Sunday, December 21, 2014

let your heart be light

our young associate rector at my church is a born teacher. since he joined our staff last year, he's developed creative programs that challenge the mind and expand your faith. and for the second year in a row, on the last Sunday before Christmas, he goes "behind the music," giving the back story for some of our most favorite Christmas carols and songs. 

dressed up in a clownish Santa outfit, with a fire roaring behind him on a flat-screen television, Christopher shared with us the story of how Jingle Bells was written by the son of a Unitarian minister, gifted in music whose father asked him to write a Thanksgiving hymn for his church. as he sat in the living room of his father's house, trying to think of something, he heard sleigh bells in the distance and headed outside to see what was happening. he found sleighs racing through the night, and felt so joyful that he went inside and wrote the song that was all about about racing through the snow. later he had the song published, and before long it became an iconic Christmas song, though it doesn't mention anything about Christmas. (Racing and betting and going on dates with Miss Fanny Brice were more important apparently.)

we learned that O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by an Episcopal priest who visited Bethlehem in 1865. Inspired, three years later he wrote a poem and his organist back in Philadelphia added the music. he had been searching for a way to lift people out from under the Civil War.

when Christopher pulled up a picture of Judy Garland from the movie "Meet Me in St. Louis,"  he talked about how the lyricists for the movie wrote a dismal song that Judy refused to sing, for a pivotal, sad scene in the movie. it was the middle of World War II, and Judy had toured for soldiers over seas and knew they needed to hear something hopeful. so they re-wrote the song, which would be played for troops right before the Battle of the Bulge. though she battled many demons in the years after she sang that song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was more important to her, Christopher said, than Somewhere Over the Rainbow. 

as the congregation there gathered — children and parents and grandparents and teens — began to sing  the song together, i looked around the room, seeing co-workers and friends and people i didn't know, and all captured by the beauty of this little song. i recalled hearing that after 9/11, James Taylor recorded the song just in time for Christmas, in an attempt to give listeners a bit of hope during such a sad time for our country.

every voice lifted, and together, we created a joyful noise that brought tears to the eyes of some. 

Christmas is a hard time for many, surely. those who are lonely, scared, ill, grieving, heartsick. but how magical that, no matter what our circumstance, we can all come together in song, forgetting our troubles as we sing along with others.

have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. and this year, carry a tune along with your troubles, and may those troubles slip out of sight for a moment or two.


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