Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What Song Is This?

So here we are again at Christmas.

Growing up Lutheran, you realize early on that there are two tenets of the faith: one, Jesus died for our sins, and two, you had damn well better sing about it. Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps the foremost of Lutheran choral composers, wrote over 300 cantatas in his lifetime, or roughly one for every Sunday, feast day, and holiday for five years (which explains on several levels his Coffee Cantata).

Of course, as a bright young lad with an above-average singing voice, Christmas meant one thing and one thing only for me: sing, boy, SING! Sunday school pageant (soloist). Adult church choir (never enough altos, right?). School vocal concert (again, soloist). Christmas Eve service cantor -- for not one, not two, but three different churches. It was like being Andrea Bocelli, only without the hair, groupies, and bumping into things.

Along the way, though, I picked up one song that has to me always symbolized at its deepest level what Christmas is and truly about.
What child is this who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping
This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring Him laud
The Babe, the Son of Mary

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh
Come peasant, King, to own Him
The King of Kings, salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him
Raise, raise the song on high
The Virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born
The Babe, the Son of Mary

Pretty straightforward, right? All that talk about joy and happiness and babies and shepherds and goodies and whatnot, how could that not be a favorite.

Truly, though, that isn't it at all. It's the second verse -- the one that most people leave out.
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding
Good Christian fear for sinners here
The silent word is pleading
Nails, spears shall pierce Him through
The Cross be borne for me, for you
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh
The Babe, the Son of Mary

Talk about a buzz kill. This is Christmas, right? All that stuff is a good three months away! We should be rejoicing! We should be praising!

Well, yes we should. But to me, the miracle of Christ's birth has never been the fact that he WAS born....but that he was WILLING to be born at all.

Seriously. Which one of you would choose, if you could, to give up the sweetest gig in the universe -- Son of God -- to be popped out in a cattle barn and dropped into a cold manger, with the knowledge that, after thirty-three years of life, you would be ditched by your friends, unjustly accused, tortured, and executed?

Jesus knew all that. He knew in gory detail what was going to happen to Him. He knew He was giving everything up for nothing, that He was going to get no thanks for what He was doing, that there would be people that, after all He said and did, would not only refuse to believe Him, but would go so far as to kill Him in the most repulsive, demeaning, humiliating, and painful way possible.

And yet....despite all that....He did it. Not for Himself, but because He loved us.

It is that act of selfless, beautiful love that is truly "the reason for the season". Even on this most joyous night, the shadow of the cross is not far away....but were it not for that cross, that suffering, there would be no Christmas.

On this great and wonderful evening, I leave you with what is my favorite Christmas song of all.....the one that always brings tears to my eyes.....sung by one of my favorite artists.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

-- Dan

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