As soon as Thanksgiving leftovers are stacked in the fridge, we start playing Christmas music at our house. I love JT’s version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, Down Here’s funky “Good King Wenceslas” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” but my faves are the carols found in my old red Methodist hymnal. I started playing the organ in my small church when I was a sophomore in high school. Although I never got the hang of the foot pedals, the keyboard was manageable and my limited skills seemed to be good enough for our rural congregation. I spent a lot of time practicing hymns, which was pretty good preparation for my life as a pastor’s wife.
Hymns are funny. They are familiar and comforting, yet they sometimes use words that are archaic and strange. For instance, “bring forth the royal diadem and crown him Lord of all” leaves me wondering, “What exactly is a royal diadem? And how is a royal diadem different from a regular diadem?” Another example: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come.” I raise my what? I mean, mine what? And not one person I know ever says “hither”. Why do we talk this way in church?
Yet the hymns have a richness that we often overlook. In the old standby “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” the phrase “what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer” always gets me. Prayer is a privilege? Many times I’ve thought of prayer as a duty or a discipline, but to look at prayer as a privilege gives it a new twist. And there’s the Methodist hymnal’s famous opener, “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.” Most of us have enough trouble with our one and only tongue, but Mr. Wesley wished for a thousand tongues so he could use them all to praise God. What a concept!
Too many times, I just sing along during worship without giving any thought to what the words really mean. So during this Advent season, I’m going to dig into some of the Christmas carols out of my old red hymnal and see what treasures are waiting there. You’re welcome to join me!