Silently, How Silently the Wondrous Gift is Given

Christmas fast approacheth! And thus, in typical TV sitcom fashion, I thought I’d do a sort of Christmas blog special. I’ve changed my background to give the sensation of staring at Christmas lights through my eyes with my glasses off.

Christmas is the reason I am a Christian. The birth of Christ is without a doubt the most beautiful story ever told:

The Almighty God, filled with compassion and love for his people, his creation, decided that the world needed something concrete to believe in, a tangible example of his power, kindness, wrath, love, and forgiveness. So he chooses a young girl, a child burgeoning on womanhood and without any titles or fame or wealth, to bear his son. God sent himself to begin life as all humans do - as a humble baby. A tiny, powerless, completely dependent human being. And at his birth there were both poor, dirty shepherds who brought nothing but themselves to worship the King, and rich, educated, and wise Magi who lavished the Baby Jesus with expensive gifts. Regardless of social standing, skin colour, financial status, sexual orientation, past crimes committed, all were welcomed at the birth of Jesus. It is the most humbling, equalizing, and beautiful beginning for the Saviour of the world.

For me, as I’m sure for many people, Christmas is largely about music. Even my mother, who doesn’t like music playing at all times (granted, this is largely because Dad is blasting some brass recording and conducting while singing in her ear, and I have played the Glee Cast’s rendition of “Safety Dance” up on bust more than is perhaps tolerable by any other human being), wants the holiday tunes piped throughout the house during all waking hours.

Every few years I develop a new affection for a particular Christmas carol. In true English student fashion, I am usually attracted to a particular line or verse of a song. Occasionally I’ll be listening to a familiar Christmas tune when lyrics I’ve heard hundreds and thousands of times will hit me as being particularly profound or beautiful or completely raw and true.

A prime example is “O Holy Night.” I’ve heard, played, and sung this Christmas tune more times than is ever necessary, and the charm and awe has largely worn off. However, two or three years ago as I was driving in the old Honda Civic (RIP, Great Civ), I found myself listening to a CD Dad had left in the player. Even though it was only October, I listened to David Phelps sing “O Holy Night,” which is an experience in itself, and he got to the line:

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother!
And in his name all oppression shall cease!

I had chills. The powerful affirmation of that promise hit me with full force. It was as if I suddenly had awoken to vast truth that we are all equal beings, that we are all unworthy sinners, yet the birth of a baby could allow us to eliminate the boundaries of sin and oppression and experience the freedom of redemption.

I’ve also been drawn to the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” since last Christmas. It’s not one that I heard very often as a child. It’s based on the poem “Christmas Bells,” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the American Civil War. What I love about this song is that it tells the story of someone who has lost hope in Christmas, humanity, and God. The narrator proclaims in despair:

There is no peace on earth... 
For hate is strong and marks the song 
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But what is so striking and moving about this song is that it reminds us that the whole point of Christmas is Easter, when Jesus fulfills his purpose on earth. The next line of the song, which is powerful and hard to sing without conviction: 

Then peeled the bells more loud and deep:
 “God is not dead, nor does he sleep! 
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good will to men! 

It’s such an unusual Christmas song, and it strikes me as beautiful and true.

One carol that I’ve never really warmed to is “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” largely because I find the tune hard to sing, especially in a congregation. No one really knows the appropriate time to change notes and the ups and downs are sort of all over the place. However, this past Sunday in church my pastor pointed the final line of the first verse: 

The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight 

I took a moment to really let that sink in. Jesus’ coming wasn’t just for the years he was alive on earth - it was for those before him and those after him. His power and love transcends the concept of time and space, yet it all stems from the moment of the birth of a baby. Incredible.

I like poetry, and I like music; together they become something magical. 

Merry, merry Christmas.

PS - If I could recommend a Christmas album, I would suggest MercyMe's The Christmas Sessions. It has some traditional carols revisited, some fun songs, and original songs as well. If I had to choose, I would say it's a probably my favourite holiday CD.


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