It is the music that makes it feel like Christmas to me. To the chagrin of my family, I turn on the Christmas stations and put in the Christmas CDs and hum along with the songs piped in at the mall. I am positively impossible at Christmastime.
But this year is not like previous Christmas seasons. Because I have a law student living at home studying for exams. She wants it quiet. So, out of respect, I have silenced the stereo. “Use your headphones, Mom,” she says. Because this is what all young people do, listen to their own music through their own ears, so as not to disturb anyone.
This is respectful, I guess, but it’s not Christmas. Because I like to sing along. And, different from all other songs in all other seasons, at Christmastime I know all the verses. Perhaps this is because I have sung them since childhood. Or because they are the same songs, year after year. I don’t bother much with the new ones; I like the old favorites. They’re embedded in my memory banks. One verse just flows out after the other.
And of course, there’s the aftershock…After I hear them and sing them, they keep playing in my head and I keep right on singing. Ah, yes, my family dearly loves this.
I broke all the rules last night and pulled out the old hymnal, playing the tunes…Joy To the World, What Child is This? Away in a Manger, Angels We Have Heard on High, on my heirloom baby grand piano. And lo and behold, my daughter the law student applauded and asked for an encore from the other room where she was still studying. I played Silent Night.
There is just something about Christmas music. The tunes, yes. The timing, yes. But I think that the very sneaky or very wise God planted a message in the music that speaks to us in a unique way. It settles deep and stays with us. So that even I can remember the verses. Not just the melody in the first verse, but the message all the way to the last.
I am reminded again of this as I sing and hum to Away in a Manger.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes;
I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay
close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
The last verse is a special favorite. It calls back to mind many, many tender bedtimes when I sang this with my youngest daughter, then so small. Bless all the dear children, indeed. And fit us for heaven – shape us just right for the ever after you have planned.
Some of the “updated” versions sing “bring us to heaven.” Perhaps bringing and fitting are the same thing to some folks, but not to me. I prefer the old way. Making us fit for the Kingdom seems a lifetime in coming. “Bring us” seems so…passive, on our parts. It is the end of the song, but is the end of the story? the beginning? or somewhere in between?
In a manger 2000 years ago, a baby was born. He’ll be born again this Christmas. In me. In my daughters. In my household. In my world. What a merciful Savior we have. To help us remember to the very end of the song.
How soon the Christmas carols that were being piped over speakers and intercoms everywhere are silenced. At the gym yesterday, there was no music. Just the sounds of people doing what they do in the weight room, on the track, in the locker room. I noticed the silence. This is odd because, as my kids will tell you, I never notice what’s playing on the radio when we are out somewhere.
But with the songs of Christmas this is different. I don’t exactly “notice.” As in, wow I love this song. It’s more that I begin singing or humming along. So that even when there is no music, like in the produce section at the grocery, I am humming Hark the Herald Angels Sing. If I catch myself doing this, I just smile and continue. No one stops me. This behavior is okay, until after Christmas, when the music stops.
Then, all of a sudden I stop singing. This is not a conscious decision. It’s more of a visceral thing. Just like the singing in the first place. It was organic. Not planned. Just bubbled up from somewhere inside that recognized the music, knew the words and had permission to sing them.
So this morning when I read this, “In Mary, God became flesh”* it struck me. Not just, “Mary was with child.” Or “He was born on Christmas day.” Not even, “He became flesh and lived among us.” But actually, God in Jesus began and grew inside of Mary. In Mary’s womb, God became flesh.
Somehow I had missed this before. God didn’t place Jesus the baby full grown into Mary. He grew Him there. Just as He grows our children in us. Just as He grows ideas in us. He plants them, knits them, shapes them and then, calls on us to birth them.
The incarnation of Jesus wasn’t just a “I am gonna be one of you and come and walk among you event,” God used the incubator of a person. The young girl Mary. Nine months carrying God’s child, God Himself, God taking shape in her so that He could be in the world. Our world.
I wonder if Mary felt a sense of loss when Jesus was born. As a mother, I can’t imagine she did. A mother is so anxious to see what has been growing inside her and to share him with the rest of his family. She is so fulfilled to be able to hold him and care for him. But I wonder…
What would it be like to truly believe that, “In Wendy, God became flesh”?
I’m not sure I can really “know” this; it’s more visceral, more organic, just sort of bubbles up from somewhere inside that recognizes Him as if He has always been there and yet is new again each time I greet Him. And there is singing.
*(from Becoming Light, by Thomas Hoffman)