I first heard Christmas Carols at the First Baptist Church of Cottonwood, Alabama. I started playing the organ there during Junior High School and quickly learned every Christmas song in the Baptist Hymnal. Of course, most I had already heard in my home as a child growing up.
I would say that 80 percent of all the Christmas songs I know today I learned before I was 12 years old. We sang them in Sunday School, during church services and at every gathering during the season. The music became intertwined with my earliest memories of Christmas.
After Mary Lou and I were married we celebrated Christmas at the First Presbyterian Church in Donalsonville, Georgia. It was there that I learned to celebrate the Advent Season and Christmas Eve Communion. Music was part of that expanding journey in my Christian faith.
For 35 years I played the organ on Christmas Eve. It was the only service of the year that I sat with my family. I would play before and after Communion on Christmas Eve, but for that time only, once a year, I walked down and sat with my family. We took communion together before I returned to the organ to finish the rest of the service. It is no wonder that was my favorite service of the year, for many reasons.
After our retirement, we moved to Auburn, Alabama. We have attended the Auburn United Methodist Church (AUMC) for several years. It is the first time since my early teens that I have not sat at a keyboard of some sort during worship services. I must admit that it has given me the opportunity to truly listen to the words and music. It has been a blessing.
This past Sunday the worship service was “Lessons and Carols”. It was a combination of the timeless scripture of the Christmas story and the carols that have helped tell that story for generations and more.
The setting was inspiring, like it has been all my life. Beautiful decorations celebrating the season. A 40-person orchestra, an extraordinary choir, and a magnificent organ all combined with timeless music and words that took me back to my childhood and raise my spirits for the future.
The music, as always, takes us on a journey. We long for, wait for, and yearn for the arrival of the Christ Child. It is the season of Advent. We await the arrival of Christ the King.
The program of this past Sunday takes you through our journey, both in the story of Christmas but also in our personal journeys. Each song can touch your past, bring up memories that touch your soul. Do you know these songs?
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
“Come, Thou Long- Expected Jesus”
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
“And the Glory of the Lord (from the Messiah)”
“The First Noel”
“O Come, All ye Faithful”
“We Three Kings”
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
“Joy to the World”
As magnificent as the orchestra and choir were this past Sunday, they are no more glorious than hearing my Grandmother Catherine’s soprano voice sing out from the choir loft in my childhood church.
The sounds of Amy Jones Wells and Lauren Spooner singing at First Presbyterian on Christmas Eves still bring chills to me decades after I accompanied their soaring soprano voices. “O Holy Night” still touches me deeply and sets the stage for Christmas Day.
Children caroling, songs in department stores and on the radio, and even playing the songs on my piano six decades after I learned the notes. They are part of the Christmas season.
Listen all around you, during the hustle and bustle of a busy world. There is music in the air and there is a message in the lyrics.
Rejoice. These are the sounds of Christmas.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com