Dear Friends in Christ,
Do you have a favorite Christmas Carol? It is hard for me to choose. When I was a teenager in England, we had an annual school service of Lessons and Carols. Every year we would sing O Come, all Ye Faithful, first in Latin and then in English. I can still sing from memory the first verse and chorus in Latin! In my local church, we would sing the repeated line of that chorus, “O come, let us adore him,” starting with the women singing softly and then building to a crescendo on third repetition with everyone singing. Sometimes, the organist would stop playing, and as the singing continued, we could hear other’s voices lifted and blending together in harmony and adoration. And then, on Christmas Day, we went to church, and finally the waiting was over, and we could sing that last verse, “Yea, Lord we greet thee, born this happy morning; Jesus, to thee be glory given! Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!” What a glorious feeling that was, as we celebrated Christ’s birth together. Each year now, as I sing that carol, I enjoy it in the present moment, but I am also transported back in time to my youth. Music can touch our hearts, minds and souls in a mystical way.
The Christmas story itself contains some songs including Mary’s prayer or song of praise, that we know as the Magnificat and the angels praising God as they appear to the shepherds. And then there are all the Christmas Carols that have been written through the centuries describing the nativity story. During December, we will be reading about the birth of Jesus as told by the gospel writer Luke. Each week, we will also learn the history of one Christmas carol. On December 23, our featured carol will be Silent Night, as we mark 200 years since the debut of Joseph Mohr’s song. And on Christmas Eve, our choir will sing the African American Spiritual, Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow, as we consider the shepherds’ response to God’s presence on earth. You will also find an advent calendar (on page 10) with questions about some Christmas songs to ponder each day. As we sing our way through the season, I hope you will spend some time pondering the lyrics and waiting and anticipating what God wants to birth in you.
I will leave you with the words from another one of my favorite carols, Christina Rossetti’s famous last verse from her carol In the Bleak Midwinter:
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
— Pastor Joan