Christmas Eve Musing: On Christmas Past- Memories & Honor with Joy & Sorrow

Once upon a time a man wrote a story where a person looked at impact of Christmas past, present, a future to the point it changed his life and led to repentance. It is a story that captured the hearts and minds of many. In praying about what to write this season the focus on Christmas past, present, and future is what developed in my mind. See this Holiday; these days have become a very important day for the Church as a whole. Like a certain character in a book if each of us takes time to reflect on the past, present, and future elements of Christmas there will be impact that can lead to change.

Christmas it is a day that is meant to be a celebration and remembrance. It is a season that reminds us and focuses on what God has done and given in the gift of the Incarnation. A reflecting when God came to earth with a plan to reconcile all willing to receive to him, bringing peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Christmas as we know it today developed over time and a variety of stories and actions that have become part and parcel of the day. Now it is noteworthy, that God did not initiate this holiday itself. This celebration does not actually fall on the exact date of Jesus birth. Rather, it has become simply a day set aside where the focus is on what God has done. It is a day to think, learn, and look back on Jesus being born, coming to earth with His mission. It is a day in which Thanksgiving and Honor is given to God almighty. God’s act of love is remembered and acts of love are demonstrated to others. Those acts then create more memories and traditions that ultimately serve to Honor God.

Each family has traditions. Some remain consistent over time. Some fade as life changes. The traditions develop around memories of the ways love was demonstrated. In general we repeat the things that brought present memories to us, so that those we love can have a similar experience to our own. We care and give because we love. Sure, not all that has occurred on this Holiday is pleasant, pleasurable, or joyful. Sometimes there are hard and difficult times. Traditions end. Times change. Death and suffering take their toll. Yet, there are the memories formed and memories created. Even the hard times have moments of significant meaning for each individual. For God is always at work demonstrating His love, showing that He is now accessible and with us, because of the gift He gave of Himself that this Holiday commemorates and gives honor. And how we have been impacted by God and others has lasting impact. Otherwise none of us would have traditions. What we do we do because of what we have received for we act based on what we have received, hoping others receive similar.

Now while we have these traditions that touch us, ultimately each of us has our own personal memories. For ultimately any looking at the past is very personal. We are able to look at the joys and pains; the elation and grief. For in this world there is always good mixed with bad. Even the celebration of Christmas demonstrates that fact for we live with Christ-center thoughts and traditions and the other stuff. Good and bad. Those we love express the love, but they fall short. They may give what they can with good intention or be focused on self; or more often a combination of both. Now here is something that is special. This Holiday focuses on God loving and giving a gift unlike any other. God gave the only good and perfect gift: a gift of both Joy and Sorrow for God came to be with us, be among us to suffer greatly so that we may be reconciled to Him and enter relationship with our Creator. Now just as God’s perfect gift bring mixed emotions. So do our experiences and memories. We are touched in many ways with good and bad; love and pain. Each of our lives and stories are different. Each person has a unique Christmas past; ways that you have been impacted by others. Ways gifts have built you up. Ways actions have results in fears, defenses, and barriers. We all have them.

Initially when started writing this story the though was to perhaps share a memory of joy, disappointment, and even sorrow. Ask me in person and will gladly share stories. This article though is really to encourage personal reflection. Embrace the pleasant and painful memories. Embrace both the Joy and Sorrow and let each impact how you interact with others in this time and season. Identify, recognize, and remember what has gone on and see where God is working. Then give God glory and honor in your actions. Take time this season to grow in relationship to God and others as you remember your Christmas Past for whatever it is, look and you will find God’s love reflected, in both the best and the worst. And as you enter those memories and your Christmas past let “Hosanna’s” spring forth and the refrain of the Angels take root “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will to men.”

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Video Selection: He’s Everything to Me

This is a song the Holy Spirit has me recalling and playing in my mind recently.  None of the video’s catches the memory of the way the song was sung at campfires, at youth groups, or any get together of believers.  This song does really capture and reflect on the essence of God’s divine empathy. Here are the lyrics:

In the stars His handiwork I see,
On the wind He speaks with majesty,
Though He ruleth over land and sea,
What is that to me?
I will celebrate Nativity,
For it has a place in history,
Sure, He came to set His people free,
What is that to me?

Till by faith I met Him face to face,
and I felt the wonder of His grace,
Then I knew that He was more  than just a
God who didn’t care,
That lived a way out there and

Now He walks beside me day by day,
Ever watching o’er me lest I stray,
Helping me to find that narrow way,
He’s Everything to me.

The Carol of the Bells: A personal meaning and reflection for this Christmas Season

      My wife is a pianist and during the Christmas season she tries to pick a meaningful piano piece to be played during a church service during this holiday season. This season she was drawn to Carol of the Bells.  It is a joyous and pleasing musical piece, but personally not much was known about this piece of music other then it was beautifully performed by Manhiem Steamroller. 

      So exploring the origins, roots, and lyrics of this carol is very interesting.  It has an orgin that is not rooted in the Nativity or Christianity initially. It was based on a tune from an Ukrainian folks song meant for well wishing and ushering in the spring. The original lyrics had a sparrow flying and proclaiming wealth to come and was known primarily as a New Year’s carol.  The lyrics are as follows:

Shchedryk, shchedryk, a shchedrivka [New Year’s carol];
A little swallow flew [into the household]
and started to twitter,
to summon the master:
“Come out, come out, O master [of the household],
look at the sheep pen,
there the ewes are nestling
and the lambkin have been born
Your goods [belongings] are great,
you will have a lot of money, [by selling them]
if not money, then chaff: [from all the grain you will harvest]
you have a dark-eyebrowed wife.”
Shchedryk, shchedryk, a shchedrivka,
A little swallow flew.

       In 1936, Peter Wilhousky composed the lyrics now primarily associated with the tune because the sound reminded him of bells.   The lyrics are as follows:

Hark! How the bells, sweet silver bells,
all seem to say, throw cares away
Christmas is here, bringing good cheer,
to young and old, meek and the bold,
Oh how they pound, raising the sound,
o’er hill and dale, telling their tale,
Gaily they ring, while people sing
songs of good cheer, Christmas is here,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
On on they send, on without end,
their joyful tone to every home
Dong Ding dong ding, dong Bong

The carol had alternate Nativity and Christian based lyrics written in 1947 by Minna Louise Hohman. However, the specific inspiration for the lyrics other then the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is not documented or easily located.   The lyrics are as follows:

Ring, Christmas Bells, Merrily ring,
Tell all the world: Jesus is King!
Loudly proclaim with one accord,
The happy tale; Welcome the Lord
Ring, Christmas Bells, Sound far and near,
The birth day of Jesus is here.
Herald the news To old and young,
Tell it to all, In ev’ry tongue.
Ring, Christmas Bells, Toll loud and long,
Your message sweet, Peel and prolong.
Come, all ye people, Join in the singing,
Repeat the story, Told by the ringing,
` Ring, Christmas bells, Throughout the earth
Tell the glad news, Of Jesus birth.
Loudly proclaim With one accord,
The happy tale; Welcome the Lord. (Repeat from Beginning)

Second Ending:

Ring Christmas bells, Merrily ring.
Tell all the world: Jesus is King.

There also exists a fourth set of lyrics, again Nativity and Christian based written in 1972 by an anonymous author. The lyrics are as follows:

Hark! to the bells. Hark! to the bells,
Telling us all Jesus is King!
Strongly they chime, sound with a rhyme.
Christmas is here! Welcome the King.
Hark to the bells, Hark to the bells.
This is the day, day of the King.
Peal out the news o’er hill and dale
And round the town telling the tale.
Hark! to the bells. Hark! to the bells,
Telling us all Jesus is King.
Come, one and all, happily sing.
Songs of good will, O let them sing!
Ring….silv’ry bells.
Sing…..joyous bells!
Strongly they chime, sound with a rhyme
Christmas is here, welcome the King!
Hark! to the bells. Hark! to the bells,
Telling us all, Jesus is King!
Ring! Ring….Bells.

 So in examining the history of this carol, it clearly has as background that is similar to that of the celebration of Christmas.  It starts with non-christian roots, becomes a western anthem celebrating the coming of Christmas, but with secular lyrics that do not point to Jesus, and finally to lyrics that both proclaim and celebrate the birth of Jesus and His coming as King.  So in looking at the history, it is a story of a redeemed song for those who attend to the true Gospel.  For those whose heart is tuned elsewhere, it draws other meaning.  The two versions of lyrics celebrating the birth and the kinghood of Jesus fits perfectly with Jesus first and second coming.  He first came as servant for the purpose of salvation and when he returns, he returns to restore as King.  Both worthy of celebration. 

       One final note of reflection is what are the function of bells generally in a culture.  Bells are usually rung  in most societies as a preciptant to news or a call to action including war.  I find this tune and the cutural function of bells to be appropriate to this carol, which in my mind is about celebrating the blessings that come from Jesus, but in His sacrifice which allows for redemption and in his second coming which will bring ultimate peace and restoration. 

     So given those thoughts, Carol of the Bells has taken on new significance for me. It is no longer just a piece of pleasant, celebratory music played at Christmas time. The song for me points toward what Jesus has done and will do.  It is a reminder that God is good, and worthy to be praised.  God through Jesus has given us a path to true peace and an answer to our selfishness. It is cause for joyous celebration.   So in closing, take a listen to one arrangement of the tune here: Carol of the Bells.