Monday, December 7, 2020

Cheer Our Spirits

Pop quiz, Hotshot! (That's my homage to the trivia podcast Good Job, Brain and the movie, Speed, where the quote comes from.)

Question: What do the following have in common?

  • Slimy River Bottom
  • Never Hit Your Grandmother with a Great Big Stick
  • Dirty, Dirty Me I'm Disgusted with Myself
  • Will You Love Me When I'm Old and Ugly?

Answer: They are all songs that Charlene Darling told her Pa that she didn't want to hear sung because they made her cry. (from The Andy Griffith Show, for those of you who are too young to remember or not from the South!)

I don't really know what it says about me, but unlike Charlene, I don't shy away from music that produces tears. Instead, I tend to gravitate toward it.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I search for songs that will cause warm, salty fluid to flow down my face. But whether it is the voice, the harmonies, the instrumentation, the arrangement, the lyrics, or the worship, music is a powerful emotional catalyst for me.

It should come as no surprise, then, that some of my favorite Christmas songs are in the minor key, songs like O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

(Do yourself a favor. Take five minutes to listen to Margaret Becker's haunting version, dry your eyes, maybe even wipe your nose, then come back and finish reading.  And for those of you who prefer instrumentals, here is a recording of my son, Wyatt playing the song last December.)

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is the oldest song that any of us have ever heard. The hymn, originally composed in Latin, was written in the twelfth century, based on an even older set of prayers, and probably sung by monks as a chant.

The tone of the music is obvious, but if you listen closely, you will realize that its lyrics are also far removed from our "normal" joyful celebrations of Christmas.

As we sing...

  • We put ourselves into the place of captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.
  • We pray to be set free from Satan's tyranny and to be saved from depths of Hell.
  • We ask our coming Lord to disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death's dark shadows put to flight.

I mean, Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas it's not.

Some might consider the words to be too glum or depressing for the season. But the reality is that even in Christmases that are filled with joy and health and plenty, there can still be difficulties.

But this is 2020, the year that Time magazine this week will declare to be "the worst year ever."

It's probably not, by the way. I'm pretty sure 536 A.D., when a dense fog, believed to be caused by a massive volcanic eruption, plunged half of the world into total darkness... for eighteen months - I'm guessing that was worse!

But 2020 is the worst year of most of our lifetimes.  As I have already said many times this year, "All of us have lost something, some much more than others." And so, this Christmas, the hymn's words only seem apropos.

This year, we have caught a glimpse of Satan's tyranny, and we long for God to send away death's dark shadows. We yearn for the day when God's Kingdom will come, and His justice will prevail. Even more, we anticipate the moment when God will personally wipe every tear away from our eyes.

Advent and Christmas remind us that we don't just need Jesus' first coming; we desperately need His second coming as well.

But as we long for Emmanuel's return, there is still so much that we don't understand.

  • Why do the innocent suffer?
  • Why does evil have opportunity?
  • Why doesn't God make things better right now?

While we don't know the answers, we do know Emmanuel, which means "God with us."

And that's exactly what He promises:

"Be sure of this: I am with you always..." (Matthew 28:20 NLT)

"What's more, I am with you, and I will protect you..." (Genesis 28:15 NLT)

"Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail your nor abandon you." (Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT)

We mourn for the brokenness in our world. We long for God to make us whole. But we also know that this is not the end of the song. The hymn's chorus reminds us that we can rejoice. We rejoice because Emmanuel has come to us. God is with us!

And He is coming again!

So, dry your eyes... unless you're just being moved by some really good music. In that case, let it flow, let it flow, let it flow!

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
our spirits by Thine advent here! 

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