All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Christmastime, to me, is the weeks between Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and Epiphany (January 6).
As you already know, music is a huge part of how I celebrate the season. When I was younger, I had a double LP Christmas album called “Home for Christmas.” I played it over and over during those weeks on my parents’ Hi-Fi stereo.
In the 1980’s, with the introduction of the compact disc player, I had two standard CDs I played throughout those weeks – the first Mannheim Steamroller Christmas and Carols from King’s College in Cambridge.
Music is a big part of a lot of people’s Christmas traditions and celebrations. But my friend Ken takes it to another level!
He writes new arrangements or original compositions of Christmas songs to send as Christmas cards.
In 1996, he found himself running late on sending out his Christmas card/composition so instead of writing original poetry, he turned to our church body’s hymnals for some inspiration.
In The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 was a hymn that caught his eye. It was O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is, written by Paul Gerhardt, a Lutheran minister and hymn writer during the early 17th Century.
Ken relates this part of the story:
“I took up TLH [The Lutheran Hymnal] and read Paul Gerhardt’s marvelous text. So many Christmas lyrics are narrative of a sort. New choir music tells you everything you don’t need to know about how the shepherds felt, what were the camels thinking, and like that. Gerhardt gets to the heart of the matter in his characteristic orthodox but personal way. Jesus in his manger opens paradise for ME (by extension – YOU).”
Ken also felt that the original tune by Johann Crüger didn’t quite match the style of the story Gerhardt related.
So, he penned a new composition and used both (the lyrics being in the public domain) as his Christmas card that year.
Gerhardt relates the well-known Christmas story from Luke 2 and added in elements from John 1. But also emphasizes that in this manger is the Savior of the world. And because of that, the manger is holding the entrance into paradise!
I have to admit that I had never heard this hymn before. It’s been in the hymnals of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for nearly 100 years, but I’ve never sung it!
At Christmas time we sing the same hymns and carols each year. And we should, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we only sing the same songs each year, we could miss a true gem of a song that’s been hiding in plain sight!
That’s what this hymn is to me. So, I decided that this Christmas Eve (2018) I would use this as the hymn to introduce my sermon.
It was about this time that I asked another friend of mine to listen to the tune Ken wrote. I asked Richard if he wouldn’t mind giving a try at putting his own style on this simple but lovely tune of Ken’s.
I had in mind that I could include it in the podcast series of Christmas music that I started doing a couple of years ago. Music by Richard.
At first, he said he’d try but life was very busy for him and most likely would not be able to get to it.
But just the other day, my phone chimed that I had received a new email. It was from Richard. He had found a few moments to put something together.
I smiled and looked up from my phone and out the window. And wouldn’t you know it! It was snowing! Big, fat, flakes of white snow blowing past as I downloaded the song Richard had sent me.
As I listened, I was flooded with emotions. Ken’s tune is beautiful and fits Gerhardt’s text perfectly. And Richard’s arrangement is hauntingly magnificent.
All three musicians – Gerhardt, Ken and Richard – have caught the profound mystery of the nativity of Christ.
The manger of Jesus Christ holds paradise for my soul because my soul – my very being – finds in Christ the truest and dearest treasure.
No matter where I am – even at Christmas – I will find joy because the Son of God loves me so much that he became a human being. He did this to save me from sin, death, and the power of the devil!
There is so much wealth to be found in this world. Power, gold, glory. But for me – and I pray for you – Christ is my true treasure.
To him I’ll hold fast in faith until that day I see him face to face in paradise.
And I thank Ken and Richard for blessing me with such a beautiful Christmas hymn that will be a part of my keeping Christmas from here on out!
Heavenly Father, I thank you for loving me so much that you sent your own child, in mercy mild, to join me to you. Help me to remember the glory of the first Christmas and may I keep it forever, wherever I am. In Jesus’ name. Amen.