For unto YOU is born this day a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord!
- Luke 2:11
On this Christmas Eve, as weve done so often in the past, our church will observe the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols. With appropriate Scripture readings interspersed with anthems and familiar carols, our pastor, choir and congregation will proclaim together the story of The Long-Expected Jesus.
Its a lovely service, and Im happy to be a part of it. But for anyone - singer, pastor, Sunday School teacher or organist - who has ever participated in a high-involvement Christmas program, you can identify with the weariness that comes with all those angels, shepherds and alleluias. Perhaps you, too, long for a way to tell this great story in the grand style we enjoy so much without flaws and fatigue.
One year, following an especially well-presented program, I was struck by a thought. I had been the accompanist for the entire service, yet I hadnt missed a cue or made an error noticeable enough for even one moment of regret - a claim I cant always make. Also, with less stress musically, at times I was so caught up in the message we were presenting I could hardly hold back the tears.
Thats when it hit me: What if I couldnt do this, couldnt play the organ, had no outlet like the church through which to express this important part of my life? And what if the message sacred music conveys were not the joyful news of the Messiah, at Christmas or anytime during the year?
Quietly the fatigue and the never-agains began to fade, and I thanked God for the spiritual and musical journey he had led me through. Later, as I reviewed the Nine Lessons experience, I wondered: Could I turn this experience inward and come up with a list of nine lessons Ive learned over a lifetime of Christmases?
It took some time, but finally I had a list that, like those changing anthems and carols in our programs each year, may change as the years go by. Sometimes my lesson is heartwarming; often it signals some needed self-correction. But if I could add a subtitle, I might call my list: The Difference Between God and Me, meaning, how much of what happens during the Christmas season is up to me and how much is up to God. Answering that question helps me define how much time will be required, and how much, thankfully, I dont have to assume.
Heres my list for 2003, different from the one I wrote five or six years ago when the idea was new, because my responsibilities - and my energy level - have changed.
1. Though he may have a role for me to perform, God doesnt need me to put the Christmas message across. The One who moved on the face of the waters at creation (Genesis 1:2), and enabled a young virgin to bear the Son we now proclaim, is still capable of planting his message in human hearts without my help.
2. Applying the Christmas message to my own life, instead of worrying about how well Im relating it to others, transforms everything connected with Christ-mas and spawns more lessons.
3. I dont need to attend every concert, accept every party invitation or take on new responsibilities when responsibilities are greater than usual.
4. The value of a gift given or received bears little resemblance to its cost or the time taken to acquire it.
5. Having someone to belong to is better than giving to or getting from.
6. Status doesnt depend on the number of cards mailed or guests entertained.
7. The more lavish the gifts and extreme the schedule, the less joy in the heart.
8. The more carols sung, children held and gratitude expressed, the more peace and joy in the heart.
9. The more entrenched the first eight lessons are, the less anxiety when the work collects, the traffic jams, the stores crowd and the clerks dont smile.
Have a joyful, restful Christmas!
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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