About the Guest
Who made Christmas famous? All the tinsel and glitter of the season might cause you to think Santa Claus. But as Christians, we know it's Jesus Christ whom we honor and celebrate on December 25. But why don't more of our decorations reflect that? Barbara Rainey talks more about her new resource, Adorenaments, which feature seven of Jesus' royal names designed into a shimmering crown. Barbara tells how these ornaments not only make beautiful decorations, but provide a way for parents to teach their children about Christ's majesty too. Ace Collins joins Barbara to explain more about the beautiful hymn "Angels We Have Heard on High."
Barbara talks about her resources featuring Jesus’ royal names while Ace explains the hymn “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Bob: There is something about the music of Christmas.
[Piano rendition of Angels We Have Heard on High]
Barbara: I think, for most people, Christmas carols / Christmas hymns are a very important part of the way we celebrate Christmas. Just think about it. Christmas would be very, very different if we had no music. It’s everywhere during the holiday season. It would be a dramatically different experience if we didn’t have Christmas music. The more we know about these songs, the more meaningful they are. So, when you sing it next time, you go: “Oh! That was the song that this man wrote when he went to Bethlehem.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today forFriday, December 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about how to make your Christmas season more memorable and more meaningful. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. So, are you worn out talking about Christmas yet?
Dennis: No, because I’m talking about one I love—actually two that I love.
Dennis: I’m talking about the Savior, who made Christmas famous in the first place. In fact, that’s kind of a great question to ask people.
Say: “You know? Do you know the One who made Christmas famous?” Just ask them that question. I love asking them when they’re wearing a cross.
Dennis: They think for a second; and they go, “Bing Crosby?” “Nat King Cole?” “Frank Sinatra?” [Laughter]
Bob: “Santa Claus?”
Dennis: “Uhh—Walt Disney?” The reality is—a lot of secular folks have captured Christmas—but the one I love the most is Jesus Christ. The second person I love is Barbara. She has begun to fulfill a dream because she has a collection of ornaments, that she’s created, that declare Jesus Christ through the branches of a Christmas tree and on the branches of a Christmas tree.
Bob: If listeners have been in a cave for the last couple weeks, you want to tell them what we’ve been talking about?
Barbara: I’ll be glad to tell them what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a collection of ornaments that we are creating called Adorenaments®. They’re ornaments that are all the names of Jesus Christ.
Last year, we had the first set of seven that were called His Christmas names. They are the names that we most commonly associate with Christmas—from the Luke story, and from the verses in Isaiah, and also from Matthew.
Then, this year, we are introducing set number two—which is His royal names—and those are the names of Jesus as King—King of Israel, and Son of David, and Lion of Judah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and two others. There’s a collection of seven royal names—that are all designed in the shape of a crown—with the name etched on the crown itself.
The purpose for all of these is so that we, who are believers—we, who love Jesus Christ—can proclaim who He is during the Christmas season as we decorate our Christmas trees because all of us are going to decorate a Christmas tree of some kind and some size. What a better way to do it than to put some ornaments on your tree that are about Jesus?
Bob: You envisioned these, not just as beautiful statements of faith, but as discipleship tools.
Barbara: Absolutely. I think holidays are such a ripe time for imparting truth to our children. I think our kids know there is something special about Christmas. They want to know what it is. They want to know why it’s special—“Why is it important?” “Why is it meaningful?” It’s a perfect opportunity for a mom or a dad to teach their children what Christmas is all about.
Bob: You help them do that. You created a booklet that comes with each set so that parents can read aloud: “What is this name of Jesus all about?” Not only are you discipling your children—but at the same time, with every set of Adorenaments you buy—you’re helping other children; aren’t you?
Barbara: That’s right because a portion of every purchase goes to help fund the work of Hope for Orphans®.It’s an organization that works with orphan care, adoption care, and foster care.
Bob: Then, in addition to the names of Jesus, this year, you designed some ornaments that are all about some of the great hymns of Christmas; right?
Barbara: Yes. I think, for most people, Christmas carols / Christmas hymns are a very important part of the way we celebrate Christmas. Just think about it. Christmas would be very, very different if we had no music. It’s everywhere during the holiday season. It would be a dramatically different experience if we didn’t have Christmas music. The more we know about these songs, the more meaningful they are.
So, we’ve created a set of eight ornaments with some of the most popular Christmas carols that all of us know. On the back of each ornament, there is a brief story about who wrote it, and when it was written, and why it was written—some of the background / some of the information behind the story—so when you sing it the next time, you go: “Oh! That was the song that this man wrote when he went to Bethlehem.”
Bob: We have had our friend, Ace Collins, joining us this week because Ace knows a lot of the stories behind most of the songs of Christmas. Ace has written a couple of books that detail where our Christmas hymns come from.
Ace, one of the songs I’m curious about is one that I like to sing harmony to, especially when you get to the chorus. It’s the song Angels We Have Heard on High. What’s the background behind that Christmas hymn?
Ace: If you look in most hymnals, it’s actually tagged as a French carol. Well, French carols are like O Holy Night. They challenge your voice. This song only has a span of seven notes from the highest to lowest. It’s written more like a Catholic chant—like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, for instance—which was one of the older carols written by a monk sometime around 900 or 1000.
But this particular song—this French carol—obviously couldn’t have come from that. Doing the research—rather than originating in France in the 1700s—we were able to trace it back to about the 900s when Catholic churches were singing it. At that particular point, I was ready to give it to a nameless monk and move on. Then, a friend of mine, who is getting his doctorate in theology, came across a mention of Gloria in Excelsis Deos.
It was mentioned that a Pope in about 130 A.D. had instructed all of his congregations—all of the congregations of the Christian church, at that time—to sing this particular song when certain passages of Luke were to be read—Gloria was to be sung. Well, if all of the churches in 130 A.D. knew this song, and it was only passed down through oral traditions—you didn’t have people publishing music—you didn’t have people playing it on the radio—the song probably had to be at least 75 or 80 years old. That takes it back to 50/60 A.D.—that it may have had its origins—or further back.
Ace: So, if you think about it, the writer of the song, Angels We Have Heard on High, may have actually heard those angels.
Bob: Amazing. The words Gloria in Excelsis Deo—“Glory to God in the highest,”—that’s what that actually means—it’s the Latin for that. When we’re singing that, we’re singing what the angels actually spoke on the night that Jesus was born, according to Luke, Chapter 2; right?
Ace: And the man who was there may have heard it.
Bob: Yes, and recorded it—and we’ve been singing it ever since.
Dennis: It’s great to know the origin of the song now. I look forward to heaven and finding out if, indeed, it does go all the way back to, maybe, those who did hear some angelic voices.
You did some research on a song called I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. That’s kind of a special song, as well.
Ace: One of the things is—America has only given the world one Christmas tradition. They all came from Europe. The poinsettia is the only “North American tradition.”
Ace: Everything else came from Europe, and we adopted it over here; but we have given the world so many incredible Christmas songs. You can see that music is a part of the American soul. The reason certain songs last is they’re reflective of the time—and how tragic the times are—and how insecure the people are during those times.
Certainly I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day reflects that because here is a song written by—would you say the greatest American poet ever?
Bob: Longfellow; right?
Ace: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Wouldn’t you say he’s the greatest American poet?
Bob: Yes, you’d have to think—
Ace: A man who’d written so much incredible work. Yet, here’s a man who, as a teacher, had watched many of his students—male students—leave during the Civil War. Many of those kids never returned. His own son returned very, very badly injured. Just when he thought the depression could get no worse, his wife was lighting a lamp with a candle, and her nightgown caught on fire—and she burned to death.
He lost all his faith. He lost everything that he had. Here’s a man, who in the midst of the Civil War—who was this widely-recognized, world-renowned poet—was suffering in the midst of depression.
He opened up his window on Christmas Day and heard the bells. We think of that being kind of a neat Christmas carol. But if you think about the words of this song, there’s despair in it. You go to the third verse:
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then from each black, accused mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Eventually, when the song ended, it ended on an up-note.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong will fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Longfellow, who was in the midst of several years of great depression, suddenly shed that depression by simply writing what was on his heart. Ultimately, when he got rid of all the trash that was in his heart, he suddenly found the faith he thought he had lost.
Dennis: It’s fascinating to me that probably the most common thread is that of suffering—dark days—songs born from a heart that has been broken. It may be that turning to some of these great hymns—knowing, now, where they come from and from whose hearts they have been born—perhaps, you can sing those songs; and it can lift your spirit out of your trouble.
Bob: It reminds me of Meet Me in St. Louis—the movie. Judy Garland and the family is moving away from St. Louis, and they don’t want to go. It’s their last Christmas in the house that they’ve grown up in.
Here’s this song—where they’re singing, “Let’s have a merry Christmas because we’re really miserable.” That’s really the theme behind that song; isn’t it?
Ace: And when Hugh Martin and Ralph Lane—who were an Academy Award-winning song-writing team—wrote that song—they wrote it in that fashion—and Judy Garland got the words and refused to sing it. She refused to sing it because this musical was made in the midst of World War II. There was a line in that song that read: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas. It may be your last. Next year, we will be living in the past.”
Garland said that she could not sing a song that gave that kind of message out to mothers and fathers, and wives, and children whose husbands were overseas fighting a war for freedom in World War II. She said: “You have to change it. You have to make it more hopeful. You have to make it be a song that gives these people hope.”
What happened was—the song was rewritten as a song of almost a prayer—that “We will be back together again,” “We are going to survive this,” “We are going to move forward.” It was one of her most-requested songs during World War II when she entertained the troops. They all wanted to hear that song. Even if it was July, they wanted to hear Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. If the words had not been changed, think of how tragic that song would have been when it was sung.
And if you look at it—throughout World War II—it is one of our greatest songs. We consider them secular songs. We don’t sing them in church—but be it White Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas—those songs—those three, in particular, all really represent prayers—prayers of a family reunion. I’ll Be Home for Christmas is 12 lines—that’s all—12 lines. Yet, those 12 lines, each one of them, are powerful in the imagery of what they paint and what people want.
In the early 60s, we were caught in the midst of the Vietnam War—a tragic time in this country. There was a French immigrant to this country who spoke no English. His name was Noel.
He had survived World War II in Nazi-occupied France. He, probably more than anyone in the world, felt the pain of seeing a conflict taking lives again because he thought the world would never go through anything like he had been through in World War II.
Yet, played on the nightly news, he saw it over and over again. He came to the United States looking for a new life. His first night in the States, he walked into the hotel dining room. There playing piano was a woman named Gloria Shayne. Noel couldn’t speak English, and Gloria couldn’t speak French; yet, somehow, they communicated with each other. They fell in love. They got married. Six months later, wrote a song about the essence of their faith and the essence of praying every day for peace on earth.
The song was Do You Hear What I Hear?—which I think is one of the most magical, wonderful, spiritual Christmas songs of all time because Do You Hear What I Hear? is about the birth of Christ. Yet, you can understand the song so much more when you understand that here’s a man who is writing it because he sees no hope and he sees no peace. Yet, he writes this song that is filled with such great hope and such great peace. Once again, out of depression is born something that spiritually lifts us up in a very special way.
Said the king to the people everywhere,
“Listen to what I say.
Pray for peace, people everywhere!
Listen to what I say.
A star, a star, dancing in the night,
It will bring us goodness and light.
Ace: I think that Noel and Gloria captured something that is the essence of faith. That’s the fact that you can look for peace in your life and on earth everywhere—but there’s only one way to ever find true peace—and that is through Jesus. That’s what they’re talking about.
Here is the person who came to bring peace—maybe, not the kind of peace that eliminates human suffering because humans do that—but the kind of peace that, ultimately speaking, gives each one of us what we need to feel in our heart.
Dennis: Ace, I just appreciate your gifts as a historian, and a communicator of great stories, and preserving for the Christian community just how many of these songs find their origins back in the Christian faith. I just appreciate you, and your work, and think you’ve really done the Christian community a great service by calling to mind the humanity behind these songs so that we don’t lose sight of the human hearts from which they were birthed. I just appreciate you sharing that with us.
Ace: I loved being here, and I love talking about it because you just hit upon a wonderful point—the humanity. God sent Jesus in human form. The humanity began with Christ; it didn’t begin with us.
We’re an extension of the humanity from that first Christmas, all those years ago. The songs, therefore, are our attempts, in our own feeble way, to express what we are given when Christ, not only was born, but when Christ died for us and then rose again for us.
The songs are an explanation point of our faith and our understanding; and therefore, are much more than just Christmas songs. These are testaments of love, and these really are mighty. Rather than having a happy Christmas this year, let’s go back to the original meaning of the word “merry” in old England—and have a mighty Christmas.
Bob: That’s what really has been your heart in all of this, Barbara, as you’ve been working on the resources you’re working on. There’s nothing wrong with a happy Christmas or a merry Christmas, but a mighty Christmas is something even bigger and better than all of that; isn’t it?
Barbara: Yes, a mighty Christmas is a lot better than just a merry Christmas.
Dennis: And what better way to have a mighty Christmas than to—
Barbara: Celebrate the Almighty.
Dennis: Celebrate the Almighty is right. I think we need a fresh reminder of who He is—what His names are. In getting to know His name, we get to know Him—His character, the qualities of His life—the Almighty, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God—and the new royal names that Barbara has created this year—all in the shape of a crown that really declare Him for who He is—King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Bob: That’s the point. The names really are a reflection of the attribute. The name means something—
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: —and so when we learn the names—when we study the names—we’re really getting to know God better.
Barbara: That’s right. As parents, we know that, in order to teach our kids, we have to have some forethought—we have to be intentional. This is a very easy way for parents to be intentional with their kids at Christmas because we’re going to decorate trees anyway; right?
We’re going to put up ornaments—we’re going to play Christmas music. Okay—so get some ornaments that have some teaching that come with them.
The Adorenaments all come with a booklet. You can read a very short description of each name to your children as you’re hanging the ornaments. Or you could read it in the morning at breakfast—whatever works for your family—but it allows you to be intentional, as a mom and a dad, and to impart spiritual truth to your kids—which will, therefore, make the Christmas holiday more meaningful because we’ll understand what it’s all about.
Bob: At the same time, the tree looks pretty good; doesn’t it?
Barbara: It does look pretty good. [Laughter]
Barbara: I agree.
Dennis: Actually, it’s a great way to truly share Christ at Christmas—maybe, opening the door for them to come to know the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Bob: You give somebody, who’s not a regular church-goer, an ornament that says “King of Kings” at Christmastime—they don’t object to that because—
Barbara: No they don’t.
Bob: —it’s Christmas.
Barbara: Lots of women go to ornament exchanges—it is a little coffee/tea party, and you exchange ornaments. It’s very, very common; and all of us give gifts. All of us women are thinking about gifts for the teachers and all these different people. An ornament is a perfect gift because it’s the right price-point, it’s the right size, and it fits everybody because everybody has a Christmas tree. So, it’s a perfect gift to give to just about anybody; and it would be well-received.
Dennis: And when it’s well-done, like what Barbara’s done, it’s a show-stopper. I was traveling on a plane, a year ago; and I had some of these resources that Barbara has created for folks to use at Christmas time and Thanksgiving. I was carrying them, where people could see them—not on purpose—I didn’t have a bag to put them in. Flight attendants were stopping me. They said: “Where’d you get that?” “How can I get one of those?” They brought their friends back over.
I was sitting in the plane; and I think everybody, within three or four rows of me, ended up going online and purchasing some because of the attention the flight attendants were giving to these really magnificent resources that declare the person of Jesus Christ.
Bob: If you’d like to see what these ornaments look like, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. They are available online. You can order online or just browse through all that’s available from the Ever Thine Home®collection. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
And don’t forget—we have a three-book boxed set of the books from Ace Collins—The Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Volumes 1 and 2—and The Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. These make good reading during the holiday season for the whole family. You can order the boxed set from us at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
It’s hard to imagine; but three weeks from today, we’ll be in the New Year. You’ll be signing your checks with 2014, although you’ll probably mess up for at least a week or two. I usually do. But the end of the 2013 is fast-approaching. I know a number of FamilyLife Today listeners, during the last weeks of the year, stop to consider making year-end contributions to ministries like ours. We’re hoping that our friends, who have donated in the past, will consider doing that again this year.
Maybe, you’ve never made a donation to FamilyLife Today. Maybe, you have been a long-time listener; but you’ve never considered supporting this ministry. Well, this would be an ideal time for you to make your very first donation; and here’s why—because we’ve had some friends of the ministry, here in the last weeks of the year—they have agreed to match every dollar that we receive in donations this month with three dollars of their own.
So, if we get a donation from you for $50, they’ll match that with $150. All of a sudden, that’s $200-worth of benefit to FamilyLife Today. We are hoping to take full advantage of this matching gift. They’ve put a cap on it at $500,000. So, we’re coming to listeners and saying, “Would you consider quadrupling the impact of your donation by making a year-end contribution right now?”
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “I CARE”; and make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone; or you can mail a check to us at FamilyLife Today, P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR, and our zip code is 72223. We do look forward to hearing from you and appreciate your support for FamilyLife Today.
Please do pray for us, here at year-end. Pray that we’d be able to take full advantage of this matching gift and that we would end the year strong—ready and able to expand the work of FamilyLife Today in 2014. That’s what we’re praying for.
And we hope you have a great weekend this weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we are going to talk with Dr. Ed Welch about the issue of shame. How should we process our shame as followers of Jesus? What do we do with those feelings of shame that accompany our sinful choices? We’ll talk about that on Monday. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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