Archive | December 2012

Tonight’s the night

o-holy-nightI remember when my children were little, how easy it was to get them to bed and right to sleep on Christmas Eve. At that point, it was a good thing, because I still had a myriad of tasks to perform. Yet in retrospect, I wonder if in some way anticipating the arrival of Santa detracted from the true meaning of the night captured in song 165 years ago. This is when Adolphe Adam composed the Christmas carol we know as O Holy Night.

Though known as an English carol, the words originally came from the Minuit, chretiens – Midnight, Christians – penned by a French wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau. Tradition says that in 1847, Cappeau wrote this verse while traveling on a Parisian stagecoach. Although historians discount the location of the event, those who write understand that inspiration can come at any time you choose to depart from the daily grind and allow your thought processes to bear fruit. Cappeau, like most writers, could not quit his day job to pursue what he truly enjoyed doing. But I digress.

Later John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister, wanted to make the carol easier to sing. You will recognize his adaptation of Cappeau’s work in the more familiar hymn known today as, Cantique de Noel or O Holy Night. You might enjoy seeing how the lyrical transition took place, yet both versions capture the essence of the real meaning of Christmas, often included in our celebrations though not always the focal point.

In most cases today, our celebrations of Jesus’ birth come during Christmas Eve services rather on Christmas day. At such times, worshipers unite their hearts to recognize God’s love for a broken world – one filled with people like you and me. Jesus came that night, born as a baby to live a blameless life only to die 33 years later for the sins of all mankind. God came Himself because man could not solve resolve his brokenness on his own. How great a gift is that? It’s the perfect gift, and each of us just have to take it. Accepting His gift, we use Christmas day to model that love to family and friends.

That said, tonight’s the night so take another look at the lyrics below, and as you celebrate on this Christmas Eve, see if you don’t gain fresh insight on why Christ came. Then capture the moment of that holy night as you listen to Josh Groban sing the words of this timely tune that is as relevant today as it was on that first Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all!

O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviours birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;
Fall on your knees,
Oh, hear the angels voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night,
O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand;
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend;
He knows our need,
To our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace;
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name;
Christ is the Lord,
Oh, praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

Ding, dong. Ding, dong.

silverbellsI can’t hold off any longer. One of my personal favorite songs of Christmas is Carol of the Bells. There is something powerful yet simplistic about the music. Although it has lyrics, even without them, this piece is moving in both a literal and figurative sense. It makes you wish you had musical talent and the ability to conduct a full orchestra even though it was originally intended to be sung without accompaniment.

In the early 1900’s, Russian composer Mykola Leontovych created the music for the Carol of the Bells, and Peter Wilhousky added the lyrics based on a traditional Ukrainian folk chant. It’s the repetition of the familiar four-note motif (ostinato motif) that creates the melodic consistency, which serves to imbed it in your mind.  Listen to the instrumental version to see if you don’t agree.

When you listen to the Carol of the Bells sung, it is often difficult to pick up on the words because of the tempo and high soprano voices. Yet the refrain of “Merry, merry, merry Christmas” is easily discernible and a message anyone could embrace. In written form, however, you could see a deeper, more meaningful message, one that is also simplistic yet formidable. (See below)

The lyrics capture the essence of bells ringing out an announcement of great import. Like the melody, the words bring impact because of their consistency and inclusivity. The message is for everyone – young and old, those meek and bold – much like the Gospel itself.  The true point of Christmas affirms Jesus is here, God is with us. He came bringing good cheer (good news) bears the same tidings of the angels on that first Christmas. The refrain of “Merry, merry, merry Christmas” mirrors that of the excited shepherds who couldn’t wait to visit the babe in the manger and share with everyone what they saw. The message does not change. It continues and the bells pound it out far and wide so that everyone has opportunity to respond, just as we do today.

Ok, so now that I’ve thought a little more about the song’s lyrics, I like that version, too.

Carol Of The Bells

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

Ding, dong, ding, dong
That is their song
With joyful ring
All caroling
One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From ev’rywhere
Filling the air

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 ev’ry home

Ding, dong, ding, dong.

We Need a Little Christmas

christmas-notesWho would have thought that Jerry Herman’s 1966 score, We Need a Little Christmas, from the Broadway musical Mame would hold such relevance in the Christmas 2012 season?

The flamboyant flapper, Auntie Mame – tasked with rearing her orphaned nephew during the dark days of the Great Depression – wondered if things could get any worse. First performed by Angela Lansbury, Auntie Mame demonstrated a vibrant wit and characteristic style. She determines that the situation required a measure of jollity that could only come from Christmas. Although the calendar revealed that it was a week before Thanksgiving – not Halloween as we see today – she overcame this challenge by moving up the celebration  – decking the halls with holly, putting up the tree in the parlor, hanging the stockings and asking Santa to come early.

The lyrics speak of a spirit of hope, though certainly based on the trappings of the season rather that which could provide a true solution. Nevertheless, if you think about it in a symbolic sense, you can gain a measure of substance beyond that which makes you merely feel good.

Auntie Mame demonstrated her positive perspective that the present circumstances were limited and that things would get better. Although her focus was on a symbol rather than the Person from whom all blessings come, she dispelled the negativity of the tragic circumstances that surrounded her by changing her perspective.

I’m not sure what your situation is today, but if the 6 o’clock news holds any validity, heartache and tragedy abound. The economy is not better. Many people are without meaningful work. Doctor’s offices are crammed. It could get you down if you did not look to the babe in the manger – the true “Little Christmas.”

Click here to listen to a more mature Angela Lansbury perform this song.

We’ve got today …

Kids-getting-on-school-busThis morning, I watched from my office window as the local school bus stopped to pick up the children to take them to school. I was too far away to see their faces, but I noticed more parents waiting with their children. Instead of making casual conversation with the other adults, they spoke to their kids and crossed the street with them to make sure they got safely on the bus. They lingered as the bus pulled away, perhaps wondering if this was how the parents of the children in Friday’s tragic shootings felt saying goodbyes to their kids. In their case, it was farewell.

We never know what tomorrow will bring, yet too often we humans bank on the fact that we will have a tomorrow and another one after that. Yet we have no guarantee. We often become paranoid and surround ourselves with protective devices or try to think ahead to prompt proactive behaviors. Although looking ahead and trying to remain safe are wise actions, we could easily go overboard. The bottom line is that it is out of our control, but our faith in the Lord must remain strong.

If one thing good is to come out of this sad tragedy, it might be what I saw demonstrated this morning and see on so many Facebook posts. Treasure the people in our lives now. We’ve got today.

Who knew?

Mary kissing baby jesus, dark-hairedDid Mary know?

Looking for something new and fresh for his Christmas choir’s program and considering the talent of one of his church members, Mark Lowry’s pastor asked him to work on this project. Lowry, a Christian comedian, singer and song writer, began the creative process with a series of questions he himself wanted to ask Mary, the mother of Jesus.

As a performer with Bill Gaither’s Vocal Band, Mark traveled via bus with other members of the group from concert to concert. To while away the time, these artists typically wrote music often collaborating with one another. Such was the case when Mark Lowry created the lyrics and Buddy Greene the melody for the now popular song, Mary Did You Know. Although they wrote the piece in 1984, the song did not debut for the public until 1992, and did not hit the charts until 1997 when Wynonna Judd and Kenny Rogers recorded it.

The song’s message causes you to think beyond Santa and reindeer and the pristine nativity pageants we’ve come to equate with Christmas to the real reason Jesus came, to become the Savior of the world. Look at the lyrics for yourself and then click here to sing along. During a hectic Christmas season, the message will brighten your day with truth.

Mary Did You Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

Is there room in the mall?

DSCN1040Ah, the joys of Christmas. You know, making the list, checking it twice then hitting the mall to find that perfect gift for each one on it. This would be no problem if you were the only one shopping, but everyone else is there doing the same thing. And it is often contending with all those other people that robs you of that holiday joy. Sure, your arms are tired and your feet hurt, but they pale in comparison to waiting in long lines and trying to maneuver among throngs of frantic shoppers through narrow aisles and busy walkways and ecalators. What’s even worse is that some of those irritated individuals came with you. No wonder Scrooge avoided the mall. There was no room for him.

Those of the family of David, living at the time of Jesus’ birth, experienced a similar scenario. People from all over, not just their town, converged on Bethlehem to register for Caesar’s tax. They weren’t pleased to add one more thing to their already busy schedules nor did they want to travel so far just to battle the crowds. They needed food and lodging, but as Mary and Joseph soon found out, there was no room for them in the inn. Only a stable offered them shelter from the cold night air, and here Mary gave birth to the Savior and welcomed shepherds who came to see the babe in the manger. The angel’s message and song had prepared their sin-weary hearts. Not only did they worship but they also enthusiastically spread the message to others.

Does it make you wonder what people, absorbed in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, would do if out of the blue an angel (or someone who sounded like one) appeared and just started to sing the true message of Christmas? Would there be room in the mall? Click here to see.

Chorus lights up the block

handelsmessiahrocksCDI’ve a confession to make. My December blogs are life-changing for me – in one sense, the lights have been turned on. I’m really enjoying digging deeper into the history of some of the Christmas favorites, but I’m also getting outside my comfort zone in order to ask other people which Christmas songs they like the best. And as a result, I’ve met some really fantastic people. One, I talked with yesterday, had two favorites, one of which is the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.

Over 270 years ago at one of the lowest points of his life, George Handel composed The Messiah. Sensing God’s hand upon him and lacking consideration for his own needs of food or sleep, he dedicated himself to completing his work in 24 days. Based on the Biblical books of Isaiah and the four Gospels, this three sectioned oratorio  became his Masterpiece. From his harpsichord, Handel directed the first performance of Messiah as part of a series of charitable concerts in Dublin, England. Handel continued to revise his signature work and completed the version most closely resembling the one you would recognize today in 1754.  The most renowned movement is the Hallelujah Chorus, and tradition states that King George II concurred as he stood to acclaim the King of Kings at the culmination of the performance.

Interestingly in a 2008 interview with NPR,  composer Rob Kapilow discusses the impact of the four syllable word hallelujah how the “first note is lengthened and then exploded at the end so that you have  HAAAA-le-lu-jah.” Hallelujah loosely translated means, Praise Jehovah, you people. Kapilow continues to comment and attributes the power of the piece to the “King of Kings” section.

“The thing that’s so amazing about it is that it’s actually based on one of the simplest ideas you could possibly imagine: a single note repeated over and over again; one note per syllable — ‘king – of – kings’ and ‘lord – of – lords.’ ”

Handel does more than repeat the passage. He does so in “higher and higher registers.” As the momentum increases, you might suggest that Handel, through his powerful musical composition desired to illustrate God’s love for mankind. There is no one too low or too high to be exempt or unworthy of his mercy and grace. No one who comes to Jesus in truth will be turned away – another part of the real Christmas story. This truth can light up your life. AND if you click here, you’ll see how one neighbor lit up his whole block while keeping time with the Hallelujah Chorus.

Do you hear what I hear?

Do you hear what I hear 5451378Some songs resonate with us because their lyrics touch a chord in our hearts. Others impact our souls with their melodies. On rare occasions, a song will do both, and that impact often masks the writers’ original inspiration. Such is the case with the Christmas song, Do You Hear What I Hear?

Who’d have thought the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, would have inspired such a piece? During that period, Cuban Dictator, Fidel Castro feared the US would attempt to invade his small country and partnered with Nikita Khrushchev allowing the Russians to set up nuclear missiles – aimed at the US – on his shores. Although the negotiations eventually averted what historians term the closest the world ever came to nuclear war, tensions were extremely high –  not only here in the US but also around the world. The political situation prompted the husband-wife team of Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne to combine their talents to write a song expressing both their deepest desires and hope for peace.

Interestingly Noel, who usually wrote the musical score while Gloria wrote the lyrics, reversed their roles. Stirred by mothers pushing their babies in strollers along the sidewalks of New York City, he penned the words describing how the Night Wind brought the message of the baby Jesus’ birth and how it spread to the small lamb, the shepherds and eventually to the king. It went to people everywhere, and here he added his own plea – “Listen … Pray for peace, people everywhere.” Now a traditional favorite, Do You Hear What I Hear reminds us that true peace – goodness and light – only comes from that special Child, sleeping in the night.

You too can listen with greater understanding as you review the words below and hear Mannheim Steamroller’s version of this carol.

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light

Jingle all the way

Bells have long been used to herald news of significance – signaling warnings, proclaiming glad tidings and calling people to gather for worship services or public meetings. Tracing their use back to earlier times, pagan cultures often used them as part of their celebrations to ward off evil spirits. As time passed, bells have found their way into celebrations for Christmas and songs of the season.

One traditional favorite is Jingle Bells, written by Lord Pierpont in 1850, copyrighted in 1857. Though originally inspired by the Salem sleigh races,* Pierpont later introduced it as a Thanksgiving song to a Georgia congregation where he served as organist. The bright melody and cheerful lyrics brought immediate popularity, and it carried over and became a standard Christmas tune.

As a quick aside, if you ever wondered what “bells on bobtail ring” were all about, they are referencing the sleigh bells that adorned the one horse whose tail had been “bobbed” or shortened to avoid becoming tangled in the reigns. People traveling on foot would not hear a sleigh traveling across the snow, especially at night, and the bells would announce the sleigh’s approach.

Although Christmas is traditionally connected with winter – in our northern climates that equates to snow – and also a heightened sense of fun and laughing, you don’t see much else in Jingle Bells that brings real Christmas meaning to the song. You could think of it as just entertaining, and that is ok. But in another sense, it offers a metaphor of hope, and perhaps that’s why it has gained seasonal popularity.

Most people enjoy watching the snow fall and relish the pristine beauty that covers the mundane and drab winter countryside. Though today thoughts move more to the interruption of life and the work involved to eradicate it. The open sleigh in our song offers an opportunity to travel across its surface and enjoy, rather than curse, the gift.  Perhaps it is good to be reminded that the snow covers even the ugliest of surfaces and transforms them into things of beauty, and isn’t that why Jesus came at Christmas?

*Check out the full lyrics using the link and you’ll understand the connection to sleigh races.

Who would tell lies about Rudolph?

In this age of commercialized Christmases, I thought it might be fun to look more deeply into some of the songs, carols and traditions of the season. I’m not sure how close any of these things will come to the real reason of the season, the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but it may prove interesting. Regardless, these traditions, real or imagined impact our lives, so let’s see where the potpourri of nostalgia leads.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

LITTLE_GOLDEN_BOOK_RUDOLPH_THE_RED_NOSED_REINDEER_CHRISTMAS_FRONT_COVERRudolph’s prominence and popularity may make you think this red-nosed member of the deer family has been around forever, and to the children of today, he has. But in reality he did not appear until Christmas of 1939. Though one account states that Robert L. May wrote the fable to comfort his daughter, Barbara, after the death of her mother and sold the rights to Montgomery Ward Department Stores to pay off the medical bills, this is a stretch of the truth. It would make a great Hallmark movie, but if you’re looking for facts, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper – makes you wonder why someone would lie about Rudolph, but I digress.

According to Scopes, Montgomery Ward tasked May to write the story for the purpose of distributing it to children who visited Santa. As a member of their staff, the rights for the story belonged to Montgomery Ward. Writing in verse and couplets, May did test the story on his daughter to ensure of its appeal to children. Initially, Montgomery Ward compensated him only as their copywriter, but deeply in debt because of his wife’s medical bills, May negotiated with Ward’s president, Sewell Avery, to restore the copyright to him in 1947.  The key to Rudolph’s success came later when May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, crafted the song made popular by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. (Today’s kids likely never heard of him, either.)

The story about the ostracized reindeer does contain a message of hope for all those kids out there who don’t travel in the popular crowds or are sought out because of skill or beauty. Rudolph had none of this, yet he had a purpose for life that would not surface until the year Santa encountered fog on Christmas Eve. This situation led to Rudolph’s discovery. As lead reindeer, his glowing nose allowed Santa to transport his sack of toys safely and deliver them to all of the good boys and girls around the world. He became a hero.

I guess this does bring us back to the real reason for the season after all. Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness for each person, regardless of their station in life, skillset or outward appearance also indicates He has a unique purpose for each one. Human beings aren’t cookie cutter creatures, and God has a plan for every one. Each one is special, yet all have a choice to follow God’s plan or their own. The story of Rudolph leaves Jesus out of Christmas, but you can gain some measure of truth from the illustration as you watch him wait for his time to shine.