Family

December 04 2013
25

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Have you ever noticed how many of our favorite carols are written in a minor key? Think about it for a minute . . .

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

“In the Bleak Midwinter”

“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent”

“What Child Is This?”

“Greensleeves”

“I Wonder as I Wander”

“Carol of the Bells”

“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”

“Coventry Carol” (“Lullay, Thou Little Tiny Child”)

These are melodically darker-hued songs, offered in a season when we are encouraged on every side to be merry, dang it! And I am more grateful than I can say for the rich texture they bring to these days before Christmas.

Why?

Because there are many pieces of this story that can only be told in a minor key.

Sometimes I think we forget that Jesus came into a broken world, that there were no colored lights, and certainly no tinsel around that hayloft. Yes, yes — the gift of the incarnation is unspeakably good, that babe whose head was cradled by his open-hearted, willing young mother, that babe brought light and hope to us all.

But in and around the lowing of cattle, the bleating of lambs, the exhausted moans of a brand-new mom and the healthy lungs of a newborn — who can forget the cries of the mothers in Ramah, the rumbling threat of Herod, the hurried flight to Egypt, or the sorrowful truth about where that sweet baby hung his beautiful head at the end of his good, good life?

The reality of life on planet earth is that even good news, the best possible news, must be told in the midst of the bad; to get to the light, we have to walk through the dark. To truly live our story, we have to tell all the pieces of it.

So I think it’s important that the sounds of sadness, the echoes of loss, the edges of fear and uncertainty, are carefully and intentionally woven into our celebrations. All the voices in this Story, and in our own stories, cry out to be heard as we move toward the manger and the major key of Christmas Day.

I know that I have lived longer than most of you who are reading this piece. And over the course of this long life, I have experienced loss upon loss, asked question upon question, and listened for the answers in the midst of silence. If there is one thing I’ve learned, one truth that stands at the top of all the truths I know, it is this one: everyone carries a story of brokenness. Everyone.

And sometimes, that story needs to be acknowledged in the midst of the rush to gifts and hearty songs, the downing of hot cider or hot cocoa, the hanging of stockings by the fireplace. These quieter songs need to be sung, and the real-life sorrows they evoke acknowledged, even in and around laughing children, sugar cookies, and fires burning merrily on the hearth.

For me, these layers to our story are best experienced in the plaintive cry of a minor key, in the questions and tentative answers of a call and response, or in the starlit words of a wandering minstrel.

All of us live with one kind of loss or another, don’t we? The first Christmas after a loved one dies is poignant and bittersweet. If we live in a state of perpetual wondering, maybe even wandering, that, too, is a kind of loss. And living with a long list of unanswered questions brings its own kind of grief.

Will health to be restored? Will this pain accompany me all my days? Will there be enough month left at the end of the money? Will we always be scrambling to pay these bills? Will my loved one (or will I) find our way to freedom from addiction? Is the brokenness of our complicated family story somehow beyond the healing power of God? Can I muster the energy to create some festive memories for my little ones, when I feel so very low myself? Will the dreams I have for a future, with loved ones around, and family near, ever come true? Can I experience the light of Christmas through my tears? Will those tears be welcome, honored, held?

The wonder of Advent — these 24 days of waiting and wondering — is that it makes room for all the threads of the story to be here, for each rich shade of color to be woven together into a beautiful, multi-dimensional tapestry. And tears are a necessary and important part of the finished work. Maybe that’s why these songs, these questioning carols, are the perfect music for this season. After all, these minor key musings were written for singing in this season, this quiet time, these days before Bethlehem. That’s why churches that observe Advent save the major-key songs for Christmas. Because when we’ve made room for the questions, when we’ve welcomed the tears, then we can sing out the answers and acknowledge the under-girding joy that holds and carries all the shades of Christmas.

Wishing you all a blessed Advent — and when that day arrives, a Merry Christmas! 

 

25 comments

  1. Diana… you’re right. And I’ve lived around the same amount of time and I’ve found, like you, that Jesus is there, through the good and the bad, the tough and the sad, the broken and the mad… and He is always good, no matter what. So… yeah… I agree. Just one thing – in some places, the best drink for Christmas is an ice cold beer or a glass of chilled white wine or juice… and that’s where I’ll be spending the Christmas after next!

    Reply
    • Amen, Bev. Amen. (And where exactly is that place where you’ll be??)

      Reply
      • Bev Murrill

        Diana, after 18 years living and ministering in England, we will be moving back to Australia. :+{ :+} bitter sweet.

        Reply
        • Wow, that’s a long time and a big move to come. And I’m sure it is bittersweet. Blessings as you prepare and as you travel, Bev.

          Reply
          • Bev Murrill

            thanks Diana… x

  2. Thank you for acknowledging the whole tapestry, the holiday magic and joy along with the suffering not just present in our own December worlds but intrinsic to the Christmas story. I would take a rich and real holiday over a one-dimensional facade any time.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Bethany. Yeah, give me ‘rich and real’ every time!

      Reply
  3. Ro elliott

    This is beautiful Diane…there is truly a tension in this holiday season…so much joy and pain mingles together…and if we are in a season of joy…we need to remember that there are those who are trying to find their next breath …and I am asking how to gently carry my joy as I walk beside some whose hope is in a dark waiting place. Blessings to you and may you feel God grace as you journey through this holiday season with your mom.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Ro. I think I went this direction today because I’m in the midst of planning a “Blue Christmas” service for our church community — and am so grateful to be part of a community that makes room for those who are struggling during the holidays. What I’m learning as I age (!!!) is that everything is richer and deeper if we make room for the tears as well as the laughter. Joy blossoms anywhere, even in the midst of pain.

      Reply
      • Donna C

        ‘What I’m learning as I age (!!!) is that everything is richer and deeper if we make room for the tears as well as the laughter. ‘

        I love this! You summed it all up, beautifully.

        Reply
  4. Diane, thank you for writing this. I appreciate the honest hope that you write about. The tension of pain and waiting mixed with the promises of Christ. It was good food for my heart this day!

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Randi – thanks for leaving these kind words.

      Reply
  5. Donna C

    I really, really love this, Diana! Sharing…

    Reply
  6. Diana, I could swear our minds were synced up this month. Thank you so much for this post. This Christmas is my first without a loved one, and I love your perspective as someone who has walked this path already. Your clarity is helping me see through all the muddiness of this season of my life.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you found this helpful, Megan, in the midst of the sharpness of this painful loss. Thanks so much for letting me know. And, Megan? Merry Christmas – tears and all.

      Reply
  7. Kristina Skepton

    Good morning Diana,

    Your post resonated with me especially since I just wrote my own blog post about a painful experience that just cropped up in this season of advent. I hesitated to write it because I want to focus on the joy of advent but I knew that the story needed to be told – and that light can shine in the dark.

    I especially loved your line,”Because there are many pieces of this story that can only be told in a minor key.”

    You captured the fullness of the advent story.

    Thank you !

    Kristina Skepton
    Founder, SeeingGod Ministries

    http://www.Facebook.com/SeeingGod
    http://www.themoreyouseegod.blogspot.com

    Reply
  8. In a season that is prolific for being about being merry, your words invite the holiness of sorrow and grieving to shape our celebration…for Light does indeed overcome the darkness.

    Reply
  9. Oh, Diana. How our hearts beat as one over this theme! I *just* finished a guest post for Diane Bailey’s Christmas series that turned out very minor-key, as well.

    Although, I gotta say, this line right here – well, I wish I’d have thought of it first: “The reality of life on planet earth is that even good news, the best possible news, must be told in the midst of the bad; to get to the light, we have to walk through the dark. To truly live our story, we have to tell all the pieces of it.”

    BOOM.

    Reply
  10. Only against the darkness
    can we see the glory of the light

    I loved this Diana, the tapestry you weave is filled with beauty

    Reply
  11. The wondering, the wandering, the waiting, “plaintive cry of a minor key.” This is Advent.

    Thank you for putting words to it all.

    Reply
  12. I had not thought about all those carols being in a minor key, but I guess that’s why I love them so much.

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  13. Kreine

    “These quieter songs need to be sung, and the real-life sorrows they evoke acknowledged, even in and around laughing children, sugar cookies, and fires burning merrily on the hearth.”

    I think this is my favorite line, possibly because it reminds me so much of my grandpa’s funeral. I was 6 months pregnant & had three other children, and of course there were cousins with their little ones. It was a precious, bittersweet time of happy memories, the indomitable bouancy of children, and the hollow, scooped-out sense of loss, tangled together..

    So it is with Advent, I’m learning. After many years in a Protestant faith that focused only on the joy of Christmas, I’m surprised how much I enjoy the balance and intertwining of the minor key found in the Reformed tradition.

    Reply

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