Do you hear what they hear?
This is the time of year when the lyrical comes out in almost everybody. Surrounded by sounds of Christmas music, many people find themselves humming along or at least moved by the elegance of holiday carols. They can create strong favorites in youngsters and take adults back to childhood.
It’s also the time when people who can barely mumble “The Star Spangled Banner” get together in a group and cheerfully croon out “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “O, Come All Ye Faithful.”
Christmas is melodic, after all.
This weekend, churches will be filled with the warm sounds of Christmas songs and hymns. Clergy, choirs and congregants will join together in singing the classics. No one, arguably, appreciates them more than the clergy.
And most have ones they cherish. Here’s a sampling of a few local favorites:
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The Rev. Katie Haney from Sunnyside Presbyterian Church loves “There’s a Song In the Air!,” a hymn written in the 1870s.
“There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer and a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!”
“I think it’s such a sweet melody,” Haney notes. “The lyrics are profoundly significant: the humble beginnings of Christ and the sense of majesty of a star raining fire over the Earth.”
Haney, who has ministered at Sunnyside Presbyterian for 10 years, says the song has been her favorite since childhood. She first came across the lyrics in her 1955 Presbyterian hymnal as a child growing up in Republic.
“It exhorts us to sing the same song the angels sing,” she adds.
The congregation will sing it together Sunday at the 9:30 a.m. service.
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The Rev. Cesar Vega of Holy Family Catholic Church in Yakima is drawn to “The Little Drummer Boy,” which he fondly remembers from childhood.
“Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.”
Vega explains, “The drummer goes to the newborn King; he has nothing to offer, just drum sounds, and Jesus smiles at him. That means that nothing is too little to present to God.”
The priest, who has served at Holy Family for three years, anticipates the choir will sing “The Little Drummer Boy” before Masses on Christmas Eve and Day.
Vega, who grew up in Colima, Mexico, first heard the lyrics in Spanish when he was a boy. “But the message is the same in Spanish and English,” he says.
He recalls the song being sung in his hometown during Las Posadas, the re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey through Bethlehem. Adults and children join in a candlelight procession, going from house to house during the nine days between Dec. 15 and Dec. 24.
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“Amahl and the Night Visitors” is technically a one-act opera, but the Rev. Dave Roberts picked it as his favorite Christmas piece.
Amahl, a poor boy who walks with a crutch, excitedly tells his mother that there is an amazing star “as big as a window” outside. She, of course, does not believe him. Later that night, Amahl answers a knock at the door and finds three kings there. They say they are on their way to give gifts to a special child and ask to spend the night. As they sleep, the mother desperately tries to steal a piece of gold from them so she and Amahl can buy food. But an aide to one of the kings discovers the theft and harshly grabs her. Amahl awakens and defends his mother, which impresses King Melchior, who says they can keep the gold because the Holy Child won’t need it. When Amahl offers to send his crutch as a gift, he is miraculously cured and can suddenly walk.
Roberts, who retired in April after ministering at First Baptist Church for the last 15 years, thinks there’s a universal truth about doubt when Amahl’s mother doesn’t believe that he’s seen a huge star. “I appreciate the message about the ability to see things that others can’t see. Sometimes we get used to thinking and seeing things the same way. But Amahl has fresh eyes.”
Roberts explains there’s another reason he favors “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” “Part of my attachment comes from about 25 years ago when I was serving at a church in Mount Lake Terrace. My daughter Camille, who was 8 or 9, played Amahl, and I’ve always felt connected to it.”
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Two carols appeal equally to the Rev. Rex Van Beek of Selah United Methodist Church: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night.”
“O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight”
“Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace”
“I’ve always enjoyed ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,’ but I appreciate it more as a pastor and the way it tells the Christmas story,” Van Beek says.
In his 11th year at Selah United Methodist, he explains that the line about hopes and fears is especially meaningful. “Every year there is always something going on in the lives of the congregation and in town, whether it’s hunger, war, joblessness, people being away, those who have lost loved ones. And then there’s the joy of families coming together, the promise of God’s holy kingdom and the love of Christ and of hope — they’re all met through our Lord.
“It just jumps out at me,” he says.
The congregation sings “Silent Night” as the closing hymn every year during Christmas Eve services, at 7 and 10 p.m. “It’s such a comforting song and message,” Van Beek notes.
All the lights are turned out in the church, and everyone holds a lit candle to sing the carol. “With the sanctuary full of people, the song tells how the light of Christ comes into our lives. It’s very moving.”
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For the Rev. Juliet Kent-Hemphill of Bethel AME Church, “Away in a Manger” is the most beautiful carol in a season filled with wonderful music.
“Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head;
The stars in the heavens
Looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay”
“It talks about the Saviour who didn’t have anywhere to live and tells the Christmas story,” Kent-Hemphill explains.
The choir and congregation will sing that and many other carols on Christmas Day at a 10:30 a.m. musical service at Bethel AME.
Kent-Hemphill, who has been senior pastor at the Yakima church for eight years, also loves to vocalize. Known for her pure voice, she’s been singing all her life, she notes.
“Away in a Manger” has had particular significance for her for many years.
“When I was a teenager, that song came through to me. It opened up what Christmas is all about.”
• Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or firstname.lastname@example.org.