By Barbara Rainey
First posted on EverThineHome.com
Everyone’s life is a story.
And everyone’s story includes long and often repeated chapters of suffering. As the Psalms remind us, we sometimes feel that God has abandoned us, that He isn’t listening or paying attention, or that perhaps He is asleep.
But just as every masterful novel, musical, or song has a theme, so the Author of our stories has a purpose He is writing for our beauty and His glory. The skilled Author weaves trouble or tragedy into stories as the birthplace for good, the turning point for triumph.
My favorite hymn became so because I heard the tragic story of its author. Horatio Spafford’s loss of his four daughters in a ship disaster was incalculable. Yet a month later he wrote the words to “It Is Well with My Soul” to boldly proclaim to His God that he still believed. Though I love the words of this song and its music, the singing is infinitely richer with meaning because I know the author’s story. His story gives me courage.
Music is a mystery. Melodies embed themselves in our memories along with the words whether we love them or not. For Christians singing has been part of our faith since Jesus sang with His disciples in the upper room.
It has been said that music is the language of heaven. The sounds of music full of grace and truth enrich our lives. They mysteriously stir our hearts and often unexpectedly touch our emotions. The impact lingers so that we remember the moment often years later.
This phenomenon tells us elegant music is divine. It cannot be explained any other way, says John Henry Newman who wrote this conclusion in a sermon: Majestic sound “has escaped from some higher sphere; they are the outpouring of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes from our Home.”
At Christmas, heaven touched earth in the incarnation. And for two thousand years since, Christians have been singing His story from hearts touched by His life echoing the notes of Home.
Every Christmas carol or hymn was conceived as an idea, often in the crucible of suffering or a crisis, then born with a purpose. And they all are wrapped in the personal stories of the author and musician.
Some of my favorites were inspirations for Christmas ornaments I designed in 2013. They sold out years ago but I still love both the songs and the stories behind each one:
1. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was penned by Phillips Brooks, the pastor who preached at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. He had seen so much suffering over the years of the war as men died and families needed long term care and comfort. After Lincoln’s funeral he went on a pilgrimage to Israel looking to renew his faith.
On Christmas Eve he arrived in Bethlehem and was awestruck at the simple, humble, non-descript place that welcomed the God of the universe, the Savior of the world. Worshipping there he was changed. Three years later he expressed the wonder of that moment in this hymn for the people of God.