I wish I could bottle the feeling of our church's "Deck the Halls" service yesterday. For the years that my family has lived in McKinney, our church's annual service that ushers in the Christmas season has been a definite favorite of mine.
I am usually far from being in the "Christmas spirit" when I go to the service. And sometimes feeling far from peaceful. On the contrary, I am usually feeling a little stress because I love Thanksgiving so much, and that particular holiday is so often pushed to the side in the mad dash to Christmas.
My favorite part of this annual service is the live Nativity scene acted out by very young children in the church. From Mary looking down at the baby Jesus in her arms, to all the tiny bare toes peeking out from under the costumes, it is pure joy to watch.
It makes me remember that the true Christmas is not the Christmas we can see around us, most often. It is found in our hearts, not at the local mall.
Last year, I found myself in a similar state of mind as Thanksgiving rolled around. I discovered a new favorite Christmas cd, though, in Casting Crowns' release of "Peace on Earth". Largely due to a new arrangement of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", this disc quickly became a mainstay in my car last December.
Lead singer Mark Hall describes how he wrote the arrangement based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous carol (originally a poem, "Christmas Bells"). Instead of using actual bells in the song, he immediately thought of children singing. Those pure, clear voices take us to a place of innocence, a time of redemption.. they remind us to hope, though we may be in deepest despair.
You see, when Longfellow penned those words on Christmas Day, 1864, America was still caught in the throes of the Civil War. America was still months away from Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th 1865. His poem reflected the prior years of the war's despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace. Longfellow had also tragically lost his wife Fanny a few years prior, and his son Charles had just been badly injured in the war. He was feeling far from peaceful that lonely Christmas Day himself. Yet through the clear sound of the Christmas bells, his heart found hope.
As our pastor reminded us yesterday, the service is not just about readying the worship center with greenery and decorations in preparation of the season... the true preparations are in readying our hearts to usher in this blessed holy Season. The celebrations should all point the way to God's most precious Gift to mankind... his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
May you be blessed with God's Peace this Christmas season.
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does He sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail
With Peace on Earth, Good-will to men...