Musings from the Gilly Pad

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"O HOLY NIGHT" Truly He taught Us to Love One Another

As we gather with family and friends, let us feast on the One who loves us perfectly, has forgiven us fully, and will redeem us wholly.  Sometimes, loving those closest to us can be difficult, it seems.  (Not in MY family, of course!)  Our home can be our soft place to land, a battlefield, or an arena for our own agenda.  Let's face it, no family is perfect, and WE are that "difficult person" more often than we'd like to admit:(  Maybe we get lazy, and forget to show the same respect that we'd have for a colleague.  Or maybe even justifiably, we go in ready to defend ourselves, because that's just become the pattern.   People view everything we say and do through the lens of their own perception of us, and we tend to return the favor.  The good news is, we're celebrating the One whose purpose for entering the world was reconciliation!  He taught us to love well!  Maybe God put difficult people in our life; to prove not how well we love,  but how well we love Him!  Truly He taught us to love one another!

Francis Schaeffer, in the Mark of a Christian, expounds on the importance of loving our neighbors (that includes our family) as ourselves and that we're to love each other in a way the world may observe.

"This means showing the love to our brothers in the midst of our differences-great or small-loving our brothers when it costs us something, loving them even under times of tremendous emotional tension, loving them in a way the world can see.  In short, we are to practice and exhibit the holiness of God and the love of God, for without this we grieve the Holy Spirit.
Love, and the unity it attest to-is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world.  Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father."

Truly He taught us to love one another!  My wish for myself and for us all, is that we be devoted seekers, learners, and doers!

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born;  O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!  Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.  His power and glory evermore proclaim.
PDS Boys "O Holy Night"


-Just a little background of one of my favorite Christmas Hymns-

The Amazing Story of 'O Holy Night'
By Ace Collins
Declared 'unfit for church services' in France and later embraced by U.S. abolitionists, the song continues to inspire.

The strange and fascinating story of "O Holy Night" began in France, yet eventually made its way around the world. This seemingly simple song, inspired by a request from a clergyman, would not only become one of the most beloved anthems of all time, it would mark a technological revolution that would forever change the way people were introduced to music.

In 1847, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was the commissionaire of wines in a small French town. Known more for his poetry than his church attendance, it probably shocked Placide when his parish priest asked the commissionaire to pen a poem for Christmas mass. Nevertheless, the poet was honored to share his talents with the church.

In a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France's capital city, Placide Cappeau considered the priest's request. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time he arrived in Paris, "Cantique de Noel" had been completed.

Moved by his own work, Cappeau decided that his "Cantique de Noel" was not just a poem, but a song in need of a master musician's hand. Not musically inclined himself, the poet turned to one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams, for help.

The son of a well-known classical musician, Adolphe had studied in the Paris conservatoire. His talent and fame brought requests to write works for orchestras and ballets all over the world. Yet the lyrics that his friend Cappeau gave him must have challenged the composer in a fashion unlike anything he received from London, Berlin, or St. Petersburg.

As a man of Jewish ancestry, for Adolphe the words of "Cantique de Noel" represented a day he didn't celebrate and a man he did not view as the son of God. Nevertheless, Adams quickly went to work, attempting to marry an original score to Cappeau's beautiful words. Adams' finished work pleased both poet and priest. The song was performed just three weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Initially, "Cantique de Noel" was wholeheartedly accepted by the church in France and the song quickly found its way into various Catholic Christmas services. But when Placide Cappeau walked away from the church and became a part of the socialist movement, and church leaders discovered that Adolphe Adams was a Jew, the song--which had quickly grown to be one of the most beloved Christmas songs in France--was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church. The heads of the French Catholic church of the time deemed "Cantique de Noel" as unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and "total absence of the spirit of religion." Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it, and a decade later a reclusive American writer brought it to a whole new audience halfway around the world.

Not only did this American writer--John Sullivan Dwight--feel that this wonderful Christmas song needed to be introduced to America, he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: "Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease." The text supported Dwight's own view of slavery in the South. Published in his magazine, Dwight's English translation of "O Holy Night" quickly found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War.

Back in France, even though the song had been banned from the church for almost two decades, many commoners still sang "Cantique de Noel" at home. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between the armies of Germany and France, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides stared at the seemingly crazed man. Boldly standing with no weapon in his hand or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang, "Minuit, Chretiens, c'est l'heure solennelle ou L'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'a nous," the beginning of "Cantique de Noel."

After completing all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out his hiding place and answered with, "Vom Himmel noch, da komm' ich her. Ich bring' euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring' ich so viel, Davon ich sing'n und sagen will," the beginning of Martin Luther's robust "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come."

The story goes that the fighting stopped for the next twenty-four hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day. Perhaps this story had a part in the French church once again embracing "Cantique de Noel" in holiday services.

Adams had been dead for many years and Cappeau and Dwight were old men when on Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden--a 33-year-old university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison--did something long thought impossible. Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a man's voice was broadcast over the airwaves: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed," he began in a clear, strong voice, hoping he was reaching across the distances he supposed he would.

Shocked radio operators on ships and astonished wireless owners at newspapers sat slack-jawed as their normal, coded impulses, heard over tiny speakers, were interrupted by a professor reading from the gospel of Luke. To the few who caught this broadcast, it must have seemed like a miracle--hearing a voice somehow transmitted to those far away. Some might have believed they were hearing the voice of an angel.

Fessenden was probably unaware of the sensation he was causing on ships and in offices; he couldn't have known that men and women were rushing to their wireless units to catch this Christmas Eve miracle. After finishing his recitation of the birth of Christ, Fessenden picked up his violin and played "O Holy Night," the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves. When the carol ended, so did the broadcast--but not before music had found a new medium that would take it around the world.
Since that first rendition at a small Christmas mass in 1847, "O Holy Night" has been sung millions of times in churches in every corner of the world. And since the moment a handful of people first heard it played over the radio, the carol has gone on to become one of the entertainment industry's most recorded and played spiritual songs. This incredible work--requested by a forgotten parish priest, written by a poet who would later split from the church, given soaring music by a Jewish composer, and brought to Americans to serve as much as a tool to spotlight the sinful nature of slavery as tell the story of the birth of a Savior--has become one of the most beautiful, inspired pieces of music ever created.

Reprinted from "Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas" for educational purposes only, from Zondervan. 


Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Gilly Pad Christmas Traditions

My angels, a dwarf, and a honeymoon memory.

It seems as if it's the insignificant things that trigger rich memories of family traditions, like the common items that get brought out once a year to hang on our tree.  Look at those sweet little angel ornaments on my tree!  I don't see them as "my little angels" on a daily basis, though.  Honestly, because they're not.  Today, I've had to place a ban on the television because no one could agree on what to watch.  It became a "you vs. me" battle among the kids.  If one can't sacrifice their own agenda, no one gets what they want.  That's the way it's going down here at the Gilly Pad today!  Now back to my tree.  I love to see those precious little 5 year old faces in the center of that paper doily!  One particular ornament, the wooden sled, holds meaning for us as a couple.  I'm taken back to a time of sheer ignorance...I mean innocence and wedded bliss because we went to Maine for our honeymoon.  Honeymoons are so weird.  I have no other word.  We had a blast because mainly we really like each other.  But weird things happen.  I saw my husband brush his teeth for the first time...among other things!  Weird.
One of my favorite sets of ornaments to adorn our tree is the little plastic group of the seven dwarfs. My husband's family had a tradition of giving all the kids a Christmas ornament each year.  My husband's parents were both school teachers, and they would get odd jobs during the school break in order to buy presents.  Not a lot of money could be spent on ornaments, but it was a tradition, and they made it a priority.  So this simple, plastic ornament is a reminder of how his parents sacrificed in order to provide for their family.  Now that we're parents, we have such a better perspective of the sacrifices both sets of parents made and how meaningful our childhood was.  I love how family history grounds us and gives us a sense from where we've come.  It gives a us a sense of belonging that each of us has embedded in the depths of our soul.

Objects of old and new, dabbled in green and blue
Family traditions are really important.  It's something about being a part of something bigger than ourselves, isn't it?  It's really only through those traditions and family stories that our legacy continues.  What happens to a people when the story is no longer honored?  Without it, generations are forgotten, and we lose our family story.  Our "Elfie" has been a part of the Gilliland family for a couple of generations.  This is well before "Elf on a Shelf."  The kids don't actually see Elfie.  He comes to see the kids every night and places candy or some other unnecessary plastic object on their Advent calendar.  Since Elfie came to see my husband as a child, he has the honors of making sure Elfie does his job:)

The most popular story this time of year is so familiar, that we forget that we are a part of the story, as well.  We've let the story become irrelevant to our everyday existence.  The narrative has lost its place as truth and has been replaced by feelings, individual choices and trends of the moment.  The familiar story is about the birth of Christ, God made flesh!  We set up the nativity scene, without remembering that the baby became a man crucified, whose body and blood cleanses and sustains us.  Even His story is part of a much bigger story, and begins well before His birth in a manger.  The whole Bible is the story of the life and purpose of Christ, beginning in Genesis and threaded through a family.  Christ came to us in a family!  (Not a man who appears out from the solitude of the woods, or from a dream of a man (of course) that tells him upon death, he'll have his choice of ten virgins!)

Yes, the purpose of Christ's coming to earth in a family is so much bigger and better than Sweet Baby Jesus!  Spoiler alert:  Jesus is not a white English speaking American!  Jesus isn't a republican or a democrat.  Christ came on a mission, and lived a life of love and sacrifice.  His story hasn't sustained longevity on theatrics or cliff-hangers.  No, His story remains because He lived it.  He also brings us into His story, and we live in that story with him, now!  Our Christian religion is more than a tradition, its our heritage.  It grounds us and gives us a sense of belonging and security.  He is a covenant God and He remembers the promise He made with His family.  Jesus came to heal all of creation, to restore all things back to Himself.  His is the great story of reconciliation and peace!  All cultures everywhere are part of His great redemptive narrative found in the Scripture.  It's not just a priority to continue the story, it's an honor.  How wonderful to share and live in this story that has been sustained for thousands and thousands of years with people from every tribe and every nation! 

There's something about Christmas that also brings out my inner Texan!  This year I gathered all the sparkly, shiny things I could muster and placed them on my mantle.  I love my collection of mid-century modern vases!