Tuesday, December 8, 2015

When Christmas fails to sparkle

Somehow, we think Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time. We should feel happy, because there are presents, and family, and cookies, and candlelight services, and holiday lights and shopping, and....and all of these things are supposed to make us happy. They are all good things, and its a blessing if they do. But what if they don't?

What if the season fails to sparkle? What if we don't feel the light shining in the darkness? What if
Christmas traditions fail to instill warmth, and love, and joyfilled nostalgia when we sing those old favorite Christmas carols? And we find ourselves feeling more like the Grinch than the Giver and we just can't get ourselves in the Spirit of Christmas?

I think it happens more than we want to admit. The world weighs wearily on us as we miss our loved ones, ache for lost jobs, stress over deadlines and bills that need paid. And it's ok. Life is hard and it can really knock the wind out of us somedays. Or everyday.

I wonder if Paul and Silas felt like that? Paul cast out a demon - and he and Silas were arrested for it. They did something that brought healing into the life of a woman, and yet they were thrown in prison. The Bible doesn't say if they moaned and groaned over the darkness of their situation, but it wasn't a good place to be. I'm pretty sure that Roman prison wasn't like prison is today. I'm pretty sure it was dark, and cold, and there wasn't a lot of food. Certainly, there were no work out rooms, televisions, or online courses to take. They were in a pretty dire situation (See Acts 16:16-40 for the full story).

I don't really know what they were feeling at that time - were they afraid? Were they sad? Were they mad? The Bible doesn't talk about their feelings, but the Bible does tell us what they did. They prayed and sang songs to God in the  middle of the night while the other prisoners were listening in. Then there was a great earthquake, and all of the jails opened up and the prisoners could have simply run away. The prison gaurd was ready to commit suiced at the thought of it. His fate would have been horrific had the prisoners run off.   But they didn't. And because of the actions of Paul and Silas, the jailer believed in God and cared for the two of them in his own home until they were set free.

My hope for you this Christmas is not that you get everything on your Christmas wish list. My hope for you is that you experience the bigness, the kindness, and the love of God to the point that you cannot help but worship Him even on  your worst days. Paul and Silas knew that God was bigger than their hardship. They knew that bad things in life pale in comparison to the goodness of God. And no matter what they might have been feeling - cold, hungry, sick, or tired- they worshipped God on that night just the same.

I hope that as you prepare for the rest of the Christmas season, as you arrange songs for the worship team, or practice anthems for choir, or listen to children's musicals, or practice riffs and licks, that you can experience the love of God who came to earth to be Emmanuel, God with us. I hope that no matter if you're a new Christian or a seasoned one, that everything, good and bad,  pales in comparison to Him and His love for you. Even when you're missing out on Christmas joy, I hope that you just can't help but worship Him.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Worship Tip: The challenge of Christmas Carols

Oh how I love Christmas carols. The air almost seems to sparkle when I hear those old strains of ringing, jingling, heart-melting, happy Christmas tunes. Joy and nostalgia intertwine thickly in my soul as the radio practically bursts open with cheer. Car rides, cleaning, and Christmas shopping are a lot more fun when heavily soundtracked  with Christmas crooners. Seriousy, I could listen to Chrsitmas music all year round. (Please don't hate on me for that - anything, but that). But what about in worship?After I've heard "Joy to the World" 437 times while Christmas shopping among the throngs of overworked and overstressed folks, is it still sacred when I sing it in the worship service? 

Well, that depends. 

It's no wonder that worship artists constantly seek new ways to sing our favorite songs, trying to preserve the original essence that made the song special while updating it just enough to keep the words fresh in our souls. It's an impossible task, it seems, to keep Silent Night true to tradition so that we don't lose what we love about it, while reframing it just enough that it touches are hearts all over again. Sometimes, we try too hard and what was intended to be a little originality becomes a congregational singing train wreck. So what do we do? How do we offer these beautiful carols, sung by generations of Jesus loving people, without getting stuck on the hump of nostalgia?

I'm not sure that the answer to these kinds of questions will ever change. Because it's less about song choice and stylistic nuance and more, much much more, about the status of our hearts. Of course, we'll do our best to be creative in our orchestration, functional in our implementation, and hopeful in our demonstration. Anything to help the congregation sing. We'll work long hours making Christmas Eve services as special as we can - because we love to celebrate the birth of our Savior and He deserves all of the specialness that we have to offer. But when it comes right down to it, no perfectly planned worship set, no carefully articulated lead ins, and not even the best Children's Christmas Pageant, no matter how adoring and adorable, can make us worship. Only God can call us to Himself, and only by knowing Him as He is, can we worship with any music, even at Christmas time. 

I hope you'll take this as a challenge - not merely the challenge of making meaningful music this Christmas season, but the challenge of spending time with our Emmanuel, our God With Us, so that each and every word we sing rings out in praise and worship of and response to Jesus, Our Savior, King. Keep the sacred in Silent Night, not by the newest, freshest arrangement, but by keeping in sync with the Savior.  Enjoying those precious memories of Christmases gone by is a gift all by itself to relish and savor. But if you truly want to make this a memorable Christmas, spend more of it with Jesus. Then you and your music will radiate with the joy of Christ during the Christmas season, and that's what makes Christmas music as good as it can ever get. 

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