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    Gathering / Growing

    Deconstructing “O Holy Night”

    Christmas carols can become like elevator music, just filling the background of events we attend in December. Many of those songs I’ve heard so many times they sound cheesy. And some of them are! But if you stop and really listen, a few of them share the deepest insights to what’s important and why we celebrate – the Christmas holiday or any other part of life.

    The older songs, the ones that sound more like hymns, are written much differently than how we speak today. But their words transcend us beyond the gifts under the tree or the snow we hope to see outside. Their words connect us to God and to all mankind.

    My favorite older carol is “O Holy Night.” When people go caroling, I don’t think they sing the last verse as often. But it is the best one; the most powerful. Here are the words of that verse.

    Truly He taught us to love one another.
    His law is love and His gospel is peace.
    Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother.
    And in His name, all oppression shall cease.
    Sweet hymns of joy, in grateful chorus raise we
    Let all within us praise His holy name.
    Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we.
    His power and glory evermore proclaim.

    What do you think of those words? I’d like to break down each phrase with you now.

    1. Truly He taught us to love one another…

    Even if you didn’t grow up with teachings from the Christian faith, my hope would be that your family demonstrated to you the most important value of loving others. Almost all of us were taught “The Golden Rule” and the belief of love and respect for ever human being.

    ***Side Note*** I know that sentence might sound naive considering the hate we see around us on the news and social media. Trust me when I say, I’m not blind to it. In spite of the more extreme situations, most people want to be loved and to love others. It’s intrinsic to the way the Creator made the created. Some people are just so screwed up or deceived that they can’t show love at all. That’s why I believe our communities need demonstrations of love more than ever before. Cue the Beatles song, or better yet, this Bible verse: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

    I love that we think about a deeper love (more than just the romanticism of Valentine’s Day) a little more during the Christmas season. I’m also sad that many people feel the absence of love a little more during the holidays.

    Still, that awareness of love and the need for love gives us a greater opportunity to share it with even strangers. And it will probably be better received too. People are much more receptive to us striking up conversations with them or handing out gestures of kindness (like hot cocoa or christmas cards) just because of the grandness of the holiday season in our culture. Why not take advantage of that and reach out!

    We don’t have to be as scared of the awkwardness we anticipate interacting with new people. We should just go for it knowing that the people we pass in public are probably longing for connection this holiday season more than we can even imagine!

    2. His law is love and His gospel is peace….

    Although many have used their beliefs to divide people and even justify violence, God’s law is “love the Lord your God with all your heart….and love your neighbor as yourself.” This makes life so simple. Really. Our lives and our relationships should reflect this, especially for someone like me who proclaims the Christian faith.

    I’m not saying I can be the best of friends with people who inherently oppose my beliefs or who are deliberately hateful. But I can still love the people who set themselves up as my enemies. I can still be at peace with anyone around me as far as it concerns me.

    During His ministry in Israel, it was recorded that Jesus prayed a phrase I’ve paraphrased- “Let them love in such a way so that the world will know that you sent me!” He wanted the testament of His followers to be their love for Him and for others. If I’m known for anything at the end of my life, I want it to be for the relationships I’ve formed plus the love and kindness I showed to everyone because of God’s work within me.

    3. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease…

    Wow! I’m always undone by this line. There’s little else to be said. Just read it again. Then, read it one more time and let it sink in. This Christmas carol was written in the 1800’s when views on slavery were very different from today. This carol was a bold stance against slavery and a proclamation of God’s desire for reconciliation and equality. There’s a wonderful Bible verse, Galatians 3:28, that I’ve shared below using The Message version: 

    “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.

    I believe in the end, God will bring justice to all injustices, and He will lift up and heal the outcasts, the oppressed, the weak, and the downtrodden. That’s why this line of the song is SO powerful, spiritual, and truth-filled. But in this exact moment, not just in the future, I can do my part to bring down divisions within communities and relationships. I can reach out and build relationships with people who are mistreated and oppressed. I believe that’s what He’s called us to do.

    4. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise His holy name…

    Let’s not cease in the giving of thanks just because Thanksgiving has passed. Let’s not allow the rest of the holiday season to be filled with materialism. Let’s be continually thankful for our lives, our relationships, and for God’s love for us. So much so, that we must break out into song! We DO have reasons to celebrate, and even to be jolly. We can look back on the year knowing God was with us and we’ve grown through each season. No matter if it was a banner year or a harder one. We can also carry this kind of sweet spirit into the new year. Remember, joy is not the same as happiness. It’s not circumstantial. It’s an inner state, or spiritual possession, for a person.

    5. Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we. His power and glory evermore proclaim…

    I believe the best elements of the Christmas holiday are much more than gifts. Even more than time with family, at the core of Christmas is the reflection on a Savior coming to be near to mankind and to reconnect them to God. It’s a time to reflect on the Peace on earth Jesus Christ desires for us. I celebrate the beauty and glory of God. In World War II, countries put a pause on the war just because it was Christmas. Even if those Decision Makers didn’t celebrate a belief in Christ, the longing for peace and to focus on something greater than themselves– to make things whole–it’s in all our hearts.

    I am thankful for the holiday season for many reasons. I’m thankful for the energy it brings, causing us to scout out the best gifts for those we love. It inspires many of us to make amazing food or at least the chance to eat special food. I’m thankful for the parties and traditions. I’m thankful for the pause and reflection. I am thankful many people across the world recite and remember the birth of my Savior. I want to boldly share about how He has changed my life. “His power and glory I will evermore proclaim” hoping you’ll be encouraged by the way His love has encouraged me! I also hope you enjoy many of these joyous wonders this holiday season.

  • Growing

    Stand Up for What?

    I walked around at a festival full of people, booths, and activities representing many cultures and organizations. Needless to say, it was a dream for anyone who is an observer, wanna-be anthropologist, journalist, or people-watcher. I passed by one…