Old Familiar Carols Played

When I was in seminary, one of my professors would sometimes point out the error in what might otherwise be considered a beloved hymn of the faith. Being the eager and impressionable soul that I am, I tried the exercise on my own and found that, sure enough, lyrics don’t always square up with Scripture.

Consider the carol In the Bleak Midwinter for example. I love that song, especially when James Taylor sings it, yet I find myself asking: “Was Jesus really born in winter?” Probably not. Could the bleak midwinter be a metaphor for a cold world in need of a Savior, yet so hardened as to not even know its need? Maybe. And what of the last stanza? Does one really give their heart to Jesus? This seems to imply an element of human goodness apart from and reaching toward God, when in fact the Bible says we are born enemies of God and at war with Him–that by God’s grace (and by the gift of faith), it is His Spirit who enables us to see our need for Jesus, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification. (See John 6:44John 6:65Ephesians 2:1-9; and Romans 4:25 for starters.) This is not giving, but rather receiving God’s free gift.

I understand the importance of truth, really I do, but sometimes the constant call for discernment—and the differing opinions of what that is, for in fact you could think that I am wrong and you may well be right!—has me wailing (often audibly, I might add), “Marantha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”  And so I turn to memories of a simpler time—when the miraculous birth of Jesus, His perfect life, and His death and resurrection for a sinning world that scorned Him was the complex yet uncomplicated truth as I knew it.

Quite simply, one of my favorite memories of Christmases past is this:


Mom and her three girls singing Christmas carols ’round the old upright. Christmas 1976

Our old upright piano was an eyesore of an instrument. Secondhand. Broken off and discolored keys. Never quite in tune. (It and me.) None of that mattered, really. Especially at Christmas time.

My older sister, Beth, would take requests. Mine was always I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. For better or worse, my favorite verse was this one: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.'” …And Lori sang loud.

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