Nativity, Brian Kershisnik
(love this painting. so, so much.)
It's fun. Christmas is--and should be--really fun. And I love spending time with family, making Christmas treats, going to (and hosting) parties, caroling, seeing Christmas lights, and singing Christmas music.
Oh, how I love the music.
It's hard to think of Christmas without music.
The music reminds me of the reason why we celebrate. Why we rejoice. Why we sing.
Last week, I had the opportunity to go to a Christmas concert at BYU. It was absolutely stunning. All of the arrangements were just beautiful. The last song they sang was "Carol of Joy," by Dan Forrest. I was introduced to this song while on my mission, and the lyrics combined with the haunting music are transcendent:
Listen to it. No, really. I promise that your life will be better because of it.
Here are the lyrics:
Green leaves are fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky.
Lengthening shadows, Dark closing in . . .
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song--
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!
Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night;
Hear angel music--hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song--
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong!
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound--
A carol of joy! A Saviour is found!
Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted--witness God's love!
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven's joy to you may belong!
You who are lonely, laden, forlorn--
Oh fallen world! Oh friendless world!
To you, a Saviour is born!
Isn't that beautiful? I love the juxtaposition of light and dark, sorrow and joy. The tapestry that makes up life. And I love that Christ came to heal. We live in a fallen world. We are all broken. But He was "bruised, broken, torn for us." And He knows how to heal us and save our souls, because He's been there. I believe that. He is the God who weeps. He left glory, comfort, and praise--His own kind of Eden--to overcome the effects of the Fall and to heal our broken world. "Ris'n with healing in His wings."
He did not come to a world or to a people who had everything going well for them. He came to the "lonely, laden, forlorn." He came to the friendless. He came to a world that is bent on self-destruction. A world that so desperately needs the peace He offers. He entered this world of blood, death, and loneliness so that He could be "filled with mercy" and know perfectly how to heal our broken hearts.
We live in a fallen world. The more I live, the more I realize how often there is no answer, or at least no answers I can understand. There are moments when I despair because "there is no peace on earth. [. . .] For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men." No one gets out of this world without breaking in some way or another. But He offers the way for "the healing of nations" (Revelation 22:2). He is the healer of nations, and the lover of our souls.
One song which I feel captures the essence of the beauty of the Savior's role and the wonder of His grace is "What Child is This?" This song has meant so much to me since Ukraine, for many, many reasons. One of these reasons is because there is something absolutely beautiful about singing hymns in Russian. I don't know what it is, but there is something haunting and rich in the words that, combined with the melodies, makes the experience more meaningful. "Russian is a very rich language," as people would always say to me on the streets. There are some Russian words that just mean more. And there are some Russian hymns which just touch your soul in ways that English cannot.
I always enjoyed the fact that the Russian hymnbook includes "What Child is This?" in its Christmas hymns. Maybe I like it just because it's different. But there is something deeper. The song in Russian becomes a plaintive plea; a holy, hushed hallelujah:
"But why does he lie in a manger
Where lambs are given their feed?
So that every one of us
Can lay down our sorrows at his feet."
Call me elitist, but I just cannot find an English rendition which matches the feeling of the Russian translation. It is the one song that is missing from my personal Christmas playlist because I cannot find one which captures the feeling I want. For me, that song is a perfect memory. I remember as my companion and I sang Christmas carols in a dirty red bedroom in a dilapidated apartment in eastern Ukraine. I sang in a clear soprano, and she sang in her rich alto--we sang in blissful harmony. We sang about the condescension of God--about the beauty and necessity of His Atonement. We sang about love in a lonely, forsaken place. A place where the darkness could be suffocating--both literally and figuratively. But my companion and I found peace as we sang about the perfect love which "veiled the Lord in flesh." And about the love which allowed us to lay down our sorrows at His feet. Fall on our knees at the feet of the manger King.
I have not found an English rendition to match our Ukrainian duet. The closest I have found is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's version from the 2012 Christmas Devotional.
The dips. It is the dips in the music which make it rich. Which make it full of life, meaning, and longing.
Longing for healing.
How can we understand the meaning of all things? How can we understand the hurt, the anguish, and the condition of the soul in this fallen world? How can healing take place?
There is no clean, shiny answer. Life isn't a bedtime story. Life doesn't allow itself for clean answers, and even miracles can turn into nightmares. Still, we are commanded to have hope. Without hope, faith withers and dies, and without hope, we cannot have charity.
We trust in the hope of His light and love. And believe in Christ. Christ overcame death and hell. He "marched into hell for a heavenly cause," but not so that we don't have to. Rather so that we would know where to turn for help and healing when we do enter our own Gethsemanes and carry our crosses.
"For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."
We rejoice because a Savior was born to heal us.
To heal our broken hearts.
To comfort our wounded souls.
To strengthen our weary shoulders and lift our sad heads.
To wipe away all tears from our eyes.
To mend the rift between death and life.
To heal the split.
O fallen, fearful, friendless world, to you a Savior is born. I think that is absolutely beautiful. We fall to our knees because we are overwhelmed with love. We are not only overwhelmed with love for Him, but we are overwhelmed by His love for us. All hearts, nations, and people can find peace in Him. And that is beautiful and wonderful to me. A miracle.