This morning started early for me, as it has every Christmas morning since I had kids. The energy in the air was electric as my boys rushed to sort the gifts. Austin had already opened two before we were able to force some kind of orderly pattern on the occasion. There was still torn paper and cardboard everywhere, scissors passed around to release stubborn toys, and Nerf darts flying all the while.
Having worked with children, my own and in the schools, for decades now, I still marvel at the difference between children and adults. Children think ten times more, they move ten times more, and they believe ten times more than adults do. They trust and they feel and they have faith as easily as they breath. It is no wonder that the Master said that we have to become as little children to enter the kingdom of God.
I had two gifts this Christmas from my Savior, both very old and very precious. The first was the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I got a copy long ago with the most gorgeous illustrations I’ve ever seen. This year we sat down as a family and looked at the pictures. I retold the story along with a few of my favorite pages, told with the appropriate overdramatic flare that those who know me well have seen. 🙂 The boys paid attention remarkably well as I took way to long to explain the characters in loving detail, and compared the transformation of Ebenezeer Scrooge as a kind of rebirth.
As a young boy, Ebenezer Scrooge sat in the cold lonely schoolhouse with only his books and his imagination. Even though his life was far from ideal, he had his imaginary friends and fanciful stories to provide comfort and companionship. His heart could love and feel the full range of emotion. Later in life he became old and cynical and even with all the money and resources in the world, he could not have been more miserable and poor. His heart was cold and unfeeling which gave him power in the adult world that is often cruel to those who dare to feel. The ghostly visitors and their messages wrought a mighty change in him, a change of heart. He saw the truth, that only as we peel back the protective layers of cynicism and fear, only as we face the reality that the intangible things of this world are of far more significance and value than what man tends to prize, that we become as little children, able to treasure the glorious possibilities of a life filled with hope and faith. We are reborn! With the wisdom and experience of age is added the energy and enthusiasm of childhood. A truly reborn soul, fresh with the enabling power of Christ newly flowing through his veins is a veritable force of nature! Nothing is impossible to such a soul, and as hard as Satan tries to crush him, he only becomes stronger and more resolute.
The other gift from my Savior was a very old song, made new again to me with the movie that I watched of the same name. Silent Night. It was done by BYUtv so I didn’t know if it would be any good or not. Low budget Christmas films can be disappointing, but I took a chance and I’m so glad I did. I spent most of the film bawling. I thought to myself, “I’m more of a baby than Austin is.” And I was. Perhaps I was being reborn! I don’t know how much of the story was artistic invention and how much was based in fact. I don’t care! It was the story of my life and it spoke to my soul on a primal level.
Joseph Mohr, a young German priest resists his superior, Father Noestler, and insists on preaching sermons in German instead of in Latin, insisting that his congregation needed to not only hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also understand it. He goes about in his youthful enthusiasm recruiting for his church choir from the local tavern where he picks out the best voices from the drunken singers. He packs his Catholic church with sinners whom he loves and serves. Father Noestler decides to transfer him because he can’t stand the growth and life that the young priest brings to his calling. He has become old and cynical and confesses at one pivotal moment in the film that he used to be like young Joseph, but had long since found that his efforts were not worth it; that people don’t change.
In response to a series of tragic events, Joseph Mohr, and his sometime friend and collaborator Franz Gruber, write the song Silent Night and in defiance of the cynical Father, sing it on Christmas Eve with their checkered choir. Joseph Mohr is transferred, but the congregation sings his song far and wide and its beautiful simplicity has rendered it immortal.
Two truths came into focus for me in watching this movie, one is the fear that is created in the world when something is born again. When someone taps into the power of the atonement, and the message of the Savior, the world gets turned upside down. Death and decay are miserable, but they are expected. Jesus Christ brings life! It is scary and unpredictable and full of energy, like a class full of first graders in the throws of the delight of learning. There is paper and glue and messes and noise. There are arguments and tears. Ideas pop around like a popcorn popper without a lid. Nothing is impossible or off limits. That’s scary to an adult world used to slow death and dying; the predictable melancholy of cynicism. A fourteen year old boy might get a vision and start a new church! A young mother might start a blog and write about depression and anxiety! Revelations might happen. Anything might happen. That’s scary, but I can get comfortable with fear. That’s what courage is for.
The other truth is that if I decide that I will not relent; that I will continue to have faith and hope as a little child, that my Savior will provide for me, just as he did for Joseph Mohr. Just as he did for Ebenezer Scrooge. There is value in what I do, even if it seems that the world is collapsing around me. Maybe especially then. It occurred to me that there is plenty of dead religion in the world. Plenty of crusty old wine bottles. Plenty of pews full of judgmental sinners who think they can work their way to heaven while denying the need for the atonement in their own lives. There isn’t enough of the pure religion; that charity which never faileth. That is what I want. That is what He wants for me and for all of us.
My Master loves me. He gives me good gifts at Christmas time. As is his custom, he gives gifts to me on his birthday. When I should give to him, he gives to me, and my cup runneth over. I will continue in faith and in love. I will keep telling my story and giving my witness. He lives! Children love Him for they are innocent and alive, just like we can be, if we are reborn in Him. His path is a path of life, and though death and decay are certain, the resurrection is also certain. He has overcome the grave!
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth