I confess that I started listening to Christmas music on the car radio before Thanksgiving. And actually, the church choir I'm in began practicing Christmas music (some of which are arrangements of carols) shortly after Labor Day. I'm happy to hear the merry songs in stores as I shop. Old ones, new ones, funny ones, sad ones, secular ones, sacred ones -- they all make the world a little brighter this time of year.
I started taking piano lessons when I was 7 years old. Before that, I grew up in a home that had an organ and TWO pianos in our tiny living room. Yes. You read that right. One of my favorite memories of childhood was gathering around the piano and singing Christmas songs at the home of my maternal grandparents, surrounded by aunts, uncles, and numerous cousins. I was blessed to be born into a very musical family and couldn't wait until I was proficient enough to be the one sitting on the piano bench as everyone sang.
I've taught dozens of (maybe even a hundred) piano students (now counting 5 of my grandchildren) to play Christmas songs. And when I was a chorus teacher, I had groups begin in September preparing for the December PTO programs. Music and Christmas are inseparable in my mind and in my life experience.
Now that I'm in my seventies, I find myself dwelling a little longer on the words to many of the sacred songs of this season. In the next couple of weeks, allow me to share some of the words that are drawing my attention.
GO, TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
We moved to Ecuador on December 27, 2002, shortly after completing six weeks of training in Richmond and celebrating Christmas with our family. We were moving to the Andes Mountains where we prayed to be able to share the Gospel. This song became "ours." It contained (and still contains) our marching orders. ALL of the words ring in our hearts, but look especially at the 3rd verse --
Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born, and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!
O COME, ALL YE FAITHFUL
From a logical point of view, I am much nearer the end of my earthly life than I've ever been before. More and more of my loved ones have already gone to heaven. My thoughts turn heavenward often. Look at the phrases in this beloved hymn that paint a vivid picture.
"Sing, choirs of angels," "O sing, all ye bright hosts of heaven above," "Jesus, to thee be all glory given." Don't you imagine that all of us will be singing -- "O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the LORD!" -- when we're gathered around the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Two things have happened recently that remind me of the importance of singing praise to God. 1) In a recent prayer at the end of choir practice, Music Minister Matt Rouse said (my paraphrase), "Dear God, we know that your admonition to 'Sing unto the Lord' is not a suggestion but a command . . . " Look at all of Psalm 96, but particularly at the first 4 verses.
Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. I agree with Matt Rouse. Those sound like commands to me.
2) Our choir did a wonderful arrangement of "How Great Thou Art" a few Sundays ago. Afterward, Steve said he heard something in the lyrics that he'd never caught before. The words say, "Then sings MY SOUL, my Savior God to thee." He has always been self-conscious about his singing voice (which isn't nearly as bad as he thinks it is), but he realized this meant that he could/should/would sing with HIS SOUL, even if his voice was inadequate.
This Christmas, let's sing with OUR SOULS because we've been commanded to "Sing to the Lord."