Christmas eve is a week from today. Sorry to alarm you, but the reality of the calendar has crept up on us yet again. The temptation to tell you to ‘take time for God amid the hustle and bustle of the season’ is strong, but my sense is that you may not need to hear that. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already trying to take time for God. Perhaps this will help.
I read an article by John Ortberg this week that reminded me, as a leader in ministry, that it’s an easy time of year for me to be inattentive to God, even though it’s supposed to be a time to make us more attentive to God. Let’s face it: there are lots of people outside the church whose attention to God is piqued at this time of year. It’s not always the case with those of us on the inside, myself included.
Strangely (or not), I find my nearness to God increased by snow. Oh, man, you may be thinking, this guy must be from northern Ontario. Of course, you’d be right. But it has less to do with my northern roots, even though I can recall only one ‘green’ Christmas in my entire childhood, and more to do with how the snow brings beautiful Christmas hymnody to my mind.
Everybody has a favourite Christmas carol. I confess to having two, both of which are not on the typical ‘top 40’ lists of Christmas carols. I like one for how the common tune draws the text out, and the other just for the poetry itself. May I share them?
One is See amid the winter’s snow, text by Edward Caswall, tune Humility by John Goss:
See amid the winter’s snow, born for us on earth below,
see, the gentle Lamb appears, promised from eternal years.
Refrain: Hail that ever blessèd morn, hail redemption’s happy dawn,
sing through all Jerusalem: Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Lo, within a manger lies he who built the starry skies;
he who, thronèd in height sublime, sits amid the cherubim. Refrain
Say, ye holy shepherds, say, what your joyful news today.
wherefore have ye left your sheep on the lonely mountain steep? Refrain
“As we watched at dead of night, lo, we saw a wondrous light;
angels singing ‘Peace on earth’ told us of the Savior’s birth.” Refrain
Sacred Infant, all divine, what a tender love was thine,
thus to come from highest bliss down to such a world as this. Refrain
Teach, O teach us, holy Child, by thy face so meek and mild,
teach us to resemble thee, in thy sweet humility. Refrain
The other is In the bleak mid-winter, text by Christina Rossetti, tune Cranham by Gustav Holst (though I love the choral setting by Harold Darke even more):
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
By these carols – not often heard on the radio or in the malls – my attention in this season is drawn back home, where it belongs: to the God whose miracle in Christ we celebrate. Yes, these are some of the darkest days of the year, but there is much to celebrate.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9.2, NIV). May you know the joy of the season: the Light of the World that is Jesus.