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I’m Rearranging

For some of us, though, the world changes for more dramatically. Far more quickly. In ways that are beyond the norm…

Sometimes we all need a bit more reminding of what is happening in our midst than normal…

I am sitting here, looking at our beautiful, though very tall, Christmas tree, and yet my heart is still lagging behind in seasonal cheer this year. We are not even halfway through the merry twenty-four days and I am tired. Exhausted. See so much work yet ahead (probably also because I’m a pastor and that’s just the reality of this time of year – and there are some really funny memes about that).

All of these thoughts make me think about what for me was the only redeeming thing to come out of the Jim Carey remake of the Grinch from the 1990s: Faith Hill’s song, Where Are You Christmas.

Where are you Christmas?
Why can't I find you?
Why have you gone away...
My world is changing
I'm rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes, too?

In the case of the song, I believe it was speaking more to the realities of growing up. The natural jading process that creates cynicism within so many of us as we see too much of the world. For many of us, that automatically taints the magic of this season.

For some of us, though, the world changes for more dramatically. Far more quickly. In ways that are beyond the norm. Sometimes beyond the pale. Then Christmas, well, then it can just hurt. A lot.

The truth is that Christmas never leaves. The magic is always there to find. And the song is correct – the love is what creates the magic and holds us fast.

Nevertheless, for everyone who is feeling the stress or the strain or, far worse, the pain, you are not alone. Try to breathe if you can. Remember that the real heart of the season is a light that shines so bright that no shadow will ever overcome it and a love that is more powerful than even death.

Where Are You Christmas?

Where the Treetops Glisten

Throughout World War II, this song came to represent everything that our troops were missing during the holiday season…

Written in the warmer climes of either California or Arizona (there are still two hotels that claim this distinction), Irving Berlin wrote White Christmas in 1940. He realized that it was not only his best song ever, but also reportedly told his secretary that it was the best song that anyone had ever written. However, when Bing Crosby first sang the song on Christmas Day in 1941, just weeks after Pearl Harbor, he really didn’t think much of it. Little did he realize the significance the song would come to have for the world.

Throughout World War II, this song came to represent everything that our troops were missing during the holiday season: I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow… It gave a momentary respite from the horrors of all they were experiencing. And, in spite of his first reaction, Crosby later reflected that the most difficult thing he ever had to do during his career was to sing White Christmas during a USO show in December of 1944 in northern France for around 100,000 G.I.s who were in tears without breaking down himself. The young men went on to fight, and many of them died, in the Battle of the Bulge a few days later. My own uncle was likely there for that show.

And so, on this day, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that will live in infamy, it seems only appropriate to remember all of those brave men and women who served in World War II and all of our foreign wars by sharing this beloved Christmas favorite.

White Christmas

Everybody Knows

The story the song tells is of everything Christmas. The ways the season tantalizes every single sense and revives memories of the past long gone. It is likely all of these reasons that this song remains a central piece each year…

There are few songs more emblematic of the season than The Christmas Song. Earlier today I heard the deep baritone of Nat King Cole begin in my car and I could feel the Christmas tingle spreading all the way to my toes.

When the writers of this well-known classic began working on lyrics, they were merely trying to cool off in the midst of an overwhelmingly hot day in July. Jack Frost sounds amazing when you can’t cool off, after all. And Bob Wells and Mel Tormé say that forty minutes later they had the lyrics to a song.

However, it would not be until a year later when the Nat King Cole Trio recorded the very first version of this song in the summer of 1946 that the quintessential paragon of Christmas music was truly born. It is that original version that is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, even if the 1961 is considered “definitive” by fans.

The story the song tells is of everything Christmas. The ways the season tantalizes every single sense and revives memories of the past long gone. It is likely all of these reasons that this song remains a central piece each year.

For me, just hearing Cole’s voice brings me back to my childhood. Honestly, so does the piano and bass of his trio, too. Mainly because my parents (and I guess me too once I arrived) used to follow around a trio in St. Louis who sounded so much like them it was a little uncanny. We all knew each other well and Mr. Miller, the pianist, actually played not only as the guest star of one of my birthday parties, but also at my father’s funeral when I was a little girl. But I can also still hear Mr. Eaton’s voice, too. And there are always songs for which Cole’s versions will always be my favorite. This being one.

So, to everyone, from one to ninety-two, Merry Christmas, to you…

The Christmas Song

When We Have Lost Our Way

What we want is to be found. To be remembered. To matter…

Among the movies on constant repeat during the holiday season is one lovingly dubbed “the train one” a couple of years ago by my twins. Yes, The Polar Express is included in the Christmas cannon at our house and is on consistent repeat along with a few others. Based upon the beloved children’s book from my own childhood, one of my favorite parts is actually the song from the credits.

Written for the movie by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard, Josh Groban recorded Believe as a part of the original soundtrack. In many ways, the lyrics trace their way through the book’s deeper meaning for all of us grownups who would no longer hear Santa’s sleigh bells. However, they even go a step further than that.

In the second verse of the song, there is a moment in the pre-chorus that refers to “when it seems that we have lost our way, we find ourselves again on Christmas Day.” Perhaps it is the true believer in me, but I honestly suspect that in spite of all the overwhelming emotions that can surround us during this season, all the ways we can feel so lost, even drowning in a sea of heartache, those feelings have more to do with loneliness than anything else.

What we want is to be found. To be remembered. To matter.

And I am convinced that everyone does to someone. Somewhere. Somehow. I honestly believe that. That is the magic of Santa. That is the real miracle of the Christ-child, too. But even here and now, there is some human living on this planet who cares.

I may not know who that is for you, but I do know that you are loved. More than you know. More than you can possibly imagine.

Believe

True Love & Brotherhood (and Sisterhood)

For there is nothing more central to the message of Christ than the love of one another. His birth was no exception. Even from the very beginning his life began a movement to change the world…

One of the older carols on record, sometimes literally referred to as “the old Christmas Carol,” this song has been around since at least the sixteenth century, if not earlier. God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen has been a central part of the cannon seemingly forever.

Depending on the printed edition and the century, the many verses recount the Nativity story, with a first and last verse to crown the tale. And while most people are extremely familiar with the first verse, the last verse does the best job of summarizing the Gospel:

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 others doth deface:
O tidings of comfort and joy...

For there is nothing more central to the message of Christ than the love of one another. His birth was no exception. Even from the very beginning his life began a movement to change the world with a love more powerful than hate, than sin, than evil, than death. That is the light born on Christmas. The tidings of comfort and joy for all the world.

Though Nat King Cole’s version was the standard until quite recently, Pentatonix’s cover has become the new adaptation beloved by many.

Pentatonix Full Version

Pentatonix in the Grinch

Bears the Crown

The honest truth is that in the evergreen holly and ivy (Christ and Mary) we see their endings even in their beginning. Though we may not want to remember the reality, God became flesh for many reasons…

One of my favorite carols from late childhood comes from early nineteenth century England, though the symbolism dates back to the Middle Ages. I first came into contact with this song during my school’s classic Lessons & Carols celebrations, when we originally sang at least thirty to forty carols, most of which came from the British isles.

The Holly and the Ivy is quite the unusual carol in many respects for it is simple, long, repetitive, and does something that most people absolutely do not want to do on Christmas: think about Golgotha. The medieval allegory associating holly with Christ at Christmas time is quite easily explained. However, it is not about the child of Bethlehem. It is the suffering servant on Good Friday. The crown of thorns – thorns on the leaves. Drops of blood – red berries. The bitter bark of the bush – the gall given to Christ on the cross. And the verses of the carol go through all of the symbols.

Then they all go with this jolly chorus: the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer, the playing of the merry organ and the singing in the choir. Talk about some cognitive dissonance once you start to pay attention.

The honest truth is that in the evergreen holly and ivy (Christ and Mary) we see their endings even in their beginning. Though we may not want to remember the reality, God became flesh for many reasons, including to take up the cross. It is good news for us and this song is a way to teach the many important symbols of the crucifixion to believers like a catechism without them even realizing it.

So, as you listen to this simple classic, enjoy learning a few new tidbits and perhaps consider putting out some holly this season.

King’s College Cambridge

Hold Me Together

Part of the reason I love this song is that is nudges us to remember that when we feel like we cannot breathe, God breathes for us…

For some reason this year I just can’t. Perhaps it is the dreams my brain has been sending of my late husband walking through the door, coming home, and walking at that. But every movement towards Christmas feels like I am walking through the ooey-gooey molasses we all use for our gingerbread. Painful steps and slow. Like walking uphill in deep snow. Both ways.

In all sincerity, though, today the song that resonated was one that Brad actually introduced me to that was originally recorded by Amy Grant in the early ’90s. I had never heard it before our choir sang it at our church in South Carolina. And it later was special to me as I was pregnant with the Little Giants over Advent.

Now, I appreciate Breath of Heaven especially for its chorus: Breath of heaven hold me together. Be forever near me, Breath of heaven. Breath of heaven lighten my darkness. Pour over me your holiness, for you are holy, Breath of heaven.

Though I know it is Mary speaking as she faces the unimaginable, I echo the prayer. The need to have God’s Spirit, in Hebrew literally meaning “breath” nearby. I’ve always known that was the only way I was still standing as it was. Now I feel that need in spades.

I know I am not alone in this feeling. It may be for different reasons, but I am all too aware that many are feeling overwhelmed and submerged this season. My promise is that you are not alone. And the best hope I can offer is that you can get through it.

Part of the reason I love this song is that is nudges us to remember that when we feel like we cannot breathe, God breathes for us.

So, if nothing else, just be. You can do this.

Amy Grant Version

The Time is Drawing Nigh

We are meant to shed light into a world full of shadows by the concrete and tangible ways we show God’s love…

One of my favorite Advent choral pieces finally made its way into our latest edition of the Presbyterian hymnal (thank you to our crew who made that little miracle occur). It is based on a traditional blues song entitled, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” which has recordings that date back as far as 1928 with Blind Willie Johnson.

Derived from a parable in the gospel of Matthew, the hymn refers to the importance of being ready to complete one’s work here on earth because we never know when that time will come.

The parable is of the wise and foolish bridesmaids who are meant to wait and watch for the bridegroom. All of them fall asleep. However, half of them have planned ahead enough to bring extra supplies to keep them until morning. The other half have not and become rather indignant and demanding when they realize that their lamps are about to go out.

The parable and the song are a perfect fit for Advent because it is a time when we wait and watch for not only the Christ-child at Bethlehem (we know when that one will happen), but also for Christ’s second coming. We have no clue when that one will occur. Which makes the waiting and the watching all the more difficult. We are quite likely to drift off. And yet, we still had best pay attention enough that our lamps will not go out before Christ arrives.

Those lamps are our faith. They get filled by God, to be sure. Although the light may not be what we often think. The light our lamps shed is the works of love that we do in this world, work this song refers to. We are meant to keep awake, alert, and working until Christ returns. And that is how we are meant to spend our Advent, too – not just shopping, and baking, and decorating (fun as those things may be).

We are meant to shed light into a world full of shadows by the concrete and tangible ways we show God’s love.

So keep those lamps, for the time is drawing nigh…

Dahoo Dores

Christmas (and Advent, too) is about finding our way back to the heart of what truly matters – a place where we count. Where we are included… It is about finding home.

And so the season of Advent begins.

In our house, at least, this means that four movies are on permanent rotation 24-7: Arthur Christmas (2011), The Polar Express (2004), The Star (2017), and The Grinch (2018). We do take breaks to watch a few other things. However, these four are the principals in our holiday season line-up.

While the The Grinch is most famous for a song that originated in its much older Christmas special, which we do watch at least once every year, this newer version has done the most remarkable thing with the Whos’s final Christmas song.

When Dr. Seuss wrote his classic Christmas special (patterned after his famous book), he modeled the Christmas Day singing as a parody of the Latin that so frequently laces our carols. In the midst of these he also inserted key lyrics that grasped at the very heart of Christmas’s true meaning, including: “Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.”

Yet, in this most recent version, the writers added one key line to this final song that, in my opinion, takes the song and the story to an entirely higher level. It concludes with the words “Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home.”

Christmas (and Advent, too) is about finding our way back to the heart of what truly matters – a place where we count. Where we are included. Where our voice and our personhood are valued. Where we find love, whatever that may look like. It is about finding home.

My prayer for all of us this holiday season is that we will find our own hearts growing and our own way to a home where we are welcomed as the beautifully and wonderfully made humans that we are.

Finding Home

What is a home, really?

What is a home, really?

When I was little, I was lucky enough to get to grow up in the same house my entire young life. We actually had that house all the way until after my last parent, my mother, passed from this life five years ago. And I remember when we finally sold that house, it felt as though one of my tethers to this world somehow was gone.

More recently my husband and mother-in-law both passed from this life last year. As part of his grief process my father-in-law gave up the big old family house where my late husband had spent the majority of his childhood. And though I know this one is much more difficult for other members of my family, even for me it feels as though another tether has released.

Just this week, one of my sons actually screamed and cried for twenty minutes during our drive here because he didn’t want to come to Pops’s new house. You see, while some may see a house as just bricks and mortar and wood and insulation, the truth is that it also holds the people and therefore the memories of all that has happened and will occur throughout our lives. In many ways our houses live and breathe as much as we do – they bear up our past, they hold our present, and they vouch-safe our future.

Unfortunately, at some point, all of us will lose our hold on our childhood homes. That is just the way of it. We may even lose many of the people who live with us in them. However, what I have found is that the important cities still hold such a vast array of memories and stories that they make it much easier to keep memories alive. And for me, the best way to do that is by sharing them with the next generation or new additions to the family. Ensuring that the love keeps going.

Because at the end of the day a home is where the love is.