“I Love That Line!” by Michael Stephens

CC BY-NC, WanderingtheWorld (www.ChrisFord.com), Flickr

CC BY-NC, WanderingtheWorld (www.ChrisFord.com), Flickr

This is the third post in the “I Love That Line!” series that features writers’ reflections on their favorite Christmas carols. Here I reflect on a line from “The Christmas Waltz.”

Christmas is a season of slowing. In spiritual formation, slowing is the habit of literally slowing ourselves down and resisting haste (Selah). I’m happy that Christmas, specifically, is that rest, like a musical interval, the world uses to breathe and regroup. Holidays of national identity and other observances just aren’t capable of offering the repose we desperately seek.

Instead, it is themes of thankfulness, giving, and spiritual reflection that best express who we are as humans and how we are supposed to function in an essential way. The Christmas season, more than any, helps us rediscover ourselves. I consider it a remarkable work of God and human custom, so good for the soul.

The Christmas Complex

It is why I especially love a line from “The Christmas Waltz”:

“It’s that time of year when the world falls in love,
Every song you hear seems to say
‘Merry Christmas! May your New Year dreams come true.’”

And no one sings it better than Frank Sinatra, for whom it was written. His robust yet silky-smooth voice seems to slice through the apathy and rigor of a year almost done, holding forth something in our faces almost too wonderful to behold, maybe even an invitation—This is what you’ve been seeking.

Why we fall in love with this time of year is something I don’t fully comprehend. It’s so nuanced…and I like it that way. Of course, hardliners will preach, “Jesus is everything about Christmas!” Obviously, the birth story is central to it all. Jesus’s advent is significant for Christians and the unreligious who identify with Christianity. Yet those who understand the role of lore in human culture appreciate the narrative, also.

Simply put, with or without a religious attachment to the season, we still find ways to participate in its wonder.

Christmas transports many of us back to our childhood and the days before we lost our innocence to a life of making a life and the woes that attend it. For others of us, Christmas is a celebration of family and the only time we ever see our families. And who doesn’t love gift-giving, surprises, and festivity with loved-ones?

Christmas is cheerful because we make decisions to set aside grievances, forgive, and show grace (think Snoopy and the Red Baron). Some go even further and find in the season a perfect opportunity for acts of service and humanity to others.

Wonder in a Tune

If there is one expression inclusive of all these significations and the many more we don’t see, it is surely Christmas music—“Every song you hear seems to say, ‘Merry Christmas! May your New Year dreams come true.’”—isn’t that so true?

Christmas music, I think, is one of the quickest ways to get in the Christmas spirit. It gladdens me up instantly, and I think it does the same for many of us. The implication resounds: we seem to derive our greatest joy from motifs of fellowship, love, giving, faith, and family. Undoubtedly, these humanize us and enliven cold hearts that have often calcified with indifference and distress throughout the year.

You see, Christmas may be a single day on the calendar, but the spirit of Christmas can and should be a yearlong reality. “Oh, that we could always see such spirit through the year.” Well that’s a personal choice, and it should wait no longer.

A Christmas done right adequately prepares us for a new year. Our focus has hopefully fixated on substantive things. And for all the rest we’ve desired and forsaken and loved yet lost earlier in the year, we can now set real goals, not mere resolutions, and hopefully fill the new year with more Christmas as we attain them.

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“I Love That Line!” by Guest Writer Lisa A. Tuttle

CC BY, VinothChandar, Flickr

CC BY, VinothChandar, Flickr

This is the first post in the “I Love That Line!” series that features writers’ reflections on their favorite Christmas carols. Lisa A. Tuttle, aka “Sparky”, writer of Hey Sparky! What Time Is It?, reflects on a verse from “Welcome to Our World.”

Okay, call me a sap, but I love Christmas music. Old English carols, traditional church carols, holiday pop music—I like it all.

Well except for that song “Christmas Shoes”.  It brings out my “Grinchiness.” And although the spell checker indicates “Grinchiness” is not a word, I can spell it and use it in a sentence—and admit to it. You know exactly what I mean. So “Stink! Stank! Stunk!” on you, Spellcheck, and fiddle-dee-dee! and fa-la-la!

Anyway, other than the aforementioned song about holiday footwear for deceased family members, I like it all. Typically, I like the older songs a bit more than the newer ones; but that’s a generalization, not a rule. That detail was broken eleven years ago…big-time.

Welcome, Lord Jesus

In July of 2002, a CD was released by a new artist. Oddly enough, he included a single Christmas song on his otherwise non-holiday recording.

I will never forget the first time I heard it. I got goose bumps listening to this song with lullaby for a tune, sung by a voice that felt like warm honey. The words were simple yet powerful and unlike anything I’d heard before. It stirred a deep aching in me and brought tears to my eyes. All these years later, it still has that effect on me.

The song is “Welcome to Our World” by Chris Rice.

The lyrics of this song are beautiful and replete with a haunting sweetness. The last stanza explains why Jesus came and what it meant for him to do so.

 “So wrap our injured flesh around you;
Breathe our air and walk our sod.
Rob our sin and make us holy,
Perfect Son of God.”

Identified with Us

The Delight of Heaven laid aside the glory of his deity to become a baby and assume our human frailties.

My frailties.

Instead of being worshipped and adored by angels, he became surrounded by rough-skinned, wounded-hearted humans. He wrapped himself in an earth suit prone to breakage and damage.

It’s a mind-blowing thought that God could now be bitten by a fire ant or drink contaminated water and spend the next week running to the waste pit. He could get a sore throat or drop something heavy on his toe and lose his toenail. He could get one of those maddening itches in the middle of his back, the kind you can never reach and isn’t really satisfied by scratching anyway.

Somehow this both comforts me and offends me. I’m offended because I know who he is and what he deserved. A smelly stable birth doesn’t qualify. A fallen body doesn’t qualify. The company of bitter religious men doesn’t qualify. A government hostile to his people doesn’t qualify.

Jesus, the Humble Servant

Yet Jesus knew it would be that way and he came anyway. In the most helpless, dependent form possible, he came and then lived among us submitting to the processes of the human body, soul, and spirit. He didn’t skip puberty; he didn’t skip the mean kids on the playground; he didn’t skip catching colds; he didn’t skip outgrowing his shoes.

He became one of us and never once threw down his “God Card”, not even when he was surrounded by aggressors and betrayers who closed their eyes to the wonder of what a man rightly related to God could do. The signs, wonders, and miracles he showed them meant nothing to them when his goodness threatened their personal religious kingdoms.

When darkness prompted those same aggressors and betrayers to publicly accuse, humiliate, torment, and kill him, he didn’t fight them; instead he voluntarily gave up his very life-breath—and made an incomprehensibly amazing transaction.

Born to Save

Jesus took our diseases, grief, and death-destiny and gave us in return his holiness, cleanness, and honored heavenly position. He made a way to the Father for us that cannot be cancelled or blocked by darkness. He robbed the power of sin leaving it destitute and slack-jawed; and he watched as all that is good and perfect about him was transferred to us as a gift. Ours is an identity we could not achieve for ourselves.

But on that first day when Mary held him, grunting and squeaking in her arms, who could have known any of this?

Indeed, welcome to our world.

Read more by Lisa at her blog Hey Sparky! What Time Is It? 

“Hard Candy Christmas”

This week The ‘Mike’ is reflecting on Christmas music. I’d like to share this one with you before starting. You might know it already—“Hard Candy Christmas” by the great Dolly Parton. I love this song. It’s a tender tear-jerker, not unlike Dolly’s delicate voice and emotional delivery.

A ‘hard candy Christmas’ described the holiday for a family so poor that parents could only afford a cheap bag of hard candies to give to their kids; and Christmas was the only time for such a splurge.

My hope is that you’ll think of someone else this season, if only by remembering them in your prayers. Everyone’s not happy like most of us, for different reasons. And many are like the narrator of this song—just getting by.

Yet circumstance doesn’t have to take the merriment out of Christmas. Listen and reflect.

Christmas Series—“I Love That Line!”

CC BY-NC, emily.bluestar, Flickr

CC BY-NC, emily.bluestar, Flickr

Once again The ‘Mike’ is celebrating the holiday by showcasing the writing of its friends. The Christmas week will feature me and three guest writers all reflecting on our favorite Christmas tunes. Who doesn’t love Christmas music, right? So if you do, chime in with us and share your thoughts. Let me introduce you to my guests.

Lisa A. Tuttle, aka “Sparky”, is the writer of the whimsical Hey Sparky! What Time Is It? I’ve described her blog as “a little humor that gets T-boned by profound truth (and vice versa)”—and it’s true. I’m always smiling (or laughing) after reading Lisa’s posts, or reeling from the rich insight she whips out. I cannot wait to see what she’ll share with us.

Kathleen Becker is the writer of Coming2Him. I wanted Kathleen as part of this series because her writing is perspicuous, sincere, and richly insightful. That kind of writing enjoined with this season is a recipe for a meaningful reflection. If you aren’t familiar with Coming2Him, I’m happy to introduce you.

Nate Smith is the writer of Breaking the Silence. I love Nate’s eclectic style, genuineness, and determination for God. Nate’s writing is sometimes light and fun and at other times very probing, intimate, and honest. His blog features a little of everything: poetry, travelogue, confession, reflection, and devotion. Let’s see how he’ll reward us!

I hope you’ll return and share a little of our Christmas spirit. By the way, what is one of your favorite Christmas songs or lines?

Do You Hear What I Hear?

CC BY-NC, smadness, Foter

CC BY-NC, smadness, Foter

A news report covered locals polled on their thoughts about all-Christmas music radio schedules started early in November. Most people felt that it was simply too soon for Christmas music and would appreciate it more following Thanksgiving. I found myself agreeing, already having my two favorite stations jingling all the way before Halloween costumes were packed away good. But my opinion has changed.

Maybe we don’t have to reject Christmas music because thankfulness is too difficult a theme for us capitalists to convert—and since Thanksgiving presents none of the flare and seasonal accoutrement Christmas does. Perhaps we have been blinded by the overwhelming commercialism of Christmas and do not notice that we love about Thanksgiving the same things we enjoy about Christmas yet don’t celebrate but for a day.

The Power of a Wish

When I consider these conjoined holidays, something like a domino effect occurs in my thoughts. I think of a wish, in all its magical wonder and good fortune, with the power to cram a tike’s toy list as well as a heart hoping for a soldier’s return. A wish tends toward indulgence, of heart and mind, and sets the imagination free to run—How nice it would be to have snow. How cool it will be to see auntie. How healing reconciliation could be.

Every now and then a catharsis of unrestrained delight, if only wishful thinking, becomes essential to well-being. Sweets are so commonly a way we tangibly make this point. Whether it is the pumpkin pie we overeat at Thanksgiving or the simple proof that we often make our most uninhibited wishes over ornately beautiful cakes, we cannot get around the deeper fact that we crave a certain kind of significance and playfulness that measures in more spiritually appeasing ways than the dollars we earn and the possessions we accumulate.

Snow. Family. Friends. Food. Fun. Laughter. ‘Tis the season to go crazy wishing upon every star to be found because it is the only one in which we feel it safe enough to indulge the guiltless pleasures that do the most for us, which is humanize us. And opposite any religious significance we choose or do not choose to draw from the season, it is the spirit of this time that enthusiastically lends itself to being repeated any other time of the year.

Until There’s Thanksgiving Music…

Thus, we get lighthearted when Christmas music plays because it encapsulates everything we cherish about both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It open-handedly offers us those missing spiritual elements we’ve longed for all year and wrests us free from the grind of making lives for ourselves to simply enjoying those lives for once.

Christmas music is a gladdening music that sadly gets squeezed into a corner of the year. I get why people spurn its play in November, but to dissociate the themes in the music from Thanksgiving may be a false dichotomy because thankfulness is the touchstone of both holidays.

So that’s why I’m already listening. I can’t help myself.