For me, it’s the music and lights that still touch me.
I can take or leave (mostly leave) the malls, commercials, and busyness of the Christmas season…and I think I can fairly say that it wears on us all from time to time. We always run the risk of getting swamped in the obligations, decorations, and schedules; but there usually those certain “activators” (smells, sights, sounds) that lock it in.
When I hear “O Come All Ye Faithful”, it’s the Methodist Church in Aurora, Nebraska on Christmas Eve. We’re all slammed into one pew—Grandpa, my whole family, and my Aunt and Uncle’s family…and we’re trying as hard as we can to sing through the laughter because the woman behind us is singing off-key. The parents are starting to stare at us, but that woman is belting it out…singing for all she’s worth: O Come let us adore Him, Chriii-iiiiii-st the Lord! She doesn’t care one bit about us or anybody else.
The large, ceramic blub Christmas lights makes me think of a large spruce tree on the southeast corner of N Street and 18th Street in that same town. Every December for years, that spruce tree was full of those bulbs thanks to my other Grandfather…even though the tree just kept growing. The city helped him one of the last years of his life with a cherrypicker to reach the top. At one of the first places I called “home”, my apartment in Olathe, my first December purchase was a string of old-style ceramic bulbs to wrap around our apartment balcony as an homage.
“Silent Night” places me in a dark room in an assisted living facility in Dubuque, Iowa. The room is filled with people who either don’t remember at all or remember entirely too much. They light candles for those they miss…those gone before. They light them slowly because they can’t see very well through the tears. But they sing; even the ones who struggle when asked what year it is. They know every single word as they sing the old hymn asking for heavenly peace.
The candles of our Advent Wreath remind me of a special Christmas in Colorado just a few years ago. The snow fell heavy on Christmas Eve…one of those thick windless snows straight out of a movie. The church had an advent wreath in the middle of the courtyard there that Advent…and the battery-operated candles shone from underneath the new snow. The last thing I did that Christmas Eve was turn them off and stand in the silence of the new snow…full of gratitude and the quiet of new snow.
Mom played “The Little Drummer Boy” one time in our living room lit only by the tree…I eventually fell asleep on the couch listening to the words and looking at the pearl-white nativity Mom kept in the living room. My sisters were long gone to bed…but I was still up. I couldn’t wait.
And now there’s Nat King Cole. I believe I told several of you that an 11:00 pm Christmas Eve communion service was one of my favorite Christmas traditions growing up. I loved that evening gathering…and I was excited and nervous to share it with my new family here at Northminster. To calm my nerves, I decided to cue up Nat’s smooth voice as I prepared the sanctuary for Christmas Eve here at Northminster…and I sang along to “The Christmas Song” as I collected candles and looked forward to a tradition renewed with a new church family.
It is Advent, friends…and it can be a mixed bag of memories, emotions, and stresses. My prayer this December is that you have those moments, bittersweet though they may be sometimes, that remind you of God’s great love for us. A love that is passed down for generations. A love that brings peace even when we grieve. A love that shines even from underneath the layers of cold. A love of anticipation…a realization. A love that reminds us of traditions even in new places.
A love seen in light and song…made real in the manger…and in those eternal reminders that God, in Christ, is always with us.