Happy to be Here — Listen and let the songs play

Published 3:54 pm Friday, December 2, 2022

As the song says, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Nature sets the stage with starlight and moonlight. Human hands decorate it with lights and ornaments. Hearts and minds gather together, anticipating joy and fun. If you lend an ear to the season, you’ll discover it’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas, too.

Listen, and let the songs play in your mind as I mention them. Let’s begin with some traditional Christian hymns and carols.

Advent, a season of preparation before Christmas, comes first. Advent’s longing is plaintively expressed in the centuries-old hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” The refrain offers this promise: Emmanuel shall come to thee.

Then, there’s the mystery of Christmas Eve, which arrives to the refrains of “Silent Night,” with verses that mention the calm, the glory, and God’s love. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” begins in stillness, whispers as the holy gift arrives, and finally shouts its glad tidings. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” remembers the angels who proclaimed, Peace on Earth, goodwill to men. Its third verse admonishes us today, more than two thousand years later, to hush and hear the angels sing.

Christmas morning finds expression in “Joy to the World!” Let heaven and nature sing, indeed. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” encourages us to draw near and adore the infant in the manger. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” announces joy and reconciliation for all nations.

More modern compositions add their own layers to the familiar story. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” written during the 1960s by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne has been performed by many artists. Its verses evoke the star, a song, a child, and a prayer for peace. “Mary, Did You Know?” written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Breen has also been performed by various artists. One version I like is by Pentatonix. The lyrics blend the wonder of Jesus’s birth with references to episodes from later in his life, exploring the deeper meaning of the baby’s arrival. David Meece wrote and performed one of my favorite seasonal offerings, “One Small Child.” The song’s verses linger in awe of the infant who is visited by shepherds and kings.

A host of tunes celebrate in other ways. Some well-intentioned Christian people grumble about seasonal songs that aren’t overtly religious. They seem to perceive a need to keep the holiday out of secular hands rather than sharing sentiments that can carry meaning from multiple perspectives. Let me offer a remedy. If you’re seeking a message of faith, listen to the songs through ears that are willing to receive such messages. Here are two examples.

The festive “Frosty the Snowman” offers a joyful dose of seasonal magic and the encouragement to make the best of each day. Pay attention and you’ll notice that the lyrics celebrate the mystery of new life, and they promise resurrection. It’s hard to find themes that are more aligned with a Christian focus.

Or, think about “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” You know the story. It features a principal character who lives outside established norms. It advocates the acceptance of those with differences. Then the hero goes on to bring light that shows others the way through the foggy darkness. Sounds like a pretty Christ-like activity to me.

Sharing the season also means respecting traditions related to various other holidays that are celebrated at this time of year. There’s Bodhi Day (the Buddhist celebration of enlightenment on 12/8), Hanukkah (which begins at sundown on 12/18 this year), Yule (a winter festival with varying beginning and ending times), the Winter Solstice (this year 12/21), and Kwanza (a week-long holiday celebrating African culture that begins on 12/26). All these celebrations include musical expressions. Listening to the tunes and lyrics provides an opportunity to discover and honor many important themes that unite our global human family.

Jesus, the child born at Christmas, grew up to tell his followers to love their neighbors. Perhaps one way to do this is to sing along and share the joy.

However you celebrate the holiday season and whatever it means to your family, I hope you “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.