"For unto you is born this day . . . a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord!"
- Luke 2:11
For more years than I can count I have either attended or participated in the traditional Christmas program known as "Nine Lessons and Carols." With appropriate Scriptures interspersed with anthems and familiar carols, readers, musicians and congregations alike proclaim the story of "The Long-Expected Jesus."
For a number of those Christmases I also remember how weary I was after the hallelujahs had been sung and the music put away.
If you are a church musician or Sunday School teacher, or have experienced even one high-involvement Christmas program, I suspect you, too, wish this wonderful story could be presented without flaws and fatigue - and minus the New Year's resolution: Next year I'm either starting rehearsals in July or sitting in the pew!
But one year, following just such a performance, I had a startling thought. I was the organist for the entire service, yet I hadn't missed a cue or made an error noticeable enough for even one moment of regret - a claim I can't always make.
At times I was so caught up in the message we were portraying I could hardly hold back the tears.
That's when it hit me: What if I couldn't do this? What if I couldn't play the organ, had no outlet through which to express this important part of my life? And what if the message sacred music expresses were not the joyful news of God's gift to mankind, at Christmas or anytime throughout the year?
In stream-of-consciousness fashion the what-ifs continued: What if I hadn't been raised in a musical family, or learned to play this marvelous instrument? What if that family hadn't channeled their interests toward sacred music, but chosen another field to display their talents? I couldn't imagine missing the hymns and hallelujahs, or the company of those who join me in such endeavors from one to several times a week.
Suddenly the fatigue and the "never-agains" faded, and I thanked God for the journey he has led me through. Later, as I mentally replayed my most recent "Nine Lessons" experience - the annual presentation at the Sacred Heart Cultural Center - I had another thought: Could I take that formula personally and come up with nine lessons I had learned in a lifetime of Christmases, musically or otherwise?
It took some time, but finally I had a list that, like those changing anthems in our programs each year, may change as time goes by. I also made my list more personal by adding the subtitle: "The Difference Between God and Me," or how much of what happens at Christmas is up to me, and how much is up to God.
Here, with some revision since that first list nearly 10 years ago, are my lessons for 2006:
-- Though he may choose to work through me, God doesn't need me to put the Christmas message across. The one who enabled a young virgin to bear the child we call "The Son of God" (Luke 1:35) is still capable of planting his message in human hearts without my help.
-- Applying the Christmas message to my own life, instead of worrying about how well I'm relating it to others, transforms every other Christmas experience.
-- I don't have to attend every concert, accept every party invitation, or take on new responsibilities while my family and music responsibilities are already greater than usual.
-- The value of a gift given or received bears little resemblance to its cost or the time taken to acquire it.
-- Belonging to - family, friends, church, etc. - is better than giving to or getting from.
-- Status isn't measured by the number of cards mailed, cookies baked, or guests entertained.
-- The more lavish the gifts and extreme the schedule, the less joy in the heart.
-- The more carols sung, children held and gratitude expressed, the more joy in the heart.
-- The more entrenched the first eight lessons are, the less anxiety when the work collects, the traffic jams, the stores crowd, and the clerks don't smile.
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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