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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
Do you know who wrote the very first Christmas song, and what it was about? I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t have anything to say about chestnuts, marsh mellows or a reindeer named Rudolph. It doesn’t say anything about a silent night either.
The song is all about God, and Mary was the singer.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55 ESV)
Sometimes we leave our little town in southern Virginia and go over the river and through the woods to the mall in Durham to experience the Christmas cacophony in full bloom. On one such trip I wondered, what would it be like if a young woman stood at the rail above Santa’s house at the mall and began to sing in a pure clear voice this first Christmas song? What if the whole sound system went quiet right after Jingle Bell Rock and one voice stood out above all the rest with this little hymn?
I think there would be a stunned silence. A few would lock on to her and quietly enter in to her song. But most would be uncomfortable enough to look away, shuffle their feet or keep on about their shopping. The reason? The singer would be doing something foreign to us; she wouldn’t be performing or entertaining. She would be worshipping.
It would be sad that they turned away for without worship Christmas is a hollow, harried, semi-religious shopping season. Without worship, Christmas will drain your soul as well as your bank account. But with worship Christmas takes on its true force, it’s true ability to change us.
Christmas is thing-centered. Worship is Christ-centered. Things leave hearts empty. Jesus fills hearts, just like he filled Mary’s, with peace and joy and contentment.
The first Christmas song helps us fill our hearts with God because Mary’s heart was full of God. Nine times in nine verses His name was on her lips. God fills her mind, her heart and her mouth. That is worship.
That kind of worship does not come about by accident. Worship that enters the presence of God is worship that comes from a life that is consumed with the greatness of God.
As 21st century Americans, it is very difficult for us to focus on God the way Mary was. We’re distracted by the trappings of Christmas. But the trappings aren’t the real thing. They are only hints of the real.
C. S. Lewis wrote: “All the things that ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of heaven. Tantalizing glimpses. Promises never quite fulfilled. Echoes that died away just as they caught your ear…If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy. But to arouse, to suggest the real thing.”
Christmas is meant to be one of those tantalizing hints of another world. It is supposed to arouse us spiritually, to whisper hope in our hearts, to leave us with a taste of heaven.
So if you’re tired of all the Christmas jingles blaring from every store, if you’re chestnuts are charred and your marsh mellows are melted and you wish Rudolph really would go down in history then take a step back. Turn off the noise. Sing Mary’s song, the first Christmas song, and remember that other world you were made for.