As Advent gives way to Christmas, our carol selection has morphed from austere Advent tunes to enchanted Christmas carols. In the same spirit, last Sunday the ladies took up the purple bows around church and replaced them with red. Our rituals signal how we Christians let the season unfold, Advent into Christmas, like finishing one’s dinner then getting to a dessert whose goodness you’ve craved.
All of us have our own favorite Christmas carol. Go caroling with others and you’ll learn others’ favorites. For they shout them out to be sung as unabashedly as an auctioneer at an estate sale. And they’d be happy to sing that same carol over at every stop, none the poorer for it. And if their favorite carol isn’t sung enough as the season unfolds, they become glum, like an essential opportunity was missed.
What’s your favorite carol? My guess is that yours has a lot to do with childhood memories, family favorites or a carol that emerged in a formative Christmas year.
I have my own favorites and I’m interested in yours as well, and their backstories.
My personal favorite is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” which we will sing on Christmas Eve at all three services. I love it not only because Felix Mendelssohn knows his way around a tune. I like it also because of how in the unique way the last verse joins Christmas together with Easter. Perhaps the only way Christmas could be improved would be by letting it hint at Jesus’ final affirmation at Easter.
“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. Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!” For me it can only be Christmas if we sing “Hark…” with spirit.
Thinking these thoughts reminded me of the writing of Emmet Fox, from his work The Sermon on the Mount. These are words that could resound equally well at a memorial service, where I’ve used them, to Christmas, where I share them now.
“There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer;
no disease that enough love will not heal;
no gulf that enough love will not bridge;
no wall that enough love will not throw down,
no sin that enough love will not redeem…
It makes no difference how deeply seated the trouble;
how hopeless the outlook;
how muddled the tangle;
how great the mistake.
A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all.”
Yes, the true meaning of Christmas is receiving Jesus as this final, defining gift.