Christmas Songs We Know: A Review

“Mary Did You Know?:17 Inspirational Christmas Songs From Today’s Top Country Artists;” 2007; Word Entertainment (Warner/Curb)

This CD, with just over one hour of traditional sacred music, wouldn’t have been my first choice. However, because it boasts such a variety of artists, I couldn’t resist. While not a fan of country music, I still found this offering enjoyable.

Most of us have favorite singers or musicians. Most of us are on the lookout for a CD by that person. In this instance, I was in the mood for variety so when I saw it in the library display, I gathered it up.

Overall, the songs provide as much variety as the selection of artists. And, for the most part, they’re songs we know. Or at least have heard over the years playing in elevators or while shopping at the mall. It’s called inspirational music because the songs included are about the Christ child, Jesus. Only a couple of them hint at something other than Jesus’s birth and the event of Christmas and the night he was born.

My Favorites are “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Diamond Rio; “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” by Vince Gill; “What Child is This?” by Jo Dee Messina; and “The Christ (A Song For Joseph)” by Billy Dean. And while no one sings “Mary, Did You Know?” like the song’s author, Mark Lowry, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna did a more than respectable job.

The only track I didn’t care for was Leann Rimes’ rendition of “O Holy Night.” That’s a difficult song to sing, for sure. But her arrangement sounded to me more like someone wringing every note of the (USA’s) National Anthem up and down the scale. Perhaps Leann is an acquired taste, but I like to be able to sing along. Especially with Christmas music.

Rather astonishing to see how many of these songs are in the public domain.

The mix on each track is great. No one’s voice – no matter how much I may have disliked it – was overpowered by the background music. Nice blending of voice to music. My ear detected violins (or does ‘country’ music make that fiddles?) a couple of times and that added to my enjoyment. I’m partial to violins/fiddles.

If you’re a country music fan and enjoy sacred Christmas music, I recommend you listen to this one. You’ll hear the traditional favorites and maybe even learn a new one.

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Twas the Evening of Christmas: Book Review

  • Twas the Evening of Christmas
  • By Glenys Nellist
  • Illustrated by Elena Selivanova
  • Published by Zonderkidz
  • Copyright 2017, 32 pages; ages 4-8

With its scripture reference being Luke 2:10-11, “Twas the Evening of Christmas” blends the over-2,000-year-old story of Jesus’s birth with the poetic cadence of the poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823.

One is an endearing rhyme about a fictional Christmas event. In this book, however, families can gather and read the true story of Christmas and why we even celebrate.

Nellist’s poem keeps the rhythm of Moore’s work intact while being true to the story of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem.

No one is left out here. The animals in the stable; the angels; the shepherds; and the wise men all make their respective appearances.

A couple of things about this poem/story give it high marks in my book. While license is taken a couple of times, that’s okay. We can read between the lines and figure out some things about that night. For instance, the baby has been born and offered up his newborn cry.

“Up jumped the cows, and the oxen and sheep.

Up popped the pigeons, aroused from their sleep.

They all came to gaze at the small baby boy,

As his mama and papa hugged him with joy.”

Scripture doesn’t mention Joseph and Mary hugging their baby. But what new parents don’t want to put their hands around their infant and hold him close?

In addition, the author and illustrator seemingly desire to share the stories of God and about God in a way that glorifies God with their respective gifts. Kids in the intended audience will probably want to touch the pages because the illustrations aren’t too intricate, but aren’t too simplistic. The word ‘soft’ comes to mind. They’re works of art, creatively executed by people who obviously appreciate their Creator.

I’d guess this book, once read to a child, will be as popular with them as that ‘right jolly old elf’ poem was for me so many years ago.

You can find the book for sale at the publisher, Zondervan or on Amazon.

Simeon and the Savior

This post is re-blogged from last December for this Advent season following my pastor’s sermon about Simeon last Sunday. While he taught on another aspect of the story, I find it interesting––and gratifying––that he and I are so often on the same wavelength.-Paula

“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24)

Word made flesh visualAt first glance, this short passage of scripture might seem like a simple recording of an event in Joseph’s, Mary’s and Jesus’ lives. But watch what happens when an old man enters the scene.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God” (Luke 2:25-28).

When I read this, I want to be like Simeon. Certainly, being righteous and devout sounds good, but also to speak to God with the confidence Simeon had. He praised God regarding the baby Jesus. He said,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29,30).

That baby was exactly what the old gentleman had been waiting for.

When it’s time for me to pass from this earth, I hope similar words occupy my mind and heart, because I have also been blessed to see God’s salvation. That fact gives me peace.

During this advent season, the coming of Christ reminds me there’s a wonderful hope for us. We have the promise of God’s glory when we know Jesus personally and trust Him as our Lord and savior. Like Simeon, we yearn to see Christ. We look forward to His return.

One secret to Simeon’s story is this: he listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit and went to the temple when prompted. He knew from prior experience that the Spirit would speak. He anticipated the promise which was in line with his going. He trusted that he wouldn’t die before laying eyes on the Messiah.

As I said, I’m blessed to know Jesus and His salvation.

And like Simeon, I look forward to laying eyes on Him.

 

When You’re Called To Worship

Reference: Luke 2:1-20

When we get the chance late at night, Matthias and I lie on our backs and watch the sky. Marvelous things happen there. High clouds float on a wind we can’t see but feel tugging at our hair. They disappear in wisps trailed by more clouds and we name them by shapes.

We play our favorite game on clear nights when the sky is dotted with stars. Matthias, a pensive fellow, says the sky is poked full of holes for the light of God to shine through. Matthias really loves God; he teaches me a lot. I’m glad I was assigned watch with him in these fields. Living out here can be lonely. Besides, he says things like that about holes in the sky.

We name the stars knowing God has already named them and sometimes we find shapes in those too. That particular night a shape we never expected appeared in the sky.

It was an angel.05_Shepherds_Angels_JPEG_1024

I’m young but I’m not a madman. And there are more witnesses than Matthias and me. We all saw and heard. The stars paled in comparison to the light that shone around that angel. I believe the light of God really was shining then, not just through the star-holes. We were terrified. The sheep began to stir.

But the angel spoke to us and told us to not be afraid. I stepped closer to Matthias anyway; I couldn’t stop trembling.

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people,” the angel said. Its voice had a strange tremble as well, but it was clear as a bell on that clear night. Have you ever heard an angel? No, of course you probably haven’t. Oh, it was…fearsome.

But wonderful.

Then the angel spoke a message describing the birth of a baby in the nearby town of Bethlehem. Born to us, the angel said. “Christ, the Lord.”

“The Messiah,” I thought, “the Messiah has come!” Matthias fell to his knees. I did likewise just because I didn’t want to let go of him.

The angel then told us where to find the baby. The fact that the Messiah was a baby born that very night was incredible enough, but he was lying in a manger. That was the end of the message. I was stunned. I had heard it all. There was no doubt I had heard it right. God had surely put it in my heart.

found-watching-sheepThen, even as the angel finished speaking, suddenly the sky filled with them and they began to praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The sound was just like that of the other angel, a trembling but clear voice and so loud I thought the sheep would bolt and run. Miraculously, they were now still.

We were mute in the angels’ presence and as they finished their chorus of praise they fled into heaven. Matthias and I slowly stood. He recited the Shema; I think out of habit. I believe he was as nervous as I was. We all slowly began to walk toward one another and then ran. We met in a circle and stopped. Josias began to speak but his voice broke.

He started laughing.

Oh yes, laughing. And so did we. How happy were our hearts! No one else can understand the beauty of it. But the lovely irony was not lost on Josias and we knew too. God had chosen we lowly shepherds to be the first to see his Messiah.

“We must go quickly. All of us, even the sheep,” Josias said. “When the Lord calls, we obey.” Everyone was solemn now but still full of joy. Of course we would obey.

The City of David was full of people since a census was in process, but we found our way to the stable. It was small and dark. I cannot imagine why such a place would be the birthplace for this child, but I wanted so much to see him I laid my questions aside.

The mother was young like me. They–Mary and Joseph–were kind and welcomed us. We told them our story and they somehow didn’t seem surprised at the angel’s appearing. They acted as if angels to them were commonplace. Mary nodded knowingly, pondering it.

She unwrapped the baby a little so we could see him. I don’t know what I was expecting; he was just a baby. Nevertheless, he–Jesus was his name–was the Christ. We all kneeled and worshiped him. I have to admit I felt like weeping. I didn’t. I’m the youngest and the men would have laughed at me.

We stayed there a little while and Mary and Joseph inquired about where we were from. I noticed Matthias kept looking at Jesus and at one point wiped a tear. I promised myself not to say anything.

Finally, we left to return to the fields. As we walked out of the city the only sounds were our feet shuffling along the streets and the occasional bleating of sheep. How can you begin to talk about the experiences? Angels lighting up the sky, news of the Messiah and then seeing him like that–so pure? You have to stretch your mind to make it all fit.

When we reached the edge of Bethlehem, Matthias stopped us, sheep and all, and said, “We cannot keep this to ourselves.”

We looked at him, begging with our eyes so he’d continue. “No,” he explained, “The angel said it was ‘good news of great joy for all people.’ In obedience to God, we will spread the news.”

Can you imagine our joyful laughter at that? We began clapping each other on the back and we started right there in Bethlehem. People were amazed at what we told them.

Eventually we returned to our field, but we couldn’t stop talking about it. We praised God for the child and the good news the angels delivered. As we settled into our humble grassy dwelling, we agreed that because of that child’s coming, worship would never be the same.

Excerpt from “Approachable Jesus” by Paula Geister, copyright 2008

Simeon and the Savior

Word made flesh visual

“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God” (Luke 2:22-28).

I read this and I want to be like Simeon. Surely righteous and devout, but also to speak to God with the confidence Simeon had when he praised God regarding the baby Jesus. That baby was exactly what the old gentleman had been waiting for.

He said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29,30).

When it’s time for me to pass from this earth, I hope these are the words that occupy my mind and heart. I have been blessed to see God’s salvation.

During this advent season, the coming of Christ reminds me there is a wonderful hope for us. We have the promise of God’s glory when we know Jesus personally and trust Him as our Lord and savior. Like Simeon, we yearn to see Christ. We look forward to His return.

One of the secrets to Simeon’s story is this: he listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and went to the temple on that particular day. He knew from prior experience that the Spirit would speak and there was a promise in line with his going. He knew he would not die before laying eyes on the Messiah.

As I said, I’m blessed to know Jesus and His salvation.

And like Simeon, I look forward to laying eyes on Him.

The Best Christmas Stories

Stylist magazine has put together a list of the 50 Best Christmas Books.
Today, to get a bit personal, I selected a few of my favorites. You can tell us in the comments which are your favorites. Were you surprised to see some titles were actually books before they became films?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This classic tale of how a miserly and grumpy fellow finds the true meaning of Christmas has been re-enacted on stage and screen for decades. Though I’ve read the book (which is surprisingly short) and seen several versions of the story, my favorite is the old black and white movie I saw as a child. Jacob Marley’s ghost appearing on that door knocker horrified me.christmas-stars-shine

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Even as children, we enjoy seeing a bad guy go right. The Grinch is another story about finding the simple meaning in the joy of Christmas. Seuss’ art captivates.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
While the story itself includes a single plot line, Christmas is suggested. One of the residents of Narnia describes it as a place where “it’s always winter but never Christmas.”

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
I read this short story while in junior high school as assigned reading. Suggesting the role Christ plays in our lives, the simple story tells of the sacrifice made by a man and a woman in love. They’re both poor but want to give the other the perfect gift.

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schulz
Here’s a book that was inspired by the Christmas TV special of the same name. With wit and wisdom, Schulz creates some unforgettable moments. The characters dancing to Schroeder’s tiny piano, Charlie searching for a tree for their play and Linus telling Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
One of my favorite sleuths once again solves a mystery even though he’s supposed to be celebrating the holiday. In all my reading and watching on BBC the stories about Poirot, it’s gratifying to know he is a man of faith. He is dogged in fighting evil and his faith is one of the motivators for exposing criminals.

The Greatest Story
Found in Luke 2 and Matthew 1 of the Holy Bible, the story of Jesus Christ being born is by far my favorite Christmas story. It’s the reason we have a “Christmas.” It’s the reason there are stories about people finding the real meaning of Christmas.

This is the story of hope. Jesus is the reason we celebrate. No one will ever steal Him away from us because nothing can separate us from His love. We don’t have to worry about a winter with no Christmas. We can always be sure He’s the best gift, the perfect gift. He’s conquered evil and that’s no mystery.

Tell the “greatest Christmas story” to everyone you can. Then tell them why Jesus came. That’s a gift you can give all year long.

 

Seeking The Savior

Is Christmas still “the most wonderful time of the year”? Christmas, for those who celebrate it, is probably the time most filled with traditions.

We bake cookies, peanut brittle and fudge. We get crafty and make tree ornaments, stockings and wreaths. We decorate the tree with a new theme. Some of us even mail Christmas cards.

We might even call shopping a tradition. I know people who make a day of shopping one of their special times for family fellowship. Friends will meet to tramp the mall and have a “cup of good cheer.”

Do you remember the traditions of your childhood? Maybe childhood isn’t so long ago for you. For others of us childhood is decades ago. What do you remember as your favorite tradition?

My youth at Christmas time included some great expectations. We knew there would be a Christmas program at our church and the kids in our family who were old enough would have a part. There was even a tradition associated with the program. At the end, when we were all released, each child was given a small paper bag filled with candy and nuts. The contents were predictable—it was a tradition after all—but we squealed with delight all the same.

When I think of reciting a poem in front of our small congregation (almost without a hitch), my hands shaking, then receiving my treat later, I still get nostalgic. Our program, like that of most churches, revolved around a nativity scene and the story of Christ’s birth from the second chapter of Luke. We also included arrival of the Magi bringing gifts.

I didn’t need a song to tell me Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year. My family seemed to come together like at no other time. And we had our own traditions.

The Christmas tree was one of our favorites. I come from a large family and decorating must have seemed a little chaotic for my mom, but she let us go full force with the job. The only things we weren’t allowed to touch were the vintage (even then) glass ornaments. My older brother most enjoyed flinging icicles at the tree, which by no means would ever have been artificial. Not in those days.

We did other things to prepare for Christmas, but my absolute favorite tradition was driving around our small town looking at the variety of light displays families used to decorate their homes. Usually, the night of the Christmas program was our special night to make the journey.

In the days before tiny lights with built-in gadgets to make them twinkle (to recorded music, no less) and huge air-filled snowmen and Santas, people kept their decorating modest for the most part. Or at least tasteful. Even families who could afford to decorate with more lights, steered away from the “Christmas Vacation” style of decorating.

I guess we were old fashioned. Christmas meant more than showing off.

Since it was a small town, it didn’t take us long to drive around and see the lights. Short drive though it was, we regarded it as a real treat. Like I said, our family would come together like no other time. We children “oohed” and “aahed” as if we were at a fireworks display. Sometimes Dad would roll to a stop at a house if its decorations needed a little longer to take in.

The display I regarded as most special decorated the lawn in front of the church on main street. There, year after year, we’d roll to a stop to admire the nativity scene. Two small floodlights in the ground shone upward, making it easy to see Joseph, Mary and Jesus at night. We counted off each character, especially baby Jesus, whose story we’d just enacted.

For us, that stop on main street was like the magi looking for the holy family.

This year, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family again. A sister, my children and grandchildren. When my sister and I reach our hometown, we’ll drive down Lincoln Avenue and surely, I’ll be on the lookout for houses with pretty decorations. They indicate to me that people still enjoy that tradition.

But mostly, I’ll keep my eye out for the church and its classic nativity scene. As I’ve done for years, I’ll be seeking the Savior.