Last week, I gave you a list of my personal 10 ten favorite Christmas CD’s. Last Saturday, I had a rare day off, so the family and I went to Greensboro to do some shopping. I’m still having trouble getting into Christmas when it’s 70 degrees outside!
One of our favorite stores is Target, so we spent some time shopping for Christmas presents. While we were shopping, I came on a music display. The final CD of the Trans Siberian Orchestra Christmas trilogy was there and the price was right. So we picked it up and put it in the CD player for the ride home. This CD is definately in my top ten already if not in the top three. What I love about TSO is their ability to craft music around a story — a narrative if you will. Even if there wasn’t a great story to go with it the music is great. If you don’t like rock, you will not like this CD. I was a little dissappointed with the 2nd CD, but this one is no dissappointment.
The (short) story is about an angel sent to earth to find a human who best represents Christ. He finds several who fit this description but continues his search. He happens upon a miserable man — a man whose heart we find out is broken over the tragic lost of his wife and son. But on this Christmas eve all changes. Through an encounter with a little girl, he calls to check up on his son, whom he had sent to a mental institution at his birth. This puts him on a search to find the grown up son. He finds him working in a maternity ward for crack babies. His job is to rock the babies to sleep. As soon as the boy sees his father, he immediately forgives him and gives him a hug, while the boy still cannot speak, he understands perfectly. The boy and the father are reunited and make up for lost time. The angel returns to heaven and tells God about the boy and the others he found and then tells him about the father. The music is the soundtrack for this story. Is it dark at times, yes, but very powerful!
If an angel came looking for one who exemplified Christ, would he find you? What does it mean to exemplify Christ? What does it mean to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Again, as I look at this dark world, they are so much in need of ones who are like Jesus — it’s our job to minister to them and to build the Kingdom of Christ.
What comes to your mind when you think of the time between Thanksgiving and New Year? Most of us are caught up in the “holiday” season. We are thinking of buying presents, putting up Christmas decorations — fancy lights, trees and so on and so on, and happy, jolly Christmas music. And yet for a segment of the population, the season that occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year is anything but happy and jolly.
One of the songs that isn’t liked very well around our house this time of year is “It’s a Holly, Jolly Christmas,” because it brings up bad memories. One of the reasons that Dale tends to preach and emphasize Advent is because of the things that have surrounded our life, especially during the holiday season. Advent is our preparation time for the season of Christmas — yes, it includes playing Christmas songs. We were listening to them this morning as I was baking cookies.
We can empathize with those who are going through difficult times at Christmas, because we have been there. Several years ago, my mom had a heart attack the week after Thanksgiving. My sister who is a pastor’s wife and brother who is a pastor, recommended “A Decembered Grief.” This book was written by Harold Ivan Smith. The purpose of the book is “living with loss while others are celebrating.” There have been several deaths and severe illnesses during this season in my family. I highly recommend this book and we have given several copies to those in our church this year who have lost loved ones.
The first year is the hardest — this is the first year during our ministry that we have had to minister to others who have lost loved ones during the year. So I do I handle this season — that can sometimes be difficult to deal with?
- Prioritize what is important during the holidays. Only do what you can handle — others may have difficulty understanding why you are pulling back (especially when you are a pastor’s wife) — but it is important for your sanity.
- Focus on the real meaning of Christmas. I hold my focus on Christ. Christ was not only 100% God, but 100% human. He knows every part of the human emotion and he knows what we go through. The Bible is filled with many promises. Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT) It is possible to get through it with the Lord’s strength.
- Even in the darkest hours of Christmas (and last year was a pretty dark hour,) I try to focus on the family that God has given me; not by buying lots of gifts and spending a lot of money but by making traditions. One of the newest traditions we have, it to see which Christmas card comes from the furthest distance. In the past we have received cards from Italy, Iraq, and Japan. Another tradition is to open the Christmas cards at the dinner table, but only when everyone is there — this year we have had to modify it a little because we still have a daughter at college, but once she gets home, the rule includes all five of us.
- Another thing I do is to take care of others in need. Since our children are getting older, have have all taken this to heart. When you truly look at others who’s needs are much greater than your, you tend to forget about your own problems.
- Enjoy times of laughter. I grew up in a family where part of the grieving and healing process is laughter. The gift of humor was taught to me by my grandmother, Mamaw (who died at Christmas 1997.) When we gather for funerals, there is a time for tears, but also a time for laughter. These might not be happy times, but they are joyful times, especially when we consider that some day, when Jesus calls us home or comes again for us (which is the second Advent) we will be reunited with those who died in Christ.
If you are one who is going through a difficult time this year, because everyone else is celebrating and it doesn’t seem they care, I encourage you to get this book.
If you know me, you know that I’m not into conspiracies, but I love the idea of this. I saw it several weeks ago, before the bussle of Christmas really started — it really makes me think and it’s something we should all think about. Did Christ come so that we could make ourselves crazy with buying presents and getting all stressed out?
One of the things that I struggle with each Advent season is coming up with songs that express the expectation and the hope of the season without using Christmas carols. Advent is a season that prepares our hearts and minds for the coming of the King, but He is not here, yet! Dennis Bratcher does a great job of explaining in his article Can We Sing Christmas Carols at Advent?
Now, I am not trying to be a grinch about this and if you saw our Hanging of the Green service you will see that we sung many Christmas carols this past Sunday night while decorating the sanctuary. During the later Sundays of Advent, I do incorporate the familiar carols as we get closer to the big event. Maybe, it’s just my reaction against the commercialism of Christmas. Christmas doesn’t begin on the day after Thanksgiving, contrary to popular belief. I think it takes a couple of Sundays to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord.
Again, it is a dual-mode preparation; one – the coming of Christ Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem and two – coming of Christ Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords. I like to focus on the hope of the coming Christ child and the hope that we have as Christians of the Lord’s return. I love O Come, O Come Emmanuel (it’s Pam’s favorite carol) and Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus; I just wish there were more songs to use. Here’s my short list of Advent hymns that I’m familiar with — most are in our current “Sing to the Lord” hymnal.
- Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (penned by Charles Wesley)
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel
- Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending (also penned by Wesley)
- Celebrate Immanuel’s Name (I have not used this one yet — and another Advent hymn penned by Wesley)
- Of the Father’s Love Begotten (We did this one for the first time last Sunday w/o instruments — it was beautiful — it’s a 4th century hymn put to an 11th century chant.)
Like I said, that is my short list — I suppose that any hymn that expresses the hope of the return of Christ could be used (like Lo, He Comes), so that could add Jesus Shall Reign, Crown Him with Many Crowns and others.
I have used praise and worship songs like Days of Elijah; Shine, Jesus, Shine; Sing to the King; Lord, I Lift Your Name on High; Here I Am to Worship; and of course, Emmanuel.
This week we’ll probably do O Come, O Come Emmanuel and maybe I’ll teach Celebrate Immanuel’s Name — I haven’t decided yet.
Part of posting this is to make you think about Advent a little more — to take the time to prepare your heart — I know we spend a lot of time preparing our houses (decorating) and preparing the gifts — preparing for company or preparing for going away — but what if we put the same effort and put it into preparing our hearts, minds, soul, and bodies for the coming Christ child — He is not here, yet! but he is coming, let’s wait together in expectation
Hanging of the Greens
The Meaning of the Service
Congregational Song: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Christmas In America
Lessons of Christmas
Congregational Song: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!
Responsive Reading: A Call to Celebration
The Sanctuary Evergreens
Congregational Song: Go, Tell It On The Mountains
The Christmas Tree
Congregational Song: Joy to the World
The Christmas Poinsettia
Congregational Song: I Wonder As I Wander
The Paraments and Advent Colors
Congregational Song: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
The Advent Candles
Congregational Song: Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
Congregational Song: O Little Town of Bethlehem
The Gifts of Christmas
Congregational Song: How Great Our Joy!
The Bells of Christmas
Congregational Song: Angels We Have Heard on High
The Christ Of Christmas
Congregational Song: The Birthday of a King