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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Carols’

 

Does that title sound familiar? It’s an old Christmas carol—my maternal grandmother’s favorite. Sadly it never occurred to me to ask her why.

Perhaps it was the lilting tune that dances up and down the treble clef, with leaps from low notes to high. (You can listen to the carol here: There’s a Song in the Air.)

Perhaps Grandma especially enjoyed the expressive lyrics since she was a poet herself. I found this Christmas poem in her journal.  (Keep scrolling for a typed version–easier to read.):

 

 

FOR CHRISTMAS 1955

Star of the East that shone for men

To guide to Jesus’ side,

Shines in the Christian heart today

Where the Lord Jesus abides.

For he’s the Bright and Morning Star,

Turning darkness into light.

He died on Calvary to save,

To remove sin’s dark blight.

Baby Jesus was born a King,

A Savior to die yet to reign.

He left His home in heaven above

And chose instead earth’s pain.

–C. E. M.  (Clara Edna Mensinger)

 

Perhaps “There’s a Song in the Air” appealed to Grandma because her creative soul responded to such artful lines as these:

 

 

  • And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing
  • And that song from afar has swept over the world
  • In the light of that star lie the ages impearled
  • Ay! We shout to the lovely evangel they bring

 

“The Angel Appears to the Shepherds”

by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812)

 

I wonder if Grandma ever became curious about the origins of the carol? Did she know that the composer of the tune, Karl Harrington, discovered the lyrics while reading the works of one of his favorite authors Josiah Holland?

Holland was a novelist, poet, and editor of the popular Scribner’s Monthly. In the 1870s he reprinted his Complete Poetical Writings. This was the book in which Harrington found the poem “There’s a Song in the Air.”

At the time, the summer of 1904, Harrington was struggling through an overwhelming assignment: to compile a new hymnbook for the Methodist Church. Even for someone with his background as a highly trained musician, choral director, and composer–the task proved difficult.

 

Karl Harrington (1861-1953)

 

While taking a rest one hot afternoon, he picked up Harrington’s book, came across the poem, and immediately felt inspired to set the lovely verse to music.

He went to his organ and as he read the words aloud, let his fingers drift along the keys. A melody soon began to form. Harrington included the carol in the new hymnal.*

Perhaps like Harrington, my grandmother appreciated the fresh wonder stirred up by such inspiring lines as:

 

 

  • The manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
  • There’s a tumult of joy over the wonderful birth
  • We rejoice in the light, and we echo the song, that comes down through the night from the heavenly throng

 

Grandma didn’t know Jesus until her mid-thirties, and up to that time had endured several painful traumas. (You can read a bit of her story in the post, The God of Rachel, Henry, and Clara Part 2.) But her newfound relationship with God brought peace and strength.

 

(Grandma Clara, years later, 1968.

P.S.  Those glasses were the height of fashion back then!)

 

Perhaps a carol about joy, light, and song reminded her of the transformation Christ had brought to her life.

Grandma would want these lyrics to speak to our hearts too, refreshing our wonder in a Savior once cradled in a manger, destined to be King, who comes to us with “the lovely evangel” (verse 4, line 3)–the good news of God’s gracious plan to rescue us.

Hallelujah and a blessed Christmas to all!

 

*Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) 164-166.

 

What is your favorite carol and why? Please share in the comment section below!

 

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.pixy.org; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.hymnary.org; http://www.pixy.org; Nancy Ruegg.

 

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“The Church thrills and thrives,

multiplies and advances

on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing

that we simply call song.”

–Jack W. Hayford*

 

 

And at no time of year is that more true than during Advent. Christmas carols seem to waft on a unique Holy Spirit breeze of blessing all their own.

Part of the blessing is in the familiarity, the memories they evoke of Christmases past. Many of us are predisposed to sentimentality, especially at this time of year. Just listen to how often we wistfully say, “Oh, that reminds of…”

 

 

But are familiarity and nostalgia the only reasons we love our Christmas songs? No, it’s the lyrics themselves that contribute to the breeze of blessing—lyrics that remind us:

 

  • God’s gifts far surpass what is under the Christmas tree.

 

“God imparts to human hearts

the blessings of his heaven” (1).

 

  • Jesus brings wisdom and contentment to our lives.

 

“This child, now weak in infancy,

our confidence and joy shall be” (2).

 

 

  • He is our Emmanuel, God with us.

 

“Love has come—He will never leave us…

Love is Jesus within and among us” (3).

 

  • He has made it possible for us to spend eternity with him in heaven.

 

“Jesus Christ was born for this!

He hath opened heaven’s door

And man is blessed forevermore” (4).

 

 

  • The day is coming when we will be privileged to sing with the angels, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns” (Revelation 19:6)!

 

“When the new heaven and earth shall own

The Prince of Peace their King,

And the whole world send back the song

Which now the angels sing” (5).

 

 

Now that will be a song wafting on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing.

Can you imagine the scene? Thousands of us in row after row singing our praise to God and celebrating the Prince of peace, our King.

Perhaps we’ll sing harmonies never even dreamt of on earth. And in a perfect heaven with perfectly miraculous acoustics, not only will we be able to hear the voices of those nearby, but the composite whole of the largest, grandest choir ever to sing.

Will there be those who stand in silence and choose not to participate? Impossible. How about folks who barely open their mouths and just whisper-sing? No, I can’t see that happening either.

Surely we’ll all sing with euphoric enthusiasm, hearts bursting with joy that:

  • Every blessing of heaven is now ours (1)—blessings we can’t even imagine now because we’re so limited in our knowledge and understanding.
  • Our confidence in Jesus has been rewarded beyond imagination (2).
  • Our loving, Savior is finally with us in Person as well as in Spirit (3).
  • Eternal bliss will be ours forevermore (4).
  • We’re able to join the angels in glorious song for the Prince of Peace our King (5).

But there’s no reason to wait until we’ve joined the angel choir.

We can sing as if performing for our King now.

Because we are.

Sing a song of Christmas, my friend, on a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing!

__________________________________________________

  1. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” verse 3, line 2.
  2. “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light,” verse 1, lines 3 and 4.
  3. “Love Has Come,” verse 3, lines 1 and 2.
  4. “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” verse 2, lines 2-4.
  5. “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” verse 3, lines 3 and 4.

*from the Foreword of The Celebration Hymnal, Integrity Music, 1997.

 

Which Christmas carol wafts a breeze of Holy Spirit blessing through your spirit?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.army.mil.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.Art4TheGlryOfGod; http://www.flickr.com (3); http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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Nativity-29

Bethlehem. One word that immediately conjures images from the Christmas story: an inn with no room for a travel-worn couple, a stable or cave that became the birthplace of a King, angel choirs announcing his birth, and exuberant shepherds worshiping the newborn Messiah.

But just five miles from Bethlehem lies Jerusalem. In fact, from some locations within the little village, you can gaze northward and glimpse the rooftops of the capital city.

Perhaps, as Christmas approaches, we would do well to shift our gaze for a few moments, from the manger in Bethlehem toward Jerusalem: the place where our Savior gave up his life on a cross.

Most of our thoughts this time of year focus on the village where the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head, where angels came from the realms of glory and shepherds quaked at the sight. Each year we sing carols that highlight nearly every aspect of the story.

But there is one carol that reminds us of the bitter realities of Calvary, even while celebrating the sweet story of Jesus’ birth: “The Holly and the Ivy.”

Historians tell us that long before Christ was born, Europeans were bringing holly into their homes during winter, as part of several pagan celebrations. Later, Christians continued the tradition, but adapted the symbolism associated with the plant.

To these believers of long ago, holly represented Jesus. The sharp points on the leaves reminded them of the crown of thorns pressed down on Jesus’ head prior to his crucifixion. The bright red berries represented the blood he shed. Holly also produces white flowers, symbolic of Christ’s purity.

And what of the ivy?  One source suggested that ivy requires a support system as it grows.  Small tendrils find places to cling. (Ivy seems especially fond of brick walls, doesn’t it?) Perhaps the lyricist of this carol was thinking of us when he included the ivy. We need to cling to God for support in our lives.

Note the last line of the first verse: “The holly bears the crown.” Indeed.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords!

 

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full-grown,

Of all the trees that are in wood,

The holly bears the crown.

 

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

To be our sweet savior.

The holly bears a berry, as red as any blood,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

To do poor sinners good.

 

The holly bears a prickle, as sharp as any thorn

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

On Christmas day in morn.

 

The holly bears a bark

As bitter as any gall,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

For to redeem us all.

The Bethlehem Christmas story includes so many elements to celebrate: God’s love manifested in the birth of a Savior; Mary’s and Joseph’s faithfulness to fulfill God’s plan, the angel’s message of peace on earth, and the shepherds’ joy.

But may our celebration also include appreciation for God’s love that prompted him to give up his only Son to death, that those who believe on him might have eternal life. May we celebrate the faithfulness of our Savior to fulfill God’s plan in spite of the agony and sorrow.

And, yes, may we celebrate the deep-down, long-lasting peace and joy that only Jesus can provide (John 14:27; 15:11).

 

(Sources:  Christmas, by Charles Allen and Charles Wallis (Revell, 1977); http://www.hymnsandcarolsofthefaith.com; http://www.landscaping.about.com; http://www.mymerrychristmas.com.)

Art credit:  www.lamblion.com.

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