Friday, December 28, 2012

Blue Christmas - White Christmas - No Christmas

The season of Christmas has come.  From Christmas Day, December 25, until Epiphany, Jan 6, the season of observing the birth of the Savior runs.  Twelve Days we have appointed to this special season.

Many people know the song that reflects this, few know the connection.  This is because for most people, Christmas has been lost.  For most people, the season of Christmas begins when the merchants determine to start Christmas sales and ends when the wrapping paper is put out for the trash haulers.  Most people, including most Christians who want to “Keep Christ in Christmas”, hold perceptions regarding Christmas that are based entirely upon people’s untrustworthy feelings.

Even on one of the so-called Christian radio stations, one of the pre-Christmas announcements was a call to “Remember the things that are important this Christmas, friends, family, and the birth of Jesus.”  The stated order very strongly demonstrates the order of importance.  Many people would list family before friends.  Christmas and this time of the holiday season, or Happy Holidays, is a time when people express very openly the sentiments that accompany their awareness of their need for love and belonging or familial connectedness.

Thus there are many songs written expressing these sentiments.  These tend to be very popular.

For example ELVIS Blue Christmas

Most surely everyone can relate to the feelings expressed in this song. All people feel the pull on their heartstrings when separated from one who is loved.  This song especially focuses upon boyfriend/girlfriend and husband/wife relations, but it is powerful for those who treasure any relationship.

“I’ll be home for Christmas” is another very popular song expressing these feelings of desire to be joined with others and especially family.  The song eventually says that the singer will be home for Christmas even if only in his mind.

For many people, the holiday season does become very Blue.  Sometimes a person still feels very alone even when surrounded by friends, family, and the birth of Jesus.

Nostalgia also is felt very strongly during this time of the year.  “White Christmas” is a very popular song expressing this.  Some people actually even say things like, “I’ve been praying for snow for Christmas.  It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without snow.”  Even for someone like me, a native Floridian, this music and words of this song evoke nostalgic feelings, even though I never even saw snow until I was at the seminary in St. Louis and I still do not like snow.

White Christmas

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

I don’t even like snow.  To me it is a nuisance.  It is cold, wet, messy, and dangerous.  Yet this song with its sentiment of wishfulness and longing to be with loved ones moves my heart in that direction.  The tune is especially powerful in this way.  Music is a powerful force.  Nostalgia is also very powerful.  Reminiscence of childhood times, when most people’s cares and worries were few, even though times may have been hard, is very powerful emotionally.

These feelings are so powerful that they can rule a person’s heart, mind, and spirit.  When a person is thus ruled, the body also is controlled by these.  Desire to have these feelings satisfied can become so strong that a person can be driven to great loneliness, sometimes even to hopelessness and despair.

An article that addresses this is A Message for Those Not Feeling “Merry” About Christmas

The article begins with these two paragraphs:

I am thinking a lot this Christmas about the fact that for many people, more than would ever be willing to admit openly, there is very little, “merry” about Christmas. Are you feeling this way? If so, this message is for you.
You may be dealing with personal troubles and situations that cause you intense pain and anguish of heart and mind, soul and spirit. You see all the decorations around and you hear the music, and receive the cheerful, bright and wonderful greeting cards from friends and family. These things are yet more pointed reminders to you of a long-felt grief, or hurt, or sorrow, a reminder that while many are merry, you are not.

The author, The Rev. McCain, shows great empathy and compassion and caring in this acknowledgment of the feelings that many people experience.  He attempts to give people direction toward the more solid foundation for their lives.  And as far as he goes, he offers much good thought.

He advances in this article to say:

How important it is then to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly at this time, a Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, a Word through Whom all things were made, that have been made. It was this Word, sent from the Father, who came among us, to be your great Savior, from sin, from death, from the power of hell, to pour out his lifeblood as the perfect atoning sacrificial ransom for the sins of the world, for your sins, every one of them, even those you would not want another person to know about.

This is very good.  How true it is that all of us hurting people need the indwelling of the Word of God, Christ.  We very much need to hear the Gospel that proclaims all that He has done for us and provided for us.  We need to hear His words of comfort to us.  We need to have these as the foundation of our meditation, of our thoughts and contemplations.  McCain goes on to say:

The best advice I can give to you if you are feeling lonely and sad at this time of the year is: reach out to people whom you know, and share your love with them. Dive deeply into the Word of God. Take advantage of every opportunity provided to gather with your fellow saints in Gods’ House for worship and to receive the true and lasting gifts of Christmas: forgiveness, life and salvation. These are the gifts that are truly what make for a Merry Christmas.

This is very, very good, even excellent!

However, this leaves much that is taken for granted.  Very few people truly understand the depth of what is included especially in “the true and lasting gifts of Christmas: forgiveness, life and salvation.”  Very few people truly know how this is made available by the Lord in His house.  Most people, even most who call themselves Christians, do not really know what this means.

McCain proceeds to share some beautiful and powerful words of Christ from the Gospels.  He further shares wonderful words from the Lutheran Confessions.  He reminds people of the great blessing and comfort given in the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms.  He also shares the words of a magnificent hymn by Paul Gerhardt, which are worthy of sharing again here:

“All My Heart This Night Rejoices”
by Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676
TLH # 77

1. All my heart this night rejoices
As I hear Far and near
Sweetest angel voices.
"Christ is born," their choirs are singing
Till the air Everywhere
Now with joy is ringing.

2. Forth today the Conqueror goeth,
Who the foe, Sin and woe,
Death and hell, o'erthroweth.
God is man, man to deliver;
His dear Son Now is one
With our blood forever.

3. Shall we still dread God's displeasure,
Who, to save, Freely gave
His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, He hath given
His own Son From the throne
Of His might in heaven.

4. Should He who Himself imparted
Aught withhold From the fold,
Leave us broken-hearted?
Should the Son of God not love us,
Who, to cheer Sufferers here,
Left His throne above us?

5. If our blessed Lord and Maker
Hated men, Would He then
Be of flesh partaker?
If He in our woe delighted,
Would He bear All the care
Of our race benighted?

6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh
Sin away And for aye
Full atonement maketh.
For our life His own He tenders
And our race, By His grace,
Meet for glory renders.

7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
Soft and sweet, Doth entreat:
"Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you
You are freed; All you need
I will surely give you."

8. Come, then, banish all your sadness,
One and all, Great and small;
Come with songs of gladness.
Love Him who with love is glowing;
Hail the Star, Near and far
Light and joy bestowing.

9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure,
Weep no more; See the door
To celestial pleasure.
Cling to Him, for He will guide you
Where no cross, Pain, or loss
Can again betide you.

10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted,
Who for sin, Deep within,
Long and sore have smarted;
For the poisoned wound you're feeling
Help is near, One is here
Mighty for their healing.

11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched;
Know His will Is to fill
Every hand outstretched.
Here are riches without measure;
Here forget All regret,
Fill your hearts with treasure.

12. Let me in my arms receive Thee;
On Thy breast Let me rest,
Savior, ne'er to leave Thee.
Since Thou hast Thyself presented
Now to me, I shall be
Evermore contented.

13. Guilt no longer can distress me;
Son of God, Thou my load
Bearest to release me.
Stain in me Thou findest never;
I am clean, All my sin
Is removed forever.

14. I am pure, in Thee believing,
From Thy store Evermore
Righteous robes receiving.
In my heart I will enfold Thee,
Treasure rare, Let me there,
Loving, ever hold Thee.

15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish.
Though my breath Fail in death,
Yet I shall not perish,
But with Thee abide forever
There on high, In that joy
Which can vanish never.

This is truly a wonderful hymn of great comfort and blessing.  This is especially true for those who have the depth of understanding that Pastor Gerhardt had.  For this hymn is fully understood by those whose lives are full of the regular instruction and communion of the divine service.  For those who rightly understand and rely upon the means of grace, this hymn is very powerful.

But unless a person rightly understands that this hymn is directing the heart to the promises of one’s baptism and to the joyous communion of the saints gathered to the Holy Supper, the truly great comfort and hope are lost.  In this hymn the promises of God given in Baptism are especially assumed.

This especially needs to be emphasized.  It is not enough to be directed to the words of Jesus or to the Lord’s Prayer or to the Psalms.  If this is all that a person hears the person is really being directed back to one’s own efforts at bolstering one’s own feelings.  When we are feeling down and depressed and lonely and discouraged, this is the last thing that we need.

This is why the Lord has established for us His Church on earth.  This is why He has defined the means of grace very specifically, clearly, and concretely.  This is why He has commanded that His pastors diligently teach the pure and unadulterated doctrine to the saints.  This is why He has stated beyond all question that His Church is marked by the preaching of the PURE Gospel and the uncompromised administration of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Supper.

He wants us to know that what we are being fed is truly what we need.  He wants us to be set free from trying to find our way on our own in this dark world.  He wants us to know beyond any doubt that we have a safe place in His one true Church, a place of belonging that not only feels good and safe, but truly is good and safe.  He knows that this can only be for us when He makes it so.  Thus He calls us to receive what He has ordained according to what He has established.

This is what enabled St. Paul to say that he knew how to be content even when in chains in a cold, damp, dreary dungeon.  Then the Psalms and the prayers are more than emotional boosters. Then the hymns are more than sentimental traditions.  Then our hope extends beyond the momentary sensations.

When we truly rely upon what the Lord has done for us in our baptism, we are connected to Him and to all of His saints from all times and places.  Then we are free to trust His omniscience and omnipotence and omnipresence as being For Us.  Then we know Him as our loving Father, who never abandons us and never leaves us without comfort.

Many people imagine that they can find happiness and worth through trying to be better people.  Thus they try and try, failing to accomplish what they strive to do.  Many people look to family and friends, but never reach beyond their disappointment in the weakness and failing of those from whom they expect and need much more.  Some try to elevate themselves through positive thinking, only to find themselves unable to produce enough positive to outweigh the negative surrounding them in the world.  Some seek churches with encouraging and uplifting praise services, but again find that they have to put in more energy than they get out of it.  It works for a while, but eventually their strength fails.

The Lord calls us away from all of these.  He calls us to the seemingly insignificant means of grace.  They seem to be mere water and bread and wine and words spoken by men.  And for those who count them as such, that is all that they are.  For these means are effective only in connection with faith.  When the faith that God gives is the basis for our coming to receive these, suddenly they are life and power and freedom and joy administered through tangible forms.

This is the way that the Lord has provided as our truly loving Father.  He does not leave us to believe by our own attempts.  Rather, He provides us with tangible evidence of what He promises to do.  Through these He accomplishes for us the miracle of Christmas.  Jesus is still available to us through these tangible elements just as He was when He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and when He told Thomas to stick his hand into the wounds still in the risen body of his Lord.  Today He washes us with real water so that we may feel with our bodies what He is doing in our hearts and spirits.  He feeds us through bread and wine His very body and blood so that we receive Him not only with our spirits but also with our flesh.  In this way He not only touches us in our hearts and souls, but in our very bodies.

In this way He takes away our Blue Christmas without Him.  He causes us to know that He is not far away but is actually with us everyday in every way.  In this way He moves us beyond dreaming of a White Christmas so that we rejoice in the white robe of righteousness poured over us in our baptism.

In this age we often hear the lament that some children will not have a Christmas because of a lack of gifts to unwrap.  Our God makes certain that we have such an abundance of gifts that none of us will ever have cause for such lamentation.  Through His means of grace He gives us the gifts of repentance, new life, forgiveness, everlasting life, renewal in His Holy Communion, hope that knows no boundaries, exceeding great joy, and fellowship with the Holy Trinity and the heavenly hosts.

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