Having grown up in a Jewish family, Christmas was not for us. We celebrated Hanukkah around the same time of year which has its own sense of wonder and celebration to it, and since it lasts for eight days and Christmas only one, as a kid we considered we got the better end of the season. But my perspective changed when I experienced my first Christmas after becoming a believer. I attended a Christmas luncheon held by Christians. After lunch we began to sing some carols. I had sung them in school and my whole life since. Singing Christmas carols were to me part of being an American. It's what America did, like Thanksgiving.
But on my first Christmas after becoming a believer, as we began to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King!” I burst into tears. I had never really known what those words meant before. They had been just words to a Christmas song, with no more meaning to me than Jingle Bells. But now…. I’m all choked up again as I write…. But now it was about my Jesus, about my Lord. He had come to me and given me the grace to receive Him into my heart…and I now knew what it meant for Him to be my King! To this day, I cannot sing that song without floods of worship tears streaming down my face. As the music continued, my heart beat with love and gratefulness that He entered the human experience and became one of us, so that even I could become one with Him. Celebrating Him as a baby, maybe not. But celebrating the incarnation – that God loved us that much – oh, yes! As I listened to the music, and sang along when we were asked to, I pondered the words.
While the world under Rome may not have in solemn stillness lay, still rejoicing angels, maybe hundreds of them, assembled in the sky above the shepherds (not the priests in the temple, but shepherds in the fields – oh how humble our God can be!). They heralded the newborn King through whom we would experience God and sinners reconciled. It is indeed reason to shout, All ye nations rise; join the triumph of the skies. Whatever takes place in the affairs of humankind on the earth God is triumphant and His will shall be done! It’s enough to cause all heaven and nature to sing. And oh, how I want to see every heart prepare Him room, to know the joy that we who are His share now and will share forever.
Years later, I was one of many who gathered for a presentation of Handel's Messiah. And though I knew few who were in that large crowd, we had all come as the faithful, and for that night at least, we were joyful and triumphant. While life in the here and now might be difficult for some, this night we were singing in exultation as citizens of heaven above. I wouldn’t be surprised if choirs of angels had joined us as we sang from our hearts, Come let us adore Him! We concluded the evening with a royal finale fit for The King, the instruments praising Him as we sang the parts of the Hallelujah Chorus. I remembered Handel had said when he finished writing it that the room was filled with angels. While I didn’t see any, I’m pretty sure they were there, singing Hallelujah with us.
Christmas certainly isn't just about the music. In this season, when people are friendlier, more generous, more concerned for the well-being of those in need, when those who know Him reach out to those who don’t more than they might ordinarily, when the Kingdom of God seems to have settled down like freshly fallen snow upon our world to make it brighter, I for one am in favor of this thing called Christmas. It reminds me of the majesty of God’s humility in becoming one of us, even as a baby, in order to rescue us. And it makes me oh so grateful that I too have been cleansed from all that was unworthy of Him and have been made acceptable to my my Lord and King.
May the Glory of God which reigns in the highest be manifest in your lives in this season and always.