Christmas Carol Classics: We Wish You a Merry Christmas

“We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year

Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin
We wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year

Now bring us some figgy pudding
Now bring us some figgy pudding
Now bring us some figgy pudding
And a cup of good cheer

We won’t go until we get some
We won’t go until we get some
We won’t go until we get some
So bring it right here

So bring us some figgy pudding
So bring us some figgy pudding
So bring us some figgy pudding
And bring it right here

Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin
We wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year”

To finish out our year and this Christmas season I’m sharing one last song, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  It’s one of those classic songs that you do hear every year and many artists do their own version of (including Weezer).

This is yet another song that has come out of England with smashing success.  While parts of it were around from earlier years, the rendition in 1935 brought about most of what we know of as the carol today.  The lyrics “a merry Christmas and a happy New Year” have ties to the carolers that would sing outside of homes in exchange for food or drink (hence the line that talks about “figgy pudding”).

As we look into the new year just a short while away I’m excited for what’s ahead.  We’ve just about made it out of this year and into a new one.  No matter how bad or good your last year was you’ve just about made it to the new one.  One of the reasons I chose this song is because of the passion and purpose in it.  As we go into the new year we often talk about resolutions, and while I’m not going to suggest that you make one right now, I do encourage you to commit to yourself that you’re going to make it your best year yet and you don’t give up, especially if this past year wasn’t your best.  What will you make of 2017?

Christmas Carol Classics: Joy to the World

“Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

On this eve of Christmas I want to take a moment to pause and consider the words and story of this famous Christmas carol.  While you listen to the carol, let’s take a look at the story behind it.

Joy to the World was written by Isaac Watts based on the second half of Psalm 98 in the Bible.  It was first published in 1719.  Watts wrote it thinking about not the first Christmas but the second coming when Jesus returns one day.  The song is still one of praise rather than contemplation because God remains faithful to us as we wait through the (long) wait for Jesus’ return.  It’s also one of the most published Christmas hymns in North America and has been recorded by countless well-known artists.

As we await the arrival of Christmas Day just a little over an hour away where I am, Joy to the World is such a great reminder to celebrate this day.  We got such a gift from the birth of Jesus, one that hasn’t been matched since, but each year we give gifts to each other in a way of remembering and commemorating that gift that He gave.  So as you wrap a few last gifts and maybe try to calm the excitement in your hours and hope you get a few hours of sleep before the kids wake you up for gifts, take time to count your blessings and then celebrate them.  Just like on Thanksgiving we make time to give thanks, Christmas is a great time to celebrate all those things we are thankful for and the ways we’ve been blessed in our lives.  What are you celebrating today?

The Knowledge of Christmas

This morning as I was driving to a clients I was listening to the radio and they were talking about one of the many spiritual Christmas songs. The comment that was made was that not everyone knew about the first Christmas.  I had to think about it for a while because it does seem from the amount that we talk about it today and the big deal that Christmas is, that everyone should have heard about it in one way or another, especially back then when it happened.  But, with Santa not being a thing yet, I guess it’s entirely likely that maybe just those and a few others in the story as detailed in the Bible were the only ones to hear of the pending birth or of the actual birth.

There was no Facebook or Twitter back then, we didn’t really mail letters, there weren’t phones, and there just wasn’t communication like we know it today, so if it takes a while for something to get communicated today, triple or quadruple the time and shrink the number of people who will hear about it period and you’ll have an understanding of how many people would have heard back in Jesus time about His birth (maybe like the number of people in a modern day town or small city).

If you think about it, those who did know back then and those who were able to experience that very special occasion were a select, fortunate few.  So today, being that you’re here reading this blog, I know that you’re one of those who know of the joyous event some 2000 years ago.  Yes, there are many more of us who know today, but there are still people who don’t know the good news of that First Christmas.  So this Christmas I encourage you to take time to reflect on what a special occasion that first Christmas was and how blessed you are to know the good news.  And if the opportunity happens for you to share a little love and the story of the First Christmas with someone else, you should take advantage of it.

Christmas Carol Classics: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

“It came upon a midnight clear
That glorious song of old
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still the heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world

Peace on the earth
Good will to men
From heaven’s all gracious King

The world in solumn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing
Hear the angels sing

Peace on the earth
Good will to men
From heaven’s all gracious King

The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing

Hear the angels sing
Hear the angels sing
Hear the angels sing

On a midnight clear.”

Today’s carol is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and you can listen to it here.  This song was a poem and carol written by  Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts in 1849.  Sears wrote this piece when he was going through a time of struggle and darkness in his life (it goes to show you that even pastors struggle at times).

While it was Christmas time when Sears was going through his challenges, he didn’t write the song about the First Christmas, but rather about the Christmas he was going through then and the then-contemporary issues of war and peace.

However the call for peace is something that is always needed in our world.  If you’re fortunate enough to be experiencing peace in your life at this time I pray that you’ll find an opportunity to share that peace with someone who is not peaceful this holiday season.  I believe the holiday season should be a time of celebration, but there’s also opportunity for quiet reflection on your life and where God is leading you, like Sears took during the year he wrote this song.   So among the celebrating I encourage you to take some time for reflection as well and think about that night so clear so many years ago when Jesus was born.

Looking Ahead This Christmas

We’re fully involved in the Christmas season now, there are lights everywhere, trees going up, songs being sung, plays being done, presents being hid and cheer being shared.  I love this season because it’s a time for us all to come together and celebrate life, and for people of faith the reason for hope.  In the church this period of time before Christmas is known as Advent. It’s when we’re supposed to prepare our hearts and lives for the day of Christmas.

So much of our lives are about preparing.  We go through school to prepare for our careers, we read books and take courses about kids to prepare for our kids, and we learn about health issues when we or loved ones have them to prepare for treatment options and negative possibilities.  We’re always looking ahead and thinking about what’s coming up, which is really a good thing.  Yes, we do spend time looking back and considering what we’ve done in the past (especially if we’re feeling guilty or working on improvements), and some of us do get stuck there.  And sometimes it seems like we spend so much time getting ready for stuff or thinking about the past that when we do actually get to a milestone it can feel anticlimactic, especially if we’ve got lots stuff yet to come that we’re still preparing for.

But the Christmas season is a reminder that while the journey never ends and there’s always a next step to prepare for, it’s super important to take time to stop and celebrate.  The angels stopped what they were doing to sing, the shepherds went to visit even though it was late and they were tired, the wise men stopped whatever they usually did and took a huge journey, and Mary and Joseph put their plans on hold to have Jesus.  I have no doubts though that if you asked any of them if they were glad that they took the time to stop in their regular lives and activities to make time to celebrate this important birth they would all tell you that it was one of the best moments of their life.

This upcoming Christmas may not be your best.  It may be one of your less-than-happy ones. And there certainly were moments in that first Christmas that were less than awesome.  But I’m confident that just like they found reason to celebrate some 2000 years ago, you’ll be able to find time and reason to do so as well.  Don’t let the season and the year end without taking time to stop and celebrate what you’ve accomplished and the difference that Jesus has made in your life and the ways that He’s preparing you for what’s next. What will you celebrate this Christmas?

Christmas Carol Classics: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Savior
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

In Bethlehem, in Israel,
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind:
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Savior lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.”

This song, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (you can listen to it here), is from before the 16th century and was first published in 1760.  It was referenced in Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ when the caroler was outside his office at the beginning of the story and Scrooge got very upset with him.  It is believed that this particular carol was sung to the upper class people by town watchmen who earned additional money during the Christmas season.

I love that this song has really withstood the test of time.  We may not really use all the words that are in the song in our day-to-day speaking, but the message of hope within certainly has lasted the centuries.  It’s a reminder of the message of the baby born some 2000 years earlier, that He came to save us, not just to be born.  It’s a reminder of the event that we remember and celebrate each year some 4 months later, that of His death on the cross and following resurrection.  It’s also a call to raise our voices too and join in rejoicing and praising God for sending Jesus to us and for sending all the blessings our way that He does.

One Last Christmas?

I know the holiday season is really about good tidings and great cheer, but the holidays do remind us of the people we’ve lost, and with another year ending as well we especially think about the people we’ve lost throughout the past year. So while we may not want to dwell on the loss of those people in our lives or the feelings of loss (which definitely aren’t full of holiday cheer), I think it’s a good reminder of why we should celebrate: because you never know when one day will be your last.

I don’t know about you but I don’t really want to look back on my last day as I lay on my deathbed (or after I’m dead if there is no deathbed length of time) and feel disappointed by the way I treated others, the way I lived my moments, the thoughts I had, the choices I made and the things I did. With each passing day and each person who passes on it reminds me of exactly how fragile life is, how reverently it should be treated, how much it should be valued and appreciated, and how important each and every moment is.

Now I know that if we were to spend each moment considering down to the last second exactly what we should do and what we’d regret or not, and analyzing things backwards and forwards, our life won’t be as fulfilling or appreciated as it should be. There should be moments of freedom, spontaneity and play, and moments where we feel like kids again if possible in every day. I think one of the times of the year that that happens the most is during the holidays when we bring out our treasures and memories, make a point of spending time with friends and family, and taking time to use our senses and fully experience our lives. If you knew that this was your last holiday season what would you do? Would you do something different today?

“When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.” Clarence Darrow