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.
First Thessalonians (5:17) says it clearly: “Pray continually.” I assume that means 24-7, 365. So, if I understand that correctly, that means my life should be one continuous prayer. Praising. Confessing. Thanking. Asking. But I think there’s more. I think God wants me to be going about His business here on earth, too. So, if God expects me to pray without ceasing, He must have designed me to be doing and praying at the same time. Multi-tasking.
We’re good at multi-tasking these days. Texting while driving. Shopping while chatting. Pretending to listen while we’re thinking of the 100 things we really should be doing. Actually I don’t think any of those things are truly mulit-tasking. I think we ping between things to accomplish those. In and out of our circumstance. Text, then look to see if the traffic is moving, then back to text. Yes?
So I guess it’s natural to see prayer the same way. Pray, then do. Pray, then go. Pray, then speak. But if God actually wants us to pray continuously – without stopping – that means we must have been made for this. In fact, it may be the one thing we can truly multi-task.
Except we don’t. We treat it as we do all the things we multiply. Add it to the list and then check it off. Perhaps we’re a bit better and weave it in throughout. But that’s not continuous.
If, just for the sake of argument, I could pray AND do at the same time, what would that look like? The prayer form would have to keep changing along with whatever I was doing. If I was talking, prayer would be in the words. If I was listening, prayer would be in the listening. If I was moving, prayer would be in the motion. If I was writing, prayer would be in the recording.
Not, first this then that, but both together…at the same time. That would be life lived completely God’s way.
I pulled out my resistance band yesterday (it’s a stretchy band that I use for my own exercise and in fitness activities I do when I lead groups) and choreographed motions/exercises to the hymn ‘Spirit of the Living God.’ I pull it. It resists. I pull harder. It moves. The give and take of exert and respond in the rhythm and movement of words and song. The song ends…”Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me” and I bring the band, taut between my hands, down to rest. In that moment I can feel the residual effects of the resistance and the stretch I’ve just performed. I can literally feel the prayer I have just prayed, and I am stronger.
I have been strengthened in prayer. That is multi-tasking, and I think God is okay with it.
**Thank you to the folks at the Upper Room and the Global Board of Ministries who invited me to participate among them at SOULfeast 2013 this year. This inspiration is the fruit of that invitation.
In 1931, celebrated English children’s author Eleanor Farjeon wrote a poem for children to celebrate the first day of Spring. Set to a Gaelic melody, it climbed the pop charts as a Cat Stevens recording in 1971, and it remains one of Christendom’s favorite hymns. What a power lyrics have when we read and speak them!
MORNING HAS BROKEN
Morning has broken
like the first morning;
Blackbird has spoken
like the first bird.
Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word!
Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven,
like the first dewfall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
sprung in completeness where his feet pass.
Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning born of the one light
Eden saw play!
Praise with elation, praise every morning,
God’s recreation of the new day!
I’m told that Eleanor Farjeon’s inspiration was
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” ~ Lamentations 3:22-23
What words speak especially to you in this poem/hymn? Me? I love…
Mine is the morning born of the one light Eden saw play!
Happy Spring! And thank you to The Church of the Good Shepherd UMC for their devotional post today.