Hark! It’s Wesley, Mendelssohn, Paul, & the Peanuts Gang!

carols-small

It’s become a family tradition. We tilt our heads back, haul in a breath, and, with gusto, sing “loo loo loo, loo-loo, loo loo…” The iconic scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas lifts our smiles and our “loos” each holiday season. Even without the words, Felix Mendelssohn’s tune is recognizable: “Hark the Herald Angels.”  Mendelssohn, a gifted German composer who died too young, crafted a tune accessible to sing, as well. Every note works its magic within the treble or bass’ five bars: a range reachable for all. We’re not sure why Snoopy and crew had to assume that awkward head angle to produce the tune, but it’s their self-expression and who are we to judge?

I will confess that, as a child, the carol gave me visions of an angel named Harold who sported beard stubble and held a half-smoked cigar. A unique view of the angelic presence. And, yep, I was a weird kid. Charles Wesley, lyricist of the song and the most prolific hymn writer of all time, obviously had a different image in mind. Charles, a Latin scholar and Oxford graduate, is credited along with his brother, John, with founding Methodism. Charles also owned a poet’s heart, as we find in today’s carol:

Joyful all ye nations rise/Join the triumph of the skies.

“Hark the Herald Angels’” lyrics echo the poetic message of Philippians 2: 5-11 incarnation poem. Here’s a bit of St. Paul’s poem:

Christ Jesus,

 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

 

Paul’s message and Charles’? That Christ reduced Himself to human form: not to take advantage, not to punish, but to show us the face of God and to draw us Godward.

Light and life to all he brings/risen with healing in his wings.

Healing. Hope. Life.

Wow. That is good news.

We’re invited, via Mendelssohn’s melody and Wesley’s poetry, to lift our heads and voices in good-news song. Perhaps this is what Charles Schultz had in mind with his Peanuts animation.

So, are you ready? It’s not too late—we’re still in the Twelve Days of Christmas. Heads back, voices raised, now—give it all you’ve got! Here’s some inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZP37k831y9U.

 

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Taking It Into the Streets: Drop & Dash?

Pentecost

At the shopping mall, one of a pair of young women appeared at my side. Pressing a paper into my surprised hands, she said, “Here. Take this.” And she peeled off. I looked down at a tract: one of the three-steps-to-salvation sort. I approached the pair, who were making off at speed.

“Excuse me,” I called to their retreating backs. The young woman turned, eyes wide. “I’m giving this back to you,” I said—I hope with empathy. She retrieved the tract, turned wordlessly, and the two continued on their way.

Why did I act as I did? Because this was not the first time a fellow Christian assaulted me with a tract, forcing it into my hands and disappearing into a crowd. And I don’t feel gifted. I feel ambushed. What is the point of sharing good news if we don’t stick around to answer questions? The act feels patronizing: like the person’s saying, “I can tell you really need this.” The age-old evangelism adage of one beggar telling another where to get bread assumes the beggar bearing good news has taken time to know the other person is, indeed, a seeking beggar. The adage also expects the good-news beggar to accompany his hungry friend to the bread source. What I experienced felt more like a drive-by.

Second, I returned the tract to give the young woman an opportunity to rethink herself. Her demeanor belied discomfort with her actions. And I’ve been there. Following the dictates of my spiritual leaders, I wore a button, put a sticker on my bumper, learned my witnessing lines, carried my tracts. And felt miserable.

I see three possible reasons for a person feeling that uncomfortable sharing good news. 1. There’s something wrong with 1. the message, 2. the messenger, or 3. the mode of message sharing. For years I labored under the conviction that I, the messenger, was at fault. I didn’t love Jesus enough; I was a coward. But I also knew in the deepest, truest part of me that forcing beliefs on another person violated that person’s selfhood. If our news is truly good, if God intends to set us free, would that same God wish us to share the news by violating another’s free choice? I trashed the tracts.

The first possibility—that the problem resides with the message? It’s tempting to force onto others what we want to believe, but aren’t quite sure of ourselves. It’s hard, after all, to stand in the truth that Jesus would live a hard life, heal persons and give them hope despite His experiences of personal betrayal, die a torturous death, and then—could it be?—rise again, fully alive. We need others to believe with us, but assaulting people with such incredible news debases the message.

Which brings us to the last possibility for my discomfort: the mode of message sharing. Drop-and-dash faith sharing is not the answer. If the news is, indeed, good, if we love another enough to want him/her to know,  we cannot pronounce judgement, then cut and run. We will look her in the eye. We will hear his story. And then we will let God and love guide our actions.