I love Christmas Carols. Even when I feel dead to everything else about Christmas, Christmas Carols seem to wake me up from within. Music has an amazing way to slip past even the most hardened heart.
Christmas is one of those traditions that won’t go away, and yet so often seems off kilter. It so often seems to lack purpose and focus. The John Grisham movie “Christmas with the Kranks” symbolizes the angst of people swallowed by Christmas-related paraphernalia. Christmas Carols are ideal for helping us regain focus at Christmas.
Randy Stonehill poignantly sang: “I wonder if this Christmas they’ll begin to understand that the Jesus that they celebrate is much more than a man…” The first purpose of Christmas is to bring pleasure to God, otherwise called Worship. That is why at Christmas so many of us love to sing: “O Come let us adore him, Christ the Lord”. For many years, Christmas to me was just about eating turkey and getting presents. Being dragged to church on Christmas Eve or even worse Christmas morning seemed like a serious intrusion into an otherwise good festival. As I have refocused on the real meaning of Christmas, I hear afresh the Christmas Carol singing: “O Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, o come ye to Bethehem”.
Year after year, Christmas miraculously brings friends and families back together. When I was younger, I enjoyed spending Christmas with my grandparents and family, but didn’t fully realize what a wonderful gift this was. The second purpose of Christmas, I have discovered, is fellowship. At the heart of lasting fellowship is great food, lots of fun, and deep listening. God put us here on earth to learn how to love each other. Christmas is a great time to do that. Christmas is a time when like shepherds summoned to his cradle, we leave our flocks and then flock together.
I never realized when I was young that Christmas was meant to transform me. Years later I discovered that all that joy at Christmas had a third purpose: to make me more like Christ, which is Discipleship. As that great Christmas Carol puts it, “Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice! Now you need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save!” There is a joy released at Christmas that can radically transform anyone’s life if we will let it. That is why the Good Book says that the Joy of the Lord is our strength.
Christmas for me as a young person was about getting bigger and better presents. Years later I have discovered that Christmas is really about giving. Giving is not just about presents, but mostly about our hearts. The fourth purpose of Christmas is about serving others, especially the poor. Good old Scrooge learnt this lesson the hard way at Christmas. As Good King Wenceslas put it, “Therefore Christian men be sure, wealth and rank possessing, ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.” We may not like the three wise men have gold, frankincense, and myrrh to give, but when we give from our heart, Christmas becomes real to another hurting person.
When I was younger, I thought that Christmas was about me. In fact, I have discovered that Christmas is about others. That is why the fifth purpose of Christmas is “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born”. Christmas is too good to keep it to ourselves. Christmas is the kind of fun and laughter and joy that everyone needs more of. Do you know anyone who needs cheering up? Do you know anyone who has lost direction? If you do, I encourage you to reach out and bring others this Christmas to a joyful Christmas Eve service near you.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail email@example.com . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.
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For many years, John Grisham has been one of my favorite living authors. Born on February 8, 1955, Grisham is a retired attorney, an ex-politician, and a novelist best known for his works of modern legal drama. Publishers Weekly described Grisham as “the bestselling novelist of the 90s,” selling 60,742,289 copies. Grisham is one of few authors, including Tom Clancy, who have sold two million copies on a first printing. His novel The Pelican Brief sold over eleven million copies just in North America. There is no other person who has authored a number one best-selling novel of the year for seven consecutive years (1994-2,000).
Many people do not realize that Grisham is a committed Christian who has spent time in mission service in Brazil. “I started going out in 1993 with a church group from my home church in Oxford, Mississippi,” he told USA Today. “We went down there for the purpose of constructing a church in this little town sort of in the outback and it was such a rewarding experience that I’ve done it several times since.”
With over 110 million books sold, John Grisham and his wife, Renee, “measure the success of the year on how much we give away,” Grisham told USA Today. They have set up a foundation to oversee their giving — “the bulk of it goes to church and related activities” — to which “the kids have said, ‘Look, don’t give it all away.’”
Grisham now wishes “I’d joined the Peace Corps … for a couple years out of college.” He added, “As my years go by, I think I’ll spend more and more time doing … mission work, probably in Brazil.”
Fittingly, Grisham in his book ‘The Testament’ makes a heroine of an illegitimate daughter Rachel Lane, an unknown missionary in the deepest jungles of Brazil. Troy Phelan, the 10th-richest man in America, outrages all his greedy family by giving Rachel his $11 billion fortune. Ironically, Rachel leads a simple life and couldn’t care less about money. The interaction between Nate O’Riley the recovering alcoholic lawyer and Rachel Lane reveals the depth of Grisham’s spiritual convictions. “Nate closed his eyes … and called God’s name. God was waiting. … In one glorious acknowledgment of failure, he laid himself bare before God. He held nothing back. He unloaded enough baggage to crush any three men. … ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered to God. ‘Please help me.’ As quickly as the fever had left his body, he felt the baggage leave his soul. With one gentle brush of the hand, his slate had been wiped clean.”
Grisham explained to USA Today, “Nate tried power and women and booze and drugs and the fast life and all the good things that money can buy. He’s crashed and burned four times in 10 years and it’s obvious he can’t save himself. I wanted to take a guy like that and sort of follow him on a kind of spiritual journey, his quest for a spiritual cure. … I was challenged by the goal of seeing if I could make such a spiritual journey work in a popular novel, in commercial fiction.”
I thank God for John Grisham and other writers who encourage us to think, to stretch, and to explore the meaning of life.