Paul David Tripp wrote in Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional:
"The thing that should make you stop in your tracks, activate your heart and mind, and fall to your knees is that this story is real. It took place in real time at real locations with real people. All human history was marching to the specific point in time when this story would unfold, and the implications of the events of this story reach to everyone who has lived since. The Christmas story is the story of stories."
We invite you to enjoy the "story of stories" this December with this reading schedule developed from the crossway.org schedule, Advent: A 31-Day Reading Plan.
Sun, Nov 29: John 1:1-5
Mon, Nov 30: Genesis 3
Tue, Dec 1: Psalm 13
Wed, Dec 2: Psalm 24
Thu, Dec 3: Leviticus 16
Fri, Dec 4: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Sat, Dec 5: Hebrews 8
Sun, Dec 6: Isaiah 2:2-5
Mon, Dec 7: Isaiah 9:2-7
Tue, Dec 8: Isaiah 11:1-9
Wed, Dec 9: Isaiah 11:10-16
Thu, Dec 10: Isaiah 39:5-40:11
Fri, Dec 11: Isaiah 52:1-12
Sat, Dec 12: Micah 5:2-5
Sun, Dec 13: Zechariah 9:9-13
Mon, Dec 14: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Tue, Dec 15: Ezekiel 34:11-16
Wed, Dec 16: Isaiah 53
Thu, Dec 17: Romans 5:12-17
Fri, Dec 18: Hebrews 1:1-4
Sat, Dec 19: Isaiah 61:1-4
Sun, Dec 20: Colossians 1:15-22
Mon, Dec 21: Philippians 2:1-11
Tue, Dec 22: Galatians 4:4-7
Wed, Dec 23: Luke 1:39-56
Thu, Dec 24: Luke 1:57-80
Fri, Dec 25: Luke 2:1-20
Sat, Dec 26: Matthew 2:1-12
Sun, Dec 27: Luke 2:21-40
Mon, Dec 28: Luke 4:16-21
Tue, Dec 29: Hebrews 9:27-28
Wed, Dec 30: 2 Peter 3:11-13
Thu, Dec 31: Revelation 21:1-5
Some of RCC's worship team members got together over several nights in October to record three songs for a CD for our 2020 Family Christmas Box. These songs are available below for you to both listen to on your computer as well as download to your phone or other device.
A huge thanks to each of our instrumentalists and vocalists for the investment of their gifts and time, as well as to our worship minister, Keith Shimfessel, for recording and producing this very special gift for our family.
Pop quiz, Hotshot! (That's my homage to the trivia podcast Good Job, Brain and the movie, Speed, where the quote comes from.)
Question: What do the following have in common?
- Slimy River Bottom
- Never Hit Your Grandmother with a Great Big Stick
- Dirty, Dirty Me I'm Disgusted with Myself
- Will You Love Me When I'm Old and Ugly?
Answer: They are all songs that Charlene Darling told her Pa that she didn't want to hear sung because they made her cry. (from The Andy Griffith Show, for those of you who are too young to remember or not from the South!)
I don't really know what it says about me, but unlike Charlene, I don't shy away from music that produces tears. Instead, I tend to gravitate toward it.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I search for songs that will cause warm, salty fluid to flow down my face. But whether it is the voice, the harmonies, the instrumentation, the arrangement, the lyrics, or the worship, music is a powerful emotional catalyst for me.
It should come as no surprise, then, that some of my favorite Christmas songs are in the minor key, songs like O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
(Do yourself a favor. Take five minutes to listen to Margaret Becker's haunting version, dry your eyes, maybe even wipe your nose, then come back and finish reading. And for those of you who prefer instrumentals, here is a recording of my son, Wyatt playing the song last December.)
O Come, O Come Emmanuel is the oldest song that any of us have ever heard. The hymn, originally composed in Latin, was written in the twelfth century, based on an even older set of prayers, and probably sung by monks as a chant.
The tone of the music is obvious, but if you listen closely, you will realize that its lyrics are also far removed from our "normal" joyful celebrations of Christmas.
As we sing...
- We put ourselves into the place of captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.
- We pray to be set free from Satan's tyranny and to be saved from depths of Hell.
- We ask our coming Lord to disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death's dark shadows put to flight.
I mean, Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas it's not.
Some might consider the words to be too glum or depressing for the season. But the reality is that even in Christmases that are filled with joy and health and plenty, there can still be difficulties.
But this is 2020, the year that Time magazine this week will declare to be "the worst year ever."
It's probably not, by the way. I'm pretty sure 536 A.D., when a dense fog, believed to be caused by a massive volcanic eruption, plunged half of the world into total darkness... for eighteen months - I'm guessing that was worse!
But 2020 is the worst year of most of our lifetimes. As I have already said many times this year, "All of us have lost something, some much more than others." And so, this Christmas, the hymn's words only seem apropos.
This year, we have caught a glimpse of Satan's tyranny, and we long for God to send away death's dark shadows. We yearn for the day when God's Kingdom will come, and His justice will prevail. Even more, we anticipate the moment when God will personally wipe every tear away from our eyes.
Advent and Christmas remind us that we don't just need Jesus' first coming; we desperately need His second coming as well.
But as we long for Emmanuel's return, there is still so much that we don't understand.
- Why do the innocent suffer?
- Why does evil have opportunity?
- Why doesn't God make things better right now?
While we don't know the answers, we do know Emmanuel, which means "God with us."
And that's exactly what He promises:
"Be sure of this: I am with you always..." (Matthew 28:20 NLT)
"What's more, I am with you, and I will protect you..." (Genesis 28:15 NLT)
"Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail your nor abandon you." (Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT)
We mourn for the brokenness in our world. We long for God to make us whole. But we also know that this is not the end of the song. The hymn's chorus reminds us that we can rejoice. We rejoice because Emmanuel has come to us. God is with us!
And He is coming again!
So, dry your eyes... unless you're just being moved by some really good music. In that case, let it flow, let it flow, let it flow!
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
our spirits by Thine advent here!
Shannon L. Newsome
Can you relate to the meme?
And who knew? There is actually a word for it!
"a word or phrase resulting from the mishearing of another word or phrase, especially in a song or poem"
It's that song lyric that makes total sense to us in our heads but is not even close to what was originally written or is being sung.
- Jefferson Starship didn't build a city on sausage rolls (although I would move to a place like that in a minute! It was rock and roll!)
- Abba could probably care less if Jackie Chan ever reconsidered ("If you change your mind, Jackie Chan...")
- Guns N' Roses wasn't asking for a ride to Las Vegas ("Take me down to the pair of dice city...")
- The Monkees weren't planning on ditching their girlfriend after finally meeting her ("Then I saw her face, now I'm gonna leave her!")
- And CCR never gave anybody directions to the restroom, at least not in a song! ("There's a bathroom on the right.")
To be fair, mondegreens aren't really my issue when it comes to song lyrics (although I will admit, for years I was confident that Lucille left her husband with four hundred children and a crop in the field!).
No, my problem is that I just don't pay attention. (I'm sure my wife loves me admitting that!) Many times, I hear without listening, especially when it comes to music... which means I end up doing my fair share of making up words, or just simply humming through them.
You don't believe me? Ask my family sometime what song I'm referring to with the 'lyrics,' "Bangkok, city do-do-do!"
It's no wonder, then, that when I finally learned (and really not all that long ago) what the lyrics were referencing in one of my favorite Christmas carols, I was a little taken aback!
As I've said before, some of my favorite Christmas songs are in the minor key. I wrote about O Come, O Come Emmanuel last week, but today, I want to focus on The Coventry Carol.
Here's a link to the song performed by Alison Moyet. This has been my go-to version ever since I purchased the "A Very Special Christmas" CD over thirty years ago. If you prefer instrumentals, here's a wonderful arrangement by Don Gillis, performed by Carolina Brass (the brass quintet featuring, for many of us, our favorite trombonist!). If you don't own their Christmas album, buy it! This time of year, for me, would be almost incomplete without listening to it and Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb.
If you're like me and you tend to hear without listening, you might have missed the carol's lyrics as well.
Herod the King, in his raging / Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight / All children young to slay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee / And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing / "Bye bye, lully, lullay."
Or to quote last week's blog, "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas it's not."
It's referencing the Massacre of the Infants from Matthew's gospel, where King Herod ordered the execution of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of 2.
Now, I can probably guess the question that some of you are asking right about now, because I've asked it myself: "How is that a Christmas carol?"
Well, originally it wasn't. Written in the 16th century, it was not popular in December, but rather in the summer as part of a "Mystery Play" called "The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors." The carol was sung in the play by three mothers of Bethlehem, who come onto the stage with their children immediately after Joseph was warned by an angel to flee and take his family to Egypt.
Tim Stafford, in his article "Violent Night, Holy Night" for Christianity Today, wrote:
"Like many American boys, I learned about Jesus' birth while wearing a bathrobe. Each Advent season I got a part in the Christmas pageant, generally as either a shepherd or a wise man. At the appropriate moment, I shuffled into place and said my line - usually only one, occasionally two.
We worked from original scripts, the accounts in Luke and Matthew, portraying the Incarnation as a real event involving real people. The idea was to show Jesus' birth as history, just as Scripture does. The effort at historical authenticity never went too far. An unusually faithful reproduction would include live sheep.
To the best of my memory, Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents was never included."
With good reason too! I mean, we certainly don't want to put a little boy up in front of the church, wearing a Burger King crown, and watch him swing a cardboard sword, slaying baby dolls.
But it's in the story.
It really happened. (Many would disagree, but I'm not going to get into that right here.)
It happened, and it only reminds us of the darkness of our world that Jesus entered as the Light.
Paul David Tripp says it so much better than I ever could hope to. From Surviving the Holidays:
“If there weren’t pain, suffering, sin, destruction, discouragement, and death, there would be no need for Christmas. This holiday is about suffering. This holiday is about pain.
Now, what we’ve done – and it’s right to do that – we’ve made this a holiday of celebration, because we celebrate the coming of the Messiah. But in so doing, we forget why He came. He came to end suffering. He came to end death. He came to end sin, end brokenness, end pain, and destruction, and discouragement.
And, so, this is the sufferer’s holiday. Rather than the holiday to be avoided, I ought to run toward Christmas! Because what Christmas tells me is, ‘There’s hope for people like me.’ Christmas guarantees that God has, will, and will continue to address what I’m going through.”
Don't miss it.
There is hope for people like you.
Which means there is hope for people like me.
So, will you join me in running toward Christmas, and singing the good news:
"Glory in Aunt Chelsa's stable!"
Check that. Let's make sure we get the words right on this one, at least.
"Glory in Excelsis Deo!"
Or "Glory to God in the highest," because...
"The true light, which gives light to everyone, [has come] into the world."
(John 1:9 ESV)
Shannon L. Newsome
I'll just go ahead and let you know right from the start; I have no idea what the difference is between a cover and a remake. I don't even know if there is a difference.
What I do know is that this year - 2020 - I have spent more time watching YouTube than ever before. And not watching just anything there, but covers (or is it remakes?).
(By the way, if you don't want to listen to any of the music, no worries. Don't click on any of the green links and just keep reading.)
Early on in the pandemic, I discovered Foxes and Fossils, a band from Atlanta whose harmonies are incredibly tight and whose remakes (or covers), many times, are simply better than the original.
More recently, I came across Josh Turner, Carson McKee, Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgrin. Sometimes they are two duets. Sometimes they are a single quartet. Sometimes they have other friends with them. Whatever... whenever... whether it's '60's folk, '70's classic, the Beatles, or even bluegrass (I can't believe I just wrote that!), I think they are awesome!
And then, of course, Colt Clark and the Quarantine Kids. While the music isn't close to the same quality as the previous artists, it's hard not to enjoy the story of a musician dad at home with his three kids during a pandemic who decides to teach them a song every day and record it. I don't really know how many songs they have actually recorded this year - my guess is over 200 - but their videos now have almost 32 million views!
Frank Zappa once said, "All the good music has already been written."
I actually was going to say that myself, but in doing the research, I found that Mr. Zappa beat me to it. But it is true for me as well. Now it's just about who can sing the song the best!
Here's a Christmas song from each of the cover (or remake) artists...
- Angels We Have Heard on High (Foxes and Fossils)
- Jingle Bells (Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgrin)
- White Christmas (Josh Turner, Carson McKee, and friends)
- Feliz Navidad (Colt Clark and the Quarantine Kids)
Still with me? If so, you're probably wondering, "What does all of this have to do with a Christmas Day blog?" Good question.
Over the last couple weeks, I've written about a couple of my favorite Christmas carols - "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "The Coventry Carol", both in the minor key. I've saved my all-time favorite carol (minor key as well) for this Christmas blog - "I Wonder as I Wander."
Remember... all the good music has already been written. Turns out that although this carol was written and first published by John Jacob Niles in 1934, it actually had its origins in a song that he heard performed on July 16, 1933.
Here's the story from Nile's unfinished autobiography:
“'I Wonder As I Wander' grew out of three lines of music sung for me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan. The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July 1933. The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, cooking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance. Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out—a tousled, unwashed blond, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of 'I Wonder As I Wander.' At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea."
So, for two dollars' worth of quarters, or $40.04 in 2020 money, Niles came away with:
"I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on'ry people like you and like I...
He later added two verses of his own to tie Jesus' birth to His death. But from those initial twenty-seven words (at almost 7 1/2 cents per word), he crafted music and words that speak both powerfully and personally to me.
But the personal is even more powerful.
If you remember, I suffer from mondegreenitis. I hear things in song lyrics that simply are not there.
So, while I know that "on'ry people" is just the Appalachian contraction for "ordinary people," that is not how I sing the song.
Nope. In my head (and from my lips), it is "poor ornery people..."
Stubborn... bad-tempered... combative people.
Like Rich Mullins sang: "I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want, than to take what You give that I need."
And that's who my Savior came to die for.
You're like, "But that's not even in the song!" Yes, but it is in the Bible.
"In the past you were dead because you sinned and fought against God."
(Ephesians 2:1 CEV)
"When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners." (Romans 5:6 NLT)
"No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful." (Romans 5:7-8 CEV)
That's what Christmas is about, especially for ornery people like me.
And, I'm guessing, ornery people like you.
Thank you, Jesus.
Shannon L. Newsome