Advent week 1: a Christmas post roundup

Considering my interest this year in finding practical ways to observe the rhythms of a healthy Christian life (e.g., giving up checking email on Sundays, taking a quarterly three-hour meditation “retreat”), you might think that I have a great plan to celebrate Advent.  I don’t.  I’m just going to do what I always do, which is to break out my Christmas decorations and music on December 1.  (I actually jumped the gun a little this year–I got my Christmas tea towels out yesterday.  And now for the big confession: I’ve been listening to the Celtic Holidays station on Pandora for weeks.)  But I have decided to write a Christmas post every Monday of the four weeks of Advent.  I have no idea what I’m going to write in most of these posts, but I’ll figure it out as I go.  Some of the posts may be better than others, but won’t that be more exciting than those chocolate Advent calendars that reveal the exact same square of bland chocolate every day?  I think so.

I feel a heavy, but probably totally imaginary, weight of expectation on my proverbial shoulders as I prepare to write these posts because I’ve always made a point of writing excellent Christmas posts ever since I began my blog in 2011, a tradition I’ve kept up even during periods when I’ve largely neglected to post  My first Christmas post , written just days after I started the blog, was short but profound.  Since then, I’ve written about topics as widely varying as A Christmas Carol adaptations, the school shooting that occurred in Newtown, CT, near Christmas in 2012 (a post I didn’t want to write but felt compelled to), Danny Kaye’s socks, a Charles Dickens Christmas story that’s NOT A Christmas Carol, and my bird ornaments.

In college, when I couldn’t figure out how to start a paper, I used to take up a page or more on introducing the topic, telling tangentially related anecdotes, and apologizing for what was to come.  By then, I was already well into my required page count!  I guess I haven’t changed much since then; I basically just did the blog version of that exact thing.  This post won’t be an entire waste of your time, however, if you click on the links in the preceding paragraph.  And I promise not to waste your time in my remaining three Advent posts (and my Boxing Day post!  It’s on a Monday this year).  When I next write to you, I’ll have all my bird ornaments up and will have listened to Harry Connick, Jr.’s When My Heart Finds Christmas (another vintage Penelope post topic) at least once.  See you then.

 

 

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Born to raise the sons of earth

It’s that time of year again when we celebrate the founding of this blog (thanks for another great year, dear readers!) and–far, far more importantly–the advent and incarnation of Jesus Christ.  If you’re new to my blog, I should tell you that each December I write several posts about my favorite Christmas music, movies, experiences, etc.  This year I’m thinking of doing one on Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” but first, I want to tell you about my favorite Christmas hymn.

What’s the Christmas song you’ve known the longest–maybe one associated with your earliest memories of Christmas?  Mine is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  I’m pretty sure there’s a video of me singing snatches of it as a toddler.  It’s really an odd song for a little kid to be singing, because it’s full of weighty doctrine and includes some archaic language.  My understanding of it at the time must have been far from perfect.  I think A Charlie Brown Christmas was the reason I knew it.  Remember how near the end of the show the kids all stick their noses up in the air and “loo, loo, loo” to the tune (all lowering their heads and breathing at exactly the same time)?  Then during the end credits they actually sing the lyrics.

I still love “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” both for the music and for the lyrics.  The tune, by the well-known classical composer Felix Mendelssohn, is the perfect vehicle for the song’s strong message.  It’s both joyful and stately; it’s complex and wide-ranging yet very singable.  You won’t find any creative young worship leaders trying to write a new tune to this song.

And the lyrics, by Charles Wesley, are even better.  In just three verses, this song elucidates the paradox and mystery of Christmas: God, who has no beginning, was born.  The eternal Christ became a human baby named Jesus, yet he remained God at the same time.  The end of the song also tells why he came.  If you want to know what Christmas is all about, you can ask Linus and get a very good answer from the gospel of Luke, chapter 2.  You can also fast-forward to the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas and listen to this song.

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies;

With angelic hosts proclaim,” Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord;

Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail, th’ incarnate Deity!

Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die;

Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.