When the news got too grim, or, other programing too mind-numbing, I found classic carols, new ones, and quiet jazz arrangements of this glorious music comforting. How much greater their comfort as this holiday season closes – it’s as if I am sitting with old friends reminiscing how great the party was we just threw.
Those carols untangle the strands of memories – threads that hold glimpses of grief and joy firmly in place for months and years unravel when certain notes sound – and I am cast back to the times I first heard them. For example, with the first quiet notes of “Silent Night” I am in the choir stall one midnight Christmas Eve service; I look out and see the mother of my friend and fellow junior member. She is fighting back tears; her eldest daughter has given birth to a little girl, Annie, a child born with profound disabilities. At twelve I do not understand how a new born Child of whom we sing will help them.
For melodies that are so familiar, I am sorry to admit how poorly I understood what the Christmas carols were saying – thrilling to their poetry and music – but at a loss understanding what their message had to do with me.
Maybe that’s why Christmas is as much a time of sadness as it is gaiety? We see and hear joyful sounds, but have no joy. We eat glorious foods and are still hungry. Maybe that’s why the Puritans banned “Christmas?”
As much as I complain about its excesses, though, I am glad the Puritans didn’t have the last word. The music of Christmas weaves its magic with memories and expectations of a time of year that seems brightest because the shadows are deepest. Though the carols’ theology may be incomplete, they are a goad – possibly some will keep the treasures of the music in their heart, and ponder, how can this little Child help me?
Verses stayed with me – going into my heart, musical mallets in the Holy Spirit’s determined hand –
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven . . .
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today . . .