most important pieces of the puzzle! Jesus laying in a manger, wise men on bended knee in the presence of our precious Savior. If we pretend these verses are not there, we ignore such sweet blessings.
What is your middle?
What could God be trying to show you in the mundane, the everyday, the commonplace? Are you savoring each moment or are you rushing through trying to make it to the end as quickly as possible?
There is so much to be learned from the middle, for better or for worse. Don't hurry through this holiday season rushing to the finish line. The next time you hear a holiday carol as you are waiting in line at the mall, stop and savor the moment to rest. The next time you are begging your child to just walk a little bit faster because you are late for school, pause and appreciate their gentle reminder to slow down. The next time you are wishing the monotony away, pause for a moment and think about your middle. Ask God to whisper blessings and favor in the middle.
You never know what sweet verses could be in store for you.
Kim Giron is an elementary school teacher from Southern California. She holds a B.S. in Child Development and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Educational Technology. Kim is passionate about instilling a genuine love for learning and zest for life within her students and is always striving to grow as an educator. When she is not surrounded by third graders, she enjoys leading worship alongside her hunky husband, trying out new restaurants and cuddling on the couch with her sassy pup. She craves real, raw conversations and authentic connections with other women and is always up for a good chick flick!
I have met and gotten closer to several people who now have permanent residency in my heart…because of my family’s take on Christmas. In my household, Christmas is about more than decorations, yummy treats and opening presents (which are all awesome things we pine for year-round, let’s be honest); and it even goes deeper than a textbook celebration of Christ Jesus.
Our purpose is warmth and love and being a tangible vessel of both of those elements.
And because of my family’s insistence upon and downright NEED to do so, there has almost always been at least one not-so familiar face at our annual Christmas Morning Breakfast for the past several years.
It’s interesting…As a woman of faith, who has grown up in a household of faith, I find that the holiday season is that one sneaky time of year when people celebrate, evaluate and practice Agape love (the sacrificial kind of love), even without knowing they are. It’s the one time of year when, world-wide, people make it priority to show love and be love and GIVE love in many forms. It’s the one time of year when we are willing to step outside of ourselves and our circumstances to elevate another person, and even the time when people who do not normally adhere to or even acknowledge a higher power take a moment to bow their heads and whisper “thank you”. It’s that “hide the vegetablesin the meal, so the childrenget all their nutrients” viewpoint that makes my all-time favorite Christmas song..well… my all-time favorite Christmas song!
Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” at first listen sounds like a Christmas song for lovers; a blossoming couple perhaps sharing their first special holiday and finding themselves falling deeper in love via the magic of the season, but from the moment I hear that first line: “Hang all the mistletoe; I’m gonna get to know you better—this Christmas..”, I am immediately teleported to my family’s living room amongst the hubbub and music, seeking out that one not-so-familiar face and thinkingjust that…“I’m going to get to know you better;”… and thinking the same of my family members as well. When we share our Christmas experiences, a hot meal, and God’s word with one other, I learn so much about the people closest to me and I feel how highly favored, blessed and protected we are--and it makes me so happy and excited to share that with people who may not have or have never had that for themselves.
“Hang all the mistletoe I'm gonna get to know you better This Christmas And as we trim the tree How much fun it's gonna be together This Christmas
Fireside is blazing bright We're caroling through the night And this Christmas, will be A very special Christmas, for me
Presents and cards are here My world is filled with cheer and you This Christmas And as I look around Your eyes outshine the town, they do This Christmas
Merry Christmas Shake a hand, shake a hand now Wish your brother 'Merry Christmas!' All over the land”
–Donny Hathaway, 1970 Shake a hand, shake a hand now… ☺
Jenae Thompson is an L.A. native singer/actress who studied Theatre Arts and English with a Creative Writing emphasis at Azusa Pacific University and Dance at Citrus College. She has had the honor and privilege of working theatrically for eight years, five of which have been professional musical theatre productions across the U.S.; including two wonderful years touring with The American Family Theatre for Youth as "Cinderella" and various characters. She has been writing since the age of four-years-old. All glory to her Father in Heaven, and special thanks to her loving, ridiculous family and her "Sunbeam" Ms. Renna for this opportunity.
My soul aches today.
It aches for some delightful reasons, as well as some horrendous ones.
First, my soul ached when I heard Charles Dickens’ classic tale, “A Christmas Carol” today. Yes, “heard,” as I am currently the “Costume Queen” for a play adaptation of the story, and cannot watch the show as I preform major Ninja magic to help with 15 quick changes in an hour and a half.
“Oh Holy Night” revolved like a broken record in my head as I stood backstage camouflaged in my standard all-black crew attire, with Scrooge’s next costume in hand. “A thrill of hope… the weary world rejoices…” Suddenly, the lines of the familiar story onstage halted my song.
“I will not be the man I was!” screamed Scrooge, after he awakes in his room, having completed his journey with each of the three ghosts, and most recently, that particularly terrifying scene of watching Tiny Tim’s wake, not to mention seeing his own lonely grave.
And Scrooge realizes it isn’t over.
That his life isn’t over.
That he has another chance. That his narrative is still in motion and there is no such thing as “too late.”
“I will not be the man I was!” promises Scrooge with new joy, new resolve, and new effervescence.
And the most beautiful of all: Hope.
I teared up again later when I received horrified texts demanding the whereabouts of my dad, who works very near the location that was terrorized by three shooters today.
He is fine, thank God. But there are others who are not. And it breaks my heart to know that other families do not get to share in the relief I felt.
And immediately, “A Christmas Carol” became stupid. Ridiculous and silly and a waste of time.
Who has the right to listen to Christmas stories at a time like this? How dare the radio play Christmas songs after such constant, devastating news of terror, this time in our own backyard?
But yet again, persistent as ever, the song stuck in my head rang out once more:
“A thrill of hope… the weary world rejoices.”
Hope. Hope is what heals, delivers, strengthens, and triumphs.
Though it’s considered a children’s fairytale, “A Christmas Carol” delivers the promise of hope in its own way, as do Christmas songs.
So even though the world seems to grow darker, and suffering prevails, may the Christmas songs that follow you this season remind you to hope.
May their lyrics inspire you with truth, the comfort of tradition, and the promise of redemption.
“Play on,” I said to that broken record still whirring around my mind.
“Sing of your hope.”
Because the story isn’t over.
There is still time, there are still stories that may be rewritten. This hope is my prayer this Christmas.
“A thrill of hope… the weary world rejoices.”