The past few years I have developed a mini-tradition of being up by myself through the wee hours of Christmas listening to Christmas music. During that time from 1 a.m. through dawn, I go through the Christmas Pandora music stations that some of you may recall from my Andy Williams Meets Watson and Crick article a few years back. I seem to spend the most time on the Carol of the Bells station I built from George Winston’s version off his magnificent December album. The instrumental versions of traditional songs such as Silent Night, I Saw Three Ships, and O Holy Night go so well during that time when it’s darkest and stillest.
I grew up with these songs being played all the time by my mother beginning when Santa made his annual appearance at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade—the once traditional start of the Christmas season in my childhood house and still in my heart—though Little Christmas. Sitting with just the twinkling lights from our tree listening to a slow piano fill my living room with O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I exult in the tender notes as the words play along in my head. It’s a warm and familiar way to celebrate Christmas that I look forward to now as the day approaches, allowing me to recapture some of the magic of growing up with a Mrs. Claus for a mother.
In fact, I look forward to it so much that I keep my listening to a minimum in December to make that night all the more special. Perhaps that’s something we should all consider as many of us reel from the Christmas season now spanning from mid-October to New Year’s, the sad and inevitable result of retailers conducting their holiday-centric Valentine’s-Easter-4th of July-Halloween-Christmas manic journey through every year. But that’s a discussion for another day.
As I was listening on Christmas morning 2018, I began, really for the first time, to contemplate the words running through my head and how they came to be written. Up to that point they were just songs limited to that very particular time of the year, though certainly very special songs because of that very particular time of the year. Nevertheless, they were just songs, just words I was very familiar with.
The more I contemplated, though, the more I realized they are anything but just songs. It’s one thing to be able to sing, “Come and behold him” in English and “Natum videte” in Latin as almost autonomic responses because there’s a whole section of my brain with both versions of O Come All Ye Faithful permanently etched; it’s entirely another to feel what it means to have the King of angels to behold, no matter what the language is.
Took me almost 60 years to figure it out, but that morning in 2018 I finally got it and I felt awed. Awed by our Savior coming to earth to save us, God as a child born of a virgin in humble surroundings with angels proclaiming it. The intellectual knowing giving way to the emotional knowing. I was awed by the feeling of wanting to shout out how wonderful it is, to explain to others the enormity and the majesty. God, the Lord Jesus, on Earth. I was awed not only by the feeling but also by those who had gone ahead of me through the ages to shout it out, to softly speak it, to loudly and boldly proclaim it, and to reverently tell of the birth of Jesus in song. I finally understood those words I thought I knew so well, but really only recited well.
Now it’s my turn to proclaim it in the way that I can, only I am proclaiming to listen to the words of the religious Christmas songs and feel what their authors felt. I know many have long been where I just arrived, but I suspect there are probably a few stragglers out there like me who need a bit of a nudge. My Christmas present to you: a nudge.
No matter where you are though in this recognition, take some time to give those words a deep listen whether as a traditional arrangement, a New Age variation, or just yourself softly humming or loudly belting them out. The magnitude and wonder of our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth never gets old. That is the message as we celebrate Christmas once again. It truly is a time for wonder and awe.
Merry Christmas, my dear friends, and as my father would say immediately after Christmas dinner grace, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!”