Singing Christmas Carols is one of my all-time favorite activities. I have such sweet memories from years past, going house to house with friends "Caroling for Compassion" where we would spread Christmas cheer through song, candlelight, and raising donations for Compassion International's Child Survival Program (this ministry provides extensive pre-natal care through toddler years in developing nations where child mortality rates are extremely high due to preventable causes). I remember the giggles on children's faces and the tears in elderly's eyes when they would open their front door and see a group of carolers by candlelight with santa hats and candy canes. I also have sweet memories of Historic New Castle's Annual Spirit of Christmas- this colonial town in Delaware has such a rich history dating back to even before our nation became a nation. I remember singing for three or four hours in the town square with my sound system echoing off the stone walls and brick roads. Hot chocolate kept me going all day, and of course St. Nicholas and Father Christmas!
Some of my most recent caroling memories are from sitting at the piano in my parent's living room- the one I grew up playing- with my nieces and nephews gathered around, singing out, dancing, and playing instruments from my collection of small instruments from around the world. So much joy! I have similar recent memories from Jamie's side of the family- in fact, just this year at Thanksgiving, since we wouldn't see many of them at Christmas, we did carols at his grandparent's house. I brought my binder filled with carols and played his Grandma & Grandpa's piano. His Uncle Tim brought his guitar, and the little toddler boys in the family all played cymbals, bells, maracas and the triangle with great enthusiasm, Joey right in the mix with his cousins!
What is it that makes these memories some of the happiest of all time? I think of the movies too- how when everyone comes together and sings Christmas carols, it's like all is well in the world. Can you think back to a time when you were singing Christmas carols and suddenly in that moment felt this surge of joy, or overwhelming peace, or an abundance of love, or incredible hope? Maybe it was the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church. Or maybe it was your child's Christmas pageant when everyone joined in to sing "Silent Night" at the end? Or maybe it was a flash mob at the mall? Or maybe it was the "Hallelujah Chorus" in Handel's "Messiah"? Or maybe it was the town tree lighting as everyone sang "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"? Whatever it may be, we all know that feeling, when your soul seems to overflow with glee and this sense of unity with others and closeness to God, all because of a simple song.
Two years ago, it was Jamie's and my first Christmas together as a married couple and we both were on the upswing of our long recoveries from surgery/chemo. I was just slowly getting back to singing and my first few opportunities were Christmas events. I was thrilled! They were also Jamie's first events to get the swing of "roadie life" (which he caught the hang of so quickly- his learning curve with anything is amazing, and he is now the world's best roadie and partner in the music ministry. My Dad knew he had passed the torch into good hands!) Last year I didn't have much opportunity to sing around Christmastime because baby Joey was born two weeks before Christmas. This year, I have been blessed to have an abundance of beautiful opportunities to lead Christmas carols with church groups and women's groups, and it gives me such joy!
Just today I had the chance to sing Christmas carols with the women of Hope Bible Church in Columbia, MD. This event was incredibly meaningful to me, and I'll tell you why...My friend Susan invited me to come share some original music and lead the women in singing at their Bible Study Christmas Brunch. Susan is the wife of Tom, who is the Senior Pastor at Hope Bible Church. They are dear friends of ours. I will forever vividly remember the day we met. It was July 13, 2015, which was Jamie's first day of chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. We took a chemo class that morning in a small room completely packed with beautiful yet fearful faces. I looked around and wondered what stories were behind each face, what diagnosis, what faith, what future...Then when we went back to the chemo pod, Jamie and I were crammed into a corner meant for only one patient and possible companion, but here we were with this couple- the man was the patient and his wife the companion. All four of us elbow to elbow in a space meant for only one to two people. Jamie and I held hands, bowed our heads and prayed before he began his first ever infusion. When we lifted our eyes, we saw the smiles on the man's and woman's face. They asked "Are you believers?" and we said "Yes!" They responded "We are too!" and we learned that Tom was a pastor of a church in Maryland.
At Johns Hopkins Hospital
This was just one of the many God-instances and Divine appointments in that chemo pod over those 9 intense weeks. We became close friends with Tom and Susan and prayer partners over the course of Jamie's and Tom's treatment. Tom and Jamie could grunt like men and just look at each other when they'd see each other, knowing one another's pain and trial. Susan and I could laugh, cry, hug, and pray for one another. Singing Christmas carols together with Susan today and other sweet sisters in Christ at her church was one of the most beautiful moments this Christmas season, as we both were able to recount the faithfulness, miracles, and blessings of God over the past 2 1/2 years. We ended with "O Come All Ye Faithful" and our hearts poured out adoration to Christ our Lord. For He alone is worthy, and we will praise His Name forever! This is a Carol that possibly dates back to the 13th century, and the current version we now sing is from the 18th century. Yet today, it felt like the song was written for just that providential time and place at the Ladies' Bible Study Brunch as we praised our Savior Jesus. Like Mary, I want to treasure these moments up in my heart as I witness and experience the goodness of God.
At Hope Bible Church 12/16/17
Tom, Susan, Joey, Caitlin & Jamie
As I reflect on not only today's caroling experience, but the many times during Christmas over the years singing carols with family, friends, choirs, or other groups...I am brought back to the first ever few original Christmas carol found in the Gospel of Luke- the Angel's announcement in the skies, Mary's Magnificat and Zechariah's song of praise. Let's read them together as we finish tonight's Advent Journey and may our hearts be filled with the song of carols!
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests."
And Mary said,