All Praise to Thee My God This Year

         Time. So precious, yet how relentlessly it marches on, never heeding of the weary feet and anxious hearts it leaves in it's wake. On it drives us, bidding us spend every moment while we can, lest we lose it forever. Yet,in the deal there are also wonderful things this soldier brings. Memories sweet and haunting accumulate, like silver snowflakes on a frosty hill. Time brings healing from old wounds and a comforting whisper that all will be well once more. Time brings changes where no one thought the stony ground could sprout another miserable shrub; a magnificent flower grove will bloom if only time is aloud to pass.

       My friends, if only we could spend every single moment as it ought to be spent. If only we live our lives with no regrets for wasted hours and squandered minutes. If only....and we could let our words dwindle to a sigh as we all admit the painful truth, we aren't perfect...we will always waste precious moments, but let us not pause too long on that thought for, time brings us chances, lots of them to try again, and with each attempt, my friends, we waste a little less, we bless a few more souls, we sow a few more seeds of joy, we accomplish a few more acts of kindness. This is our hope that God is with us, He gives time and His strength to take each knock in stride, each blessing in season, and each moment as He gives it, with faith that He will see us through it, and He will see us through victoriously.

       I've always been a perfectionist, albeit a lazy one at times. I think for many years as a Christian, I strove to follow Christ not necessarily out of a love for Him but because He was the key to making me perfect. When people said that one would never be perfect until he died my only response was to wish that I'd die early so as not to live eighty long years of inglorious imperfection! One day last year, I even tried an experiment. I set everything up and decided to try and see if I could have one perfect day. Setting aside the ever present reality of my constantly erring thought life, I decided I wanted to see how it felt to have one day where I did everything pretty much right. God helped me out I'm sure. The day ran like new wheels on a well greased track, but at the end of the day it really struck me, that if day after day followed the way that one had, productive and practically perfect, even then I would feel empty without God, like a snobbish rich lady who possesses and has the power to possess everything money can buy but has not a soul to love or who loves her. It was then that the realization struck me. It was a golden one and one I could do well to be reminded of often. That this life isn't about revelation, I know, don't laugh at me my friends. Seriously though, God doesn't need us to behave flawlessly in order to carry out his "bright designs or work his sovereign will," and He doesn't just clean up after our sinful trails of wreckage and dirt. No, he actually uses our flaws, our blemishes, our terrible, awful, heart wrenching evil, to carry out his beautiful, magnificent good. He uses it all, like the grand artist who makes a careless assistant's accidental brush swipe across his already magnificent work into a still more magnificent rainbow flung out over the sparkling scene.

     I think that may be the biggest lesson God taught me over the past year, and this year, I want to focus on putting it in practice. I want to spend less time thinking about myself and agonizing over the mistakes I made. Confess and repent, yes, but then forget, move on and focus so much on God and others that my flaws don't become so monst'rous any more in the light of God's mercy and grace.

    And now, allow me to share some highlights from this past year.

      Probably the first big thing that occurred in  2016 for me was the Spring ball...I love ballroom dancing, my friends, and enjoy every opportunity I get to waltz away the night with friends!

The next happening was my Junior recital. I got to go up to Indiana for that and my classmate and talented pianist, who also, incidentally, shares my name, was my wonderful accompanist. The recital was so much fun, but not at the level most recitals are so, in spite of my best intentions to stop thinking about myself, I am not going to share any of my dear readers, you will have to be content with a picture.

Maybe for my senior recital I'll be brave enough to actually share something with you all, but until then, I think I'll keep my singing to myself. :) 

 During the Summer was my annual Violin felt good this year as I felt I had finally started to reach a new level in, I don't have a recording of that, though if I did, I might be more willing to share it. ;) 

 The next occurrence was getting to go up to Indiana again for my College's Harvest Fest in late October. I don't have any pictures but that was wonderful from start to finish, topped off with a wonderful session of singing in a stairwell with a few of my talented colleagues. My friends, if you have never sung a-Cappella in four part harmony in a stairwell, you have missed out on a seriously magnificent pleasure in life. It was a memory for me that I will treasure for the rest of my life as I rarely get to sing with others and the stairwell was the closest I could get to the Cathedral tone.

  Finally, the year culminated in my wonderful Sister, Arianne getting married to the love of her life, Brian, in early December. It was a beautiful wedding and a lovely close to a full year.

And that, my friends is my year in a nutshell. Of course there were my studies and my growing number of violin students, not to mention getting my driver's license and a very long, and adventurous bus trip which I have sworn never to repeat if I can at all help it. :)

   I have a lot of hopes and aspirations for this year. Dreams, ambitions, goals. I'm sure we all do whether we've made a list or not, and, trust me, I didn't. In the end, however, it comes down to living each day, each moment in the light of God's presence. A whole year looks daunting from this end, we wonder how we'll get through it. The answer, as it often is, comes rather simply, we do it by living each day as it comes. And with Christ we don't have to live it alone. A friend of mine recently reminded me of this when she reintroduced an old favorite of mine, the hymn, Day by Day.  If nothing else, my dear readers, take the time to read through these beautiful verses penned by Lina Sandell in 1865.
Day by day and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
I've no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best--
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
 Ev'ry day the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow'r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
"As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,"
This the pledge to me He made.
Help me then in eve'ry tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith's sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E'er to take, as from a father's hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.
If you have some more time, enjoy this lovely rendition by talented singer Ben Everson who sings all the parts himself. 

       Remember that no matter what we face this year, be it tragic or be it magnificent, that "He whose heart is kind beyond all measure gives unto each day what He deems best." Also that, "The protection of His child and Treasure, is a charge which on Himself He laid."

  May this be a year of Praise and Thanksgiving to the one who has given us so much, and may we say as Christ before us proclaimed to Pilate, "It is for this I was born and for this reason I have come into the world, to testify about the truth."

 Let this be our goal this year if nothing else, my friends. Welcome to 2017 A.D.

The Ninth Carol of Christmas

     And here we are on Christmas Eve. Time does pass us by so quickly. You all probably noticed how I harped on one theme and exactly one throughout this entire week and a half. That of the absolute Greatness of God in coming down to become flesh for us. I'm hoping that writing about it so many times has helped it sink in to my own life this Christmastide.

  To wrap things up this season, I am doing something unusual for me. I am sharing a very modern song which isn't necessarily a Christmas song and definitely not a carol.

 However, there's always room to break the mold, and this song really beautifully sums up what Christmas is all about.

The Authors of this song are an Irish couple who have written a lot of really beautiful hymns and tour America very often. Let me know if you guessed who I was referring to simply by reading that sentence.

     My friends, I had a commentary all prepared for this song, but then I realized the song doesn't need a commentary...the words say it all.

 Enjoy this beautiful song, Fullness of Grace, by Keith and Kristyn Getty, and Stuart Townsend.

Fullness of grace in man's human frailty;
This is the wonder of Jesus.
Laying aside his power and glory,
Humbly he entered our world.
Chose the path of meanest worth:
Scandal of a virgin birth.
Born in a stable,
Cold and rejected:
Here lies the hope of the world.

Fullness of grace, the love of the Father,
Shown in the face of Jesus.
Stooping to bear the weight of humanity,
Walking the calvary road.
Christ, the holy innocent,
Took our sin and punishment.
Fullness of God, despised and rejected,
Crushed for the sins of the world.

Fullness of hope in Christ, we had longed for;
Promise of God in Jesus.
Through his obedience we are forgiven,
Opening the floodgates of heav'n.
All our hopes and dreams we bring,
Gladly as an offering.
Fullness of life and joy unspeakable:
God's gift of love to the world.

Most of us will probably receive gifts tonight and tomorrow. Many of us will give them. However, the greatest gift ever bestowed was God's gift of love to the world. That babe the son of Mary. 

   I Wish You All a Merry Christmas 
   And an Equally Joyous New Year!
       ~ Christianna

The Eight Carol of Christmas

     It was once humorously pointed out by a friend of mine just how many of the English carols speak about snow. As one person on a youtube comment feed put it, English carols talk about Snow, inventories of the animals in the stable, snow, and more snow. In a sense this is true and the ironic thing is that there was probably no snow anywhere near the place or time in which Jesus was born. The mischief has been done though. Most of us now associate Christmas with snow.
  On the whole it's quite harmless. Snow is a beautiful medium by which to remember Christ's birth. So, tonight I share with you a snowy carol, one of my favorites, with a different tune from what most of you are probably used to hearing. However, it's not the tune of "In the Bleak Midwinter" I wish you to notice tonight, as much as the actual words once one gets past the first verse!

Especially notice the second verse:

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

I imagine one of my brothers building a lego house and then trying to fit inside...the house would fly into pieces very quickly. However Christ deigned to squash Himself into a little lego block of a baby in a tiny manger to save us who had rebelled against Him....this, my friends, is what love looks like, and because of this we owe Him the greatest thing we have; our hearts. Not because He made a statute, not because He'll punish us if we don't, but we ought to do it because He loved us and we can do nothing else but love Him back.

Enjoy this rendition of Christiana Rossetti's Poem by Harold Darke.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him... give my heart.

     Indeed, what can we give Him this season, poor as we are? The one thing we posses and the one thing He asks; Our hearts.

The Seventh Carol of Christmas

        We've all heard the popular question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make noise?" Many and varied are the answers given, both lighthearted and scientific, and anyone's intuition can answer the question simply, however, one child's answer has always been my favorite. In a nature magazine question forum where one child asked the question another answered saying, "but of course it makes noise because God is always there to hear it." This simple answer struck me. We can come up with scientific retorts all we want but in the end, the question is non-existent because God is always present to hear every tree that ever falls.

 John Rutter is probably my favorite contemporary choral composer. Last year I shared with you all my favorite of his Christmas works, "What Sweeter Music," and this year I thought I'd share another very high on my list, "The Shepherd's Pipe Carol."
    In this lively song, the narrator speaks of hearing a shepherd boy merrily caroling on the way to Bethlehem. He asks the boy why he sings so merrily since no one will hear him, but the boy replies that though none will hear him, he will continue to carol as it will be a lullaby for the newborn King. The identity of the narrator is then revealed as one of the Shepherds in the scriptural account as he then asks for permission to accompany the boy to Bethlehem since He was met by Angels in the fields telling him to seek out a newborn King.
  I love the message brought by the words of the Shepherd boy,

 "None may hear my pipes on these hills so lonely
on the way to Bethlehem;
but a King will hear me play sweet lullabies
when I get to Bethlehem."

     How many things, I wonder do we do solely for Christ's ears? When we sing extra loudly in Church, do we do it because we love God or that we hope the terrible singer next to us will be awed by our magnificent voice? When we help out our neighbor do we do it because we love God and are thankful for all He did for us, or do we do it because it makes us feel and look good? The question is, my friends, would the knowledge that God alone saw and approved of our action be enough to motivate us to do it? It's something to keep in mind this Christmas season. After all in the end God's opinion of us is the only one that's really going to matter!

My favorite version of this is actually sung by King's College choir in their 1992 recording of lessons and carols which they do annually on Christmas eve....if you want to look it up on youtube, this carol comes around at roughly 50:00. However, for this purpose enjoy this rendition by John Rutter's own choir, The Cambridge Singers. Below are the verses though not necessarily in the order sung! 

Going through the hills on a night all starry
on the way to Bethlehem,
far away I heard a shepherd boy piping
on the way to Bethlehem.

Angels in the sky brought this message nigh:
"Dance and sing for joy that Christ the newborn King
is come to bring us peace on Earth,
and he's lying cradled there at Bethlehem."

"Tell me, shepherd boy piping tunes so merrily
on the way to Bethlehem,
who will hear your tunes on these hills so lonely
on the way to Bethlehem?"

"None may hear my pipes on these hills so lonely
on the way to Bethlehem;
but a King will hear me play sweet lullabies
when I get to Bethlehem."

Angels in the sky came down from on high,
hovered o'er the manger where the babe was lying
cradled in the arms of his mother Mary,
sleeping now at Bethlehem

"Where is this new King, shepherd boy piping merrily,
is he there at Bethlehem?"
I will find him soon by the star shining brightly
in the sky o'er Bethlehem."

"May I come with you, shepherd boy piping merrily,
come with you to Bethlehem?
Pay my homage too at the new King's cradle,
is it far to Bethlehem?"

Angels in the sky brought this message nigh:
"Dance and sing for joy that Christ the infant King
is born this night in lowly stable yonder,
born for you at Bethlehem."

Let us all go with the Shepherd boy this Christmas and worship Christ born for us in Bethlehem.

The Sixth Carol of Christmas

         I must apologize, my friends for missing the last three days. Things got rather busy. Anyhow, at first I was would I make up the extra days. Then this afternoon I realized something....the world won't come to the end if there are only nine carols of Christmas this year, and my dear readers will give me slack seeing that I'm trying to finish up Principles of Harmony while having just played a large role in my sister getting married.

       Shortly after lunch today, my two youngest brothers aged 12 and 9 went about paying me some money they owed which amounted to two dollars each. The older one, Tobias, came up first and deposited two crisp dollars in my hand saying seriously, "here you are, those are brand new by the way." Not a minute passed before the other one, Benaiah, came dashing up the stairs after having spent some time hunting down his wallet. "Two very crumpled dollars coming right up," he said with a smirk, smashing the worn bills into my hand. I couldn't help letting out a giggle at the boy's way of putting things, but then it struck me suddenly how different the two were. Tobias would never dream of losing his wallet and is very proud of new, neat, clean things, even when it comes down to one dollar bills. Benaiah throws his stuff about anywhere there's a physical space for it, and finds a lot of his rather unconventional ways, including the fact that he was handing over crumpled money, rather amusing. This reminded me of the fact that every single person has his own unique perks and characteristics which make him completely different from every single other person, and I wondered if Jesus had any interesting quirks....that sounds rather foreign to those of us of the protestant persuasion and I assure you my friends I have no intention of supposing any sort of theology off of what can only amount to useless speculation, however, it did make me think of the Christmas carol "What Child is This."

   Not much is known about this well-known English carol written in  1865 by William Chatterton Dix. They say that Dix, an insurance company manager, had been struck by illness and underwent a spiritual revival during which he wrote the lyrics for this beautiful carol. The tune, Greensleeves, goes back to at least the sixteenth century.

"What Child is This?" Dix asks rhetorically, but continues to answer the question anyway, "This, This is Christ the King." 

 The second verse of the song has always been my favorite, as Dix asks again, "Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?" But then he goes on and says something rather profound, "Good Christian fear, for sinners here, the silent word is pleading."And then in case anyone had any doubt as to what Dix meant by the silent word, he goes on to clarify, "Nails, Spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be born for me for you. Hail, Hail the word made flesh, the babe the son of Mary."

   How often do we remember that Jesus is the Word. That the Word "became flesh and dwelt among us." There, as a babe lying in a feeding trough, the Silent word was pleading for us sinners. What a sobering thought.

   Of all the different individuals out there in the world, of all who have ever been born, there is One who stands out from everyone. One who was destined to truly save the world. The babe, the son of Mary.

One note...I picked the version above because the harmonies are simply magnificent, however, they treat the the second half of verse one as a chorus and use it as such for the three verses omitting the second half of verses two and was a trade-off! Below I share the three verses in their entirety.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and donkeys are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spears shall pierce him through,
the cross he bore for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The babe, the Son of Mary.

        Indeed we ought to raise a song on high this season, if for no other reason than joy that Christ was born, the babe the son of Mary.