A Charlie Brown Christmas, Appalachian, birth of Jesus, Carol of the Bells, Carrie Underwood, Celtic Woman, Charles Schulz, Charlie Brown, Christ, Christian, Christmas, Christmas carol, Christmas Eve services, Christmas songs, Christmas spirit, Civil War, cold and flu season, compassion, Cuban Missile Crisis, Do You Hear What I Hear?, Elizabeth, faith, folk music, forgiveness, God, Gospel, Greensleeves, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, hope, I Don't Need a Reindeer, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, I Wonder as I Wander, Jesus, Jewish girl, Jewish woman, John Jacob Niles, John the Baptizer, Johnny Cash, joy, Joy to the World, June Carter Cash, Kathy Mattea, Linus, Love, Luke 2:8-14, Maranatha, Martina McBride, Mary Did You Know, Mary. mother of Jesus, Messiah, Michael W. Smith, Moody Blues, O Come O Come Emmanuel, peace, The Preacher's Wife, Transgender, Ukraine, understanding, Vanessa Williams, What Child Is This?, Whitney Houston
I caught a cold or the flu. I started to feel it late Tuesday evening after meeting a dear friend, someone I met through my blog, for lunch. So I missed out on Christmas Eve services at my church. Sometimes I feel better. Then it is like the germs spin a wheel to decide which symptoms they are going to hit me with. So I have had congestion, sneezing fits, coughing fits (which were starting to do a number on my stomach), body aches, lower back and kidney pain and currently feeling somewhat flushed.
But I won’t let it ruin my Christmas spirit. I can see blessing even in the midst of some misery. I know it is better to get this now than in the middle of tax season. And I had no plans for Christmas Day this year. Next year might be different. By then, I am hoping my brother will have come to terms with my true identity and will invite me to spend Christmas with him and his wife. And I have been given a very healthy (if not overactive) immune system. So as long as I take it easy for a few days, I should be okay soon.
Meanwhile, even if it is late in the day, I wanted to extend my best wishes to my readers. I made some wonderful new friends this year who contacted me because of my writing. While not all of these friends identify as Christian, all of them are like me in that we are transgender and that we want to do what is right in God’s sight. Would that I could share with you the amazing conversations we have had, the understandings we have reached, the knowledge we have shared and the misunderstandings we were able to work through. If only we could get a receptive audience at the United Nations to show what is possible when love, peace, forgiveness and understanding are the focus of relationships.
However you may feel about Christmas, and despite the fact that some Christians do not do a very good job practicing these ideals, love, peace, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, joy and hope are the message of the birth of Jesus. But rather than go into sermon mode, I am going to let some songs of Christmas speak the message. Whether than sing along or just listen, I hope you will enjoy them.
To ease into things, I am starting with a song that isn’t religious, but does remind us that Christmas is about love and childlike innocence, not things. It is a relatively new song by a long time favorite group of mine, the Moody Blues.
Another song to set the general mood of good cheer, this carol is based on a Ukrainian folk chant to usher in the new year at a time when Ukraine celebrated the start of the year in April (before Christianity and the Julian calendar came to Ukraine, moving the celebration of the new year to January. The lyrics were rewritten for midwinter instead of spring and then translated into English when the song was introduced to the U.S. in the 1930’s. I love the Celtic Woman version because it features five beautiful, talented women and a melodic choir. And you just have to admire anyone who can play the violin so exquisitely while dancing across the stage in high heel pumps!
It is my understanding that it is the hope and dream of every Jewish girl and woman who is still able to bear children to be the mother of the Messiah, that the baby inside her would be a boy who would be the key to the future of Israel and even all the world. Whether or not you believe that woman has already been chosen, just consider the awesome responsibility that would be. Upon finding out, it would be an honor and answer to prayer. But then the scary reality might come upon you. What if I mess up? Am I up to the task? Am I worthy to be chosen? Like Moses and Isaiah and Elijah and Jonah and many others before her, would she say, “Lord, are you sure you want me for this job?” Add the fact that Mary’s espoused husband was not the father, the Holy Spirit was but who would believe it, and you can see how much faith it took for Mary, this very young woman child, to move forward and accept her role without question.
With the rich and unadorned alto voice of Kathy Mattea, I can picture Mary’s elder cousin Elizabeth, mother of John who would herald the ministry of Jesus, singing this to Mary during the time when Mary tended to her cousin whose pregnancy was a few months further along.
I am going to take a pause in the music for a moment to provide a bit of Bible reading. Even in 1965, the key producers of A Charlie Brown Christmas thought it would be too controversial to include it. But how can you be angry with wise and innocent Linus with his hint of a lisp as the narrator? The special, which many industry veterans thought would be a flop, has become one of the most popular programs of all time, and Linus reading from Luke 2:8-14 was a big part of the popularity. Linus has indeed told Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about.
So we have come to the actual birth event of Jesus. And those who love peace, regardless of religious belief, should resonate with the proclamation of peace on earth, good will toward men (i.e. all mankind). Here we have two songs that echo that desire for peace on earth. The first one was written in October 1962 during the height of the Cuban missile crisis with the fervent hope that peace would prevail while the specter of nuclear war loomed. And not only were the songwriters despairing that peace might be elusive, like Charlie Brown, they were despairing about the growing commercialism of the Christmas holiday. In the 52 years since, Do You Hear What I Hear? has become one of the most covered and biggest selling Christmas songs, and deservedly so.
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day was written almost 100 years earlier, when the United States was threatening to split apart permanently. Originally written as a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was published on Christmas Day 1863 at a time when he was mourning the recent death of his wife in a fire (in which Longfellow suffered significant facial burns trying to save her) and news of his son’s severe wounding a few weeks earlier in battle. Two verses of the poem are rarely sung as they have a darker tone not considered suitable as a Christmas carol. It is a shame, because the contrast becomes even starker between the horrors of war and the beauty of peace.
The poem was first set to music in 1872 and then a more modern arrangement was written in the 1950’s. This version by Johnny and June Carter Cash is to the older tune and features five of the seven verses, albeit in somewhat different order than the original poem and with one verse repeated, the most hopeful final verse that echoed the words of the heavenly host as recorded in Luke 2:14.
Set to the traditional English folk tune, Greensleeves, What Child Is This? asks questions and then answers them as to the unusual events surrounding the birth of Christ.
Jesus didn’t stay a baby forever. Questions followed Him, as they do to this day. Around age 30, He began the ministry that was ordained for Him. He added disciples to His ministry. He taught in parables which He explained more fully to His disciples. Slowly, He began to unfold the details of His purpose. It wasn’t always easy to hear, that the one they had come to love so purely would suffer and die. It was even harder for them to fathom that He would rise from the dead. But without these events, there would not have been a reason for His birth.
I Wonder as I Wander talks about the birth of Christ, but it also asks some of those same hard questions that His disciples were asking. It is based on a snippet of a folk song heard when evangelicals had been ordered by police from the southern Appalachian town of Murphy, N.C., sung by a beautiful but raggedy and unwashed child in exchange for donations on July 16, 1933. American folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles developed this hauntingly beautiful song that has come to be identified with Christmas. While Vanessa Williams is neither raggedy or unwashed, she is beautiful in voice and appearance in this version.
For another year, Christmas Day has come. It is a day for joy to the whole world. I love Whitney Houston’s version of this carol as sung during the movie, The Preacher’s Wife. It is one of my favorite carols in many arrangements, but this version seems to have the most unbridled joy. Indeed, sing of God’s wonderful love and resounding joy in His creation and His desire for mankind. There is nothing else like it.
To conclude this mini online Christmas concert, I have chosen a carol that many would have expected to put at the beginning, not the end. But I am mindful that not all of my readers are Christian or believe in Christ. Even so, God being with us here on earth is something more wonderful than anything else imaginable for those who love the Lord, whether you are awaiting Him to come for the first time or to return. And so in that spirit, we say “Maranatha, come quickly Lord. O come, o come, Emmanuel.”
In closing, the text that Linus recited:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. – Luke 2:8-14
Whether you know Jesus as the Christ, or are seeking the Christ, or seeking truth, please accept my good wishes to you at Christmas time.