Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Carol Behind the Scenes

Where Shepherds Lately Knelt  click on title to hear music

Where shepherds lately knelt
and kept the angel's word,
I come in half-belief
(a pilgrim strangely stirred);
But there is room and welcome there for me.
But there is room and welcome there for me!

In that unlikely place I find him as they said;
Sweet newborn Babe (how frail!)
and in a manger bed,
A still, small voice to cry one day for me.
A still, small Voice to cry one day for me!

How should I not have known
Isaiah would be there?
His prophecies fulfilled! 
With pounding heart I stare:
A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me.
A Child, a Son, the Prince of peace for me!

Can I,
Will I forget how Love was born, and burned
Its way into my heart unasked, unforced, unearned?
To die, to live--and not alone--for me?
To die, to live, and not alone for me!

Text:  Jaroslav J. Vajda (b. 1919)
Tune:  Carl F. Schalk (b. 1929)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Carol Simple and Sweet

click title to hear music

Away in a manger, no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes,
  And little Lord Jesus, some crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

 Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay,
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray!
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there. 

Text:  v 1 & 2 "Little Children's Book" 1885, v 3 "Vineyard Songs" 1982
Tune:  William J. Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921 "Cradle Song"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Carol With a Family Tree

Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, O Root of Jesse, free your own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell your people save, and bring them vict'ry o'er the grave.

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, O Dayspring from on high and cheer us by your drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death's dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, O Key of David, come, and open wide our heav'nly home.
Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

Text:  Latin hymn, c. 12th century
Translator:  John M. Neale (1818-1866)
Tune:  Plainsong melody, 15th century, Veni, Emmanuel

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Carol That Tells the Whole Story

Of the Father's love begotten - 'ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

Oh, that birth forever blessed when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race.
And the Babe, the world's Redeemer, first revealed His sacred face
Evermore and evermore.

This is He whom heav'n-taught singers
sang of old with one accord;
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets
promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the long-expected;
let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.

Let the heights of heav'n adore Him, angel hosts his praises sing,
Pow'rs, dominions bow before Him and extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent, ev'ry voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to you, with God the Father, and the Spirit ceaselessly
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion and eternal victory
Evermore and evermore!

Text:  Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-c.413)
Translator:  v. 1-4, John M. Neale (1818-1866); v. 5, Henry W. Baker (1821-1877)
Tune:  Plainsong melody, 13th century  (Divinum Mysterium)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Songs of the Season

Sharing this little "quiz" I clipped from a magazine my mother-in-law gave me many years ago!   Although my true love is for CHRISTian songs, some secular melodies bring back happy memories of childhood.    I hope you find something here that you enjoy, too!   

Please post your answers as a comment.   I'll  post the answers later so you can compare!

Holidays in Song
From Americana, December 1989

1.   Returning to earth aboard Gemini 7 on December 17, 1965, astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell asked Mission Control to “beam up” to them,
          a. “I’ll BeHome For Christmas”
          b. “I WonderAs I Wander”
          d. “FrostyThe Snowman

 2.  “Jingle Bells” was written by Boston Sunday-school teacher James S. Pierpoont in 1857 for
a. a Christmas pageant
b. a bell-choir concert
c. a Thanksgiving program
d. a sleigh-ride with his pupils

a. Clement C. Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”
b. a 1939 Montgomery Ward advertising promotion
c. Jack London’s ‘Call of theWild’

4.  “Toyland,” written in 1903 by Victor Herbert and Glen MacDonough, was not
a. From the operetta ‘Babes inToyland’
b. written with the recent success of the musical version of ‘The Wonderland of Oz'  in mind.
c. intended primarily for an adult audience

5.  What singer in which movie introduced “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”?
a. Bing Crosby in “Holiday Inn” (1942)
b. Deanna Durbin in “Christmas Holiday” (1944)
c. Judy Garland in “Meet Me In St. Louis” (1944)

6. The public heard “White Christmas” for the first time in the movie
a. “White Christmas” in 1954
b. “Holiday Inn” in 1942
c. “Miracle on 34th Street” in 1947
d. “Greenwich Village” in 1944

7. The words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” were written by
a. Phillips Brooks in 1868
b. Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1880
c. John Greenleaf Whittier in 1865
d. James Russell Lowell in 1870

8. The music for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was composed by
a. Lowell Mason, music educator in 1839
b. Lewis H. Redner, real-estate broker in 1868
c. Edward Trotter, preacher in 1897

9. What was the real weather when Leroy Anderson composed the music for “Sleigh Ride” in 1948?
a. hurricane
b. blizzard
c. heat wave
d. thunder

10. In “Jingle Bells,” the sleigh eventually
a. collapsed under the weight of its passengers and baggage
b. was upset in a snow bank
c. was buried in an avalanche
d. was lost in a blizzard

11. On December 25, 1863 or 1864, what famous American poet wrote the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”?
a. Edgar Allan Poe
b. John Greenleaf Whittier
c.  James Russell Lowell
d.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
e.  James Whitcomb Riley

12. Which is generally considered the first American carol to gain an international reputation?
  1. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
  2. Away in a Manger”
  3. Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing
  4. Carol of the Bells
Please vote in my "Favorite Christmas Carol" poll (see far bottom left of the page).    I only listed a handful.  If you don't see your favorite listed, be sure to leave a comment!

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly 
in all wisdom; 
teaching and admonishing one another 
in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, 
singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 
Colossians 3:16  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

De-Clutter Your Gift-Giving

We’re all thinking about the perfect gift for that sweet family member.  Or the office gift exchange.   Perhaps you have a grandparent who “has everything” and you’re scrounging around “trying to figure out” what to give him or her.    Maybe you just want to give a gift that doesn’t add to the clutter of the recipient’s home.   Whatever.

Here’s a list I’ve compiled from several other lists I’ve gathered over the years.   Gifts that don’t clutter up the home and that don’t bust the budget (unless you like going overboard).   Gifts that you’ll be proud to give and they’ll be happy to receive.

Let’s Get Started

Start with a basket from the dollar store or second-hand store.   If you’re giving gift certificates, look for a smaller basket.  Not so much space to fill and doesn’t look half-empty!

When buying a second-hand basket make sure it is absolutely spotless.  Wicker and other “natural” materials can easily be washed in the laundry sink with a stiff brush—let dry in room temp.   Jazz it up with ribbon or spray paint it with some glitzy gold or shimmering silver.  

Crumple some wrapping or tissue paper to put in the bottom.  OR shredded paper (Use OLD wrapping paper & run it through your own shredder!!!  Save paper from this year and bag it up for next year.)  

Then put some stuff in it.  (see the list below)   Wrap every item separately OR put the basket in a large gift bag with lots of tissue paper and streamers!   

Clutter-Free Gift Ideas
  1. Gift cards or coupons or vouchers to the local . . .
    1. grocery store
    2. drugstore or pharmacy
    3. hair salon for a perm or haircut
    4. spa, tanning or nail salon, pedicure, manicure, wax-job
    5. massage for foot, neck or back rub
    6. veterinarian
    7. car wash
    8. gas station for fuel or oil changes or lube jobs
    9. nice restaurant 
    10. fast-food restaurant
    11. coffee shop
    12. breakfast at a local café
    13. museum, zoo, aquarium, planetarium---one-year membership
    14. golf course for a round or a bucket of balls on the driving range
    15. movie theater
    16. theater, concert or sporting event for season’s passes or one-time special event
    17. building supply or home improvement store
    18. computer classes
    19. swimming pool passes or classes
    20. lawn care
    21. book store
  2. Postage stamps, postcards, note cards, envelopes, stationery, address book/list of family, pretty notepads or shopping list pads
  3. Gift certificate to help with home chores:   window washing, vacuuming, raking leaves, shoveling snow, babysitting, cutting the lawn, walking the pets, cleaning fireplace, scrubbing a deck
  4. Pre-paid
    1. phone cards
    2. Netflix
  5. Rolls or folded wrapping paper or bulk boxes of greeting cards
  6. Bird-feeding supplies (feeder, seed, hangars, binoculars, bird field guide)
Food items to shop for or make from scratch and add to a pretty basket:
  1. Small baggies filled with a handful of Christmas cookies from your own baking day.  Put in a zippered bag.  Add the recipes in the basket.
  2. Consumable kitchen supplies:   tea, coffee, coffee filters, drink mixes, flavored creamers; snacks & treats, cereal, baking supplies
  3. Themed-dinner:   spaghetti (Parmesan cheese), soup (croutons), lasagna….provide all the non-perishables and a recipe
  4. Bottle of wine, a loaf of French bread, a pot of garlic butter to spread, and a hunk of cheese
  5. Staples & necessities like flour, sugar, cake mixes, Jell-O, pasta, tuna, toilet paper, popcorn
  6. Non-perishable “fancy” or ethnic foods (smoked oysters, kippers, olives, coffee, tea, cocoa, home-made preserves, jam, condiments, sauces, fancy fruit, maple syrup, wild rice, cheese, sausage, smoked fish)
  7. Single-serving cans of soup, dinner casseroles
  8. Bags of individually wrapped candy or candy bars
  9. An assortment of nuts (pistachios, macadamias, pecans)
  10. Toiletries:   shampoo, hair spray, lotion, soap, nail polish, perfume, aftershave, bath soaps
  11. Cleaning products:  dish soap, laundry detergent, toilet bowl cleaner, magic erasers
  12. Craft supplies (glue sticks, photo corners, fusible bond)
  13. Paper for the home-printer
Gifts that you can order & personalize on-line and have delivered to your recipient:  Do them once or every three months or monthly . . . fit to your budget!
  1. Potted plants
  2. Bouquets of seasonal flowers for the table or desk
  3. Bags of spring or fall bulbs ready to plant in the yard (make sure recipient appreciates this)
  4. Gift certificate to apply toward a monthly bill:   electric, water, gas, trash, sewer, cable/dish TV
  5. Pre-paid “life-long learning” class at a community college
  6. Flowers or fruit or candy or dessert-of-the-month club gift-certificates
  7. Subscription to local newspaper
  8. Subscription to favorite magazine
  9. Books on tape (for the hard-of-hearing or travelers)
Gifts that you can make or personalize:
  1. A personalized calendar (family picts) and birthdays & anniversaries written in
  2. Photo album or scrapbook with “Family Tree” information and all old photos labeled neatly
  3. A craft kit relevant to the recipient's hobbies:  yarn, scrapbooking supplies, sketch books, paints
  4. A kitchen kit for a new-cook:  whisk, wooden spoons, measuring cup or spoons, recipe cards
Pool your resources with your siblings or other family members:
  1. buy a large item that needs replacement: water softener, microwave, bread machine, coffee maker, toaster oven
  2. major chores:   landscaping, painting the house, re-roofing, adding a deck
  3. household chores:   indexing the library, painting a room, helping put items up for auction on eBay

As you've probably noticed, you now have a TON of ideas and have already thought of a few more of your own specific to the people on your Gift List.    Please share a comment here, so others can hitch-hike on your ideas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What a Wonder!

Can you imagine how the shepherds felt when the angels appeared in the night sky above them?  These were men generally regarded as social outcasts.  Didn’t dress very nicely, smelled of sweat and animals.  Ate with their fingers and burped after eating.   Strong, sturdy, ordinary fellows.

Surely, their eyes were blinded by the radiant light that split the darkness. They fell to their knees in fear and terror.  And then the angel told them, “Don’t be afraid, I have good news for you.”   

Can you just see the shepherds staring up at this heavenly messenger as the message was  given?   Great news of great joy which will be for all people.” 

Were the shepherds wondering why they—of all the people to whom this announcement could’ve been made—why had they been chosen as the ones to receive this message?   The angel went on “In the town of David, a Savior has been born to you.”   Imagine the shepherds gazing up in open-mouthed wonder.    

Why, Bethlehem is barely a speck on the map!

He is Christ the Lord.”   The angel anticipated their doubting hearts, reassuring them even more, “This will be a sign to you:   You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  

A feed-box?

Their wonder increased even more as the heavens above them filled with a great company of heavenly host praising God, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

As suddenly as the angels had appeared, they were gone.   Silence!   Black sky.  Twinkling stars.   Just like any other ordinary night.  Only, this was no longer any other ordinary night!   Never again would the world be the same.

These were men of action.  They were on their feet in no time, “Let’s go into Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.”   Sheep forgotten or left with an underling.   Robes flowing behind them, they raced across the countryside to Bethlehem, the younger ones perhaps running ahead.  

Was there only one stable in this little town of Bethlehem?  Or did they go door-to-door, knocking and waking everyone in town, searching for this little baby?  

When they found Him, did they stand in the door way afraid to go in, embarrassed to barge in on the new mother?   Did Joseph bar the way?  Did Mary offer to let them cuddle her newborn close?  Which of them gazed in amazement into the tiny face of our Savior?  

The shepherds responded by telling everyone in the countryside about the Christ-child.    Can you imagine these hulking galoots?  "Did you hear about the baby?"   "Angels told us--He is Christ the Lord!!"

This same child grew to be a man, the Christ who was crucified on Good Friday for the sins of the world—your sins and mine.  And He rose triumphantly on Easter morning having wiped our sin-filled slate completely clean.   This same Christ will return--again with angels--as a mighty conqueror and will fulfill the last of the prophecies about Him...and we who believe will be swept up with Him and live for eternity in the mansions of Heaven which He has prepared for us.   

What a wonder.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Where is He Dwelling Today?

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.   
 John 1:14 KJV

We know from St. John’s earlier verses that “The Word” refers to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He was already present at the time God-the-Father created a perfect world and made man its crowning glory.   Can you imagine seeing that perfection devastated by sin?  Can you imagine a plan for re-creating that perfection?  And requiring that Your only Son’s perfect life would be the price to regain the lost perfection?  And then imagine calling that price “Love.”

Imagine what it was like when the Living God became a flesh-and-blood human being in order to dwell among us.   For Creator to become created?  To leave the perfection of Heaven and come to this sin-filled Earth?  To dwell as a mere mortal?  The Creator walking amongst His creation?  Imagine the things He noticed and the sadness that gripped Him to see His creation in the clutches of sin and willfully making sinful choices.

Can you imagine making a sacrifice like that?   

Probably not—our idea of sacrifice involves passing up on dessert or missing a favorite activity or putting in extra hours at work.  So when we consider His sacrifice we are left breathless at the enormity of His love for us!  Wow—can you imagine the depth of His love?

Our modern society has commercialized and idealized the celebration of Christ’s birth to such an extent that we overlook the very earthy aspects of Christ’s arrival as our Savior.    

Lest we forget what the REAL Christmas was like, consider these facts:   stables reek of manure, sticky cobwebs hang in the corners, and scratchy straw clings to clothes.   His parents were incredibly poor—they could only afford the humblest offering when He was dedicated at the Temple a few days after His birth.    

And we also tend to forget the eternal aspects of His birth:  the love pouring down—down through the ages—to this very day—to you and to me.    He did it for you.   He did it for me.    

Just imagine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who Brings The Gifts?

My dear hub and I grew up in homes where Santa Claus brought presents. In mine he came while we were at the children's Christmas Eve worship service, and my brothers and I couldn't WAIT to get home from church so we could see what we got!  I was suspicious for a couple years, but didn't learn the truth until I was 12 years old.  In hub's home, Santa came in the middle of the night, and they opened gifts in the morning--no going to church usually at all.  

When we adopted our first two sons (ages 11 and 10), they had already been elucidated.  We did, however, manage to load them up with presents!    Three years later, we adopted two more children (ages 9 and 6).  The six-year old believed and the nine-year old wasn't sure.   Fondly remembering my childhood, I sought the perfect "Santa" present for them, and something okay for the older children--so they'd all have at least one gift from "Santa Claus".   Hub thought we should quietly ease them out of the mis-belief in Santa, but I wanted to perpetuate it for one more year.  

We came home from Christmas Eve church.   All the "Santa" presents were set to the side, and we made them wait til the very end of the unwrapping to open those.     The youngest squealed with absolute delight when she unwrapped the Cabbage Patch Kid of her dreams from "Santa."    Santa-this!  Santa-that!   Ugh.   Granted she was young and had only lived with us for about five months at that point.   Still.    Even though we'd been going to church and reading family devotions and they participated in Sunday School and the children's Christmas Eve service, the true message that "Christmas is about Jesus" was lost.   

I could see the whole thing being re-routed to this massive heap of presents...and Santa Claus was getting all the glory.    Meanwhile the joy of Jesus was left back at church--it seemed.

Hub and I had a discussion.   We paused and re-thought our options. We realized things would've been different had they grown up with us from infancy.  We quickly began a re-education program with ALL of them on the TRUE meaning of Christmas.  We continued to "do" Santa Claus for a few more years for the sake of the youngest one.

Then we had three babies. We knew right away that Santa Claus would no longer visit our home. For one thing, we were more spiritually mature and keenly aware of our need to keep our hearts focused on Christ.  Plus, our faith had grown so much that we no longer wanted to cling to worldly traditions which sought to replace Christ and God Almighty with a fictional character.

So.   The younger three children WERE trained from infancy.   Even though we don't know for sure when He was born, our focus of Christmas is celebrating Christ's birth and the glorious day of His return!    I got rid of the cutesy-wootsey Advent calendars and made a Christ-centered banner styled around Bible verses representing the items found in the Christmas account.  

Several years later, after hearing a friend describe how her family celebrated Christmas with "camel packs" and "half-birthdays," we started some of our own new traditions.   (Camel packs are like saddlebags in which the children present gifts in the way the wisemen did. And half-birthdays land six months before/after a real birthday--in a whole other season of the year!   The fuss of "presents" then takes place at their birthday and half-birthday.    Half-birthdays are very cool for children born in winter months, lots of summer opportunities for tenting sleep-overs and pool parties!)  

We got rid of ALL worldly-focused (Santa, reindeer, etc) ornaments, decorations and paraphrenalia.   Some ornaments were saved for other holidays or home decorations (gingerbread men show up in my kitchen on January 7th, snowmen and snowflakes delight us throughout January and February).    Our tree is TOTALLY about Jesus' birth: crosses, angels, wisemen, stars.  We watch for nativity scenes at second-hand stores so we pretty much have one in every room of the house.   
We look for the symbolism of the things we use for decorations, for example, evergreen = everlasting life, wreath circle = eternity without end, burgundy or deep red ribbons or ornaments = Christ's sacrifice & blood in His death for us!    We are MUCH more thoughtful about the things we use to decorate our home--it represents who we are and what we believe.    

During December, actually starting on the first Sunday of Advent (usually the Sunday right after Thanksgiving) we begin reading from our Advent devotion books, along with lighting candles for the devotions and calendar readings. We usually have our tree up and decorated that same we have the WHOLE MONTH of December for "advent" (tippy toes anticipation!) of Christ's coming to Earth once as a little child to take away our sins and soon as a returning Conqueror to take us to Heaven!

We still send Christmas cards--but the cards are about Jesus and the TRUE meaning of Christmas and our letter focuses on the blessings God has showered upon us.    We usually pool our  money to buy one larger gift for the whole family (last year it was a Wii), plus whatever the extended family or friends give.  The children participating in the Christmas Eve service still get new clothes.   We still take a family picture.   We still hang stockings at the mantel--but those little gifts are between the family which we open on Christmas Day before heading off to worship service.

AND our Christmas celebration goes through until January 6--which is Epiphany--the church celebration of the wisemen visiting Christ. Remembering--they brought gifts to our Little Lord Jesus!   After Epiphany, we put away our Christmas decorations for another year.

Christmas then is pretty much TOTALLY focused on Christ's birth--instead of the greedy gimmee-gimmees the world would like it to be.