Last year I began using Fridays during our Advent journey to feature various songs that really spoke to the heart of the season to me. I got enough positive feedback on it I’ve decided to go full tilt in that direction this year. Each Friday of the Advent season I am going to feature another of my favorite Christmas songs with a few comments as to why. My hope is that this will remind you of some of the greatest music the birth of Christ has inspired, and stir your heart with a combination of great theology and moving performances. And since we are starting something new, we might as well go for broke from the beginning. Here is my all-time favorite song from the season of Advent.
Before I tell you what it is, think with me for a minute about a time when the season arrived, but you just weren’t feeling it. That’s not so uncommon a thing. Just because this is the season when Hallmark tells us with confidence we can find love with a past fling or an irritating coworker or a secret prince in only a week and everyone will live happily ever after doesn’t mean everyone’s story goes that way. In fact, I don’t know that anyone’s story has ever gone that way, but that’s a rant for another time.
Christmas is a season at which our culture’s worship of the god Nostalgia reaches its highest point. We reflexively look back to the past for a time when everything was just as it should have been. Our parents were together. Our siblings and we were all getting along. The decorations were all magazine-worthy. The presents were generous. Snow was falling…even in places where snow doesn’t ever fall. Everyone was happy and loving and it was perfect. Do you have that time in your mind? Yeah, me neither, and I had some pretty good Christmases growing up.
Maybe, though, you can’t even say that much. You didn’t have any good Christmases growing up. Your longing is for something that is magazine worthy because you only ever caught a glimpse of it there. Or perhaps you have experienced a tragedy of some sort that has permanently tainted the season for you. You just can’t look forward to the Christmas season because it brings back too many painful memories. How on earth are you supposed to celebrate then?
Famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, no doubt wondered the same thing when he tried to celebrate Christmas three years after losing his wife to a tragic fire accident from which he was unsuccessful in his own attempts to save her life. The nation then was embroiled in the Civil War which had claimed his oldest son as one of its gravely wounded. Christmas was not a good time in the Longfellow household. And yet, with all of that tragedy on his heart and mind, the sound of a bell ringing drew his attention to a bigger picture and higher things than his own heartaches. Out of his turmoil he penned some words that are soaked through with Scripture and offer an incredible hope to all those willing to join in his raising his eyes to the bigger story God is writing through His Son in our lives.
The poem, named after its first line, is today sung as the song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Here is one of my favorite recordings from a band called Echosmith. I pray it is a gift of hope for you today.