From the Archives

For MC, with thanks

It seems to me that at Christmas, even more than most of the year, a good deal of pain comes from the sense that we ought to feel a particular way, and, for whatever reason, we can’t summon the emotion we believe is appropriate for the occasion at hand. The solution to this problem, as to so very many problems, can be found in choral music.

Specifically, in the text of a sweet little piece written by Bob Chilcott for the King’s College Festival of Lessons and Carols several years ago.

We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come,Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves
We give to your son.

I’m not sure if it’s the stripped-down cadence or the repetition of “Lady” that makes it easy for me to see what must have been a very awkward scene between the shepherds and Mary as they explained why they wanted to see her day-old infant at a time when she would have been taught that she must not have male visitors. But somehow the narrative whittled down to a few details–work, a calm evening, a star, a voice, more work–seemed to me this Christmas like a story again, in a way that sometimes it doesn’t, lost in the memorized King James English or the baroque version in the ward Christmas program or the pa-rum-pah-pum-pums of sentimental songs.

There have been years in my life when Christmastime has come as a triumphant celebration of a happy year–friends seem plentiful and true, school or work has been just challenging enough to feel exhilaration at its completion, God’s close, warm presence is easy to believe in. And there have been years when Christmastime was bleak and painful–when I was numb to the music and lights and joy all around, purely desperate for a glimpse of the Savior on his birthday, eager to welcome the year’s dark close. But there have been lots of years, most years, perhaps, when Christmas has seemed like mostly a list of chores, with “feel childlike wonder, reverent awe, overflowing love for Jesus” somewhere near the top, mocking me all season as I failed to check it off with a satisfying click of accomplishment.

And that’s why I like thinking about the shepherds reporting: “Well, this is what happened, ma’am, and we’ll go back to work now, for your Son’s sake.” ‘Glorifying and praising God, as it was told unto them.’ We praise God; we do Christmas; we tell the story, over and over, sometimes with feeling, sometimes not so much, because that is what Christians do. What our bodies do, our hearts can learn.


  1. Mark Brown says:

    Even better the second time.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    LOVE IT.

  3. But there have been lots of years, most years, perhaps, when Christmas has seemed like mostly a list of chores, with “feel childlike wonder, reverent awe, overflowing love for Jesus” somewhere near the top, mocking me all season as I failed to check it off with a satisfying click of accomplishment.

    I wrote something very similar to that in my journal two nights ago, Kristine–you nailed it on the head.

    Merry Christmas to you this year; sending plenty of satisfactory e-clicks from SoCal…

  4. Merry Christmas to you, Kristine.

  5. Cynthia L. says:

    Aw, shoot, Kristine. Kids and I are exhausted and hungry, facing another of the seemingly endless string of nights of DH working late this month (oh, at least DH has work now), I’m still trying to figure out what to do about dinner,

    …and here I am sitting in front of the computer crying.

    I can really see myself in those shepherds right now. After I die, approaching the Lord, tentatively mumbling a string of thoughts that aren’t quite an explanation, for myself and everything. But just hoping I can get to see Him in spite of it all.

  6. Listening to the beautiful recording from King’s . . . while enjoying the opening post, again.

    Thanks for this.

  7. I love this, Kristine. And the music is incredible.

  8. Molly Bennion says:

    Lovely, Kristine. I so treasure the music and poetry and wise thoughts you share.

    Aspects of your message have been on my mind for weeks as I’ve been working on a Christmas lesson for RS. (I can’t teach only JS the Sunday before Christmas. I can’t.) I found a related thought from an old E.B. White Christmas essay in the New Yorker: “To any for whom by some mischance the magical moment fails in reenactment, we give Aunt Caroline’s resolute words: Remembrance is sufficient of the beauty we have seen.” Sometimes our remembrances of those triumphant celebration years must be sufficient to supply Christmas beauty in the bleaker years. This is a hard Christmas for many; I intend to invite the sisters to remember with me their happiest Christmases and to explore whether those memories must be sufficient or whether we can make new beauty or recreate some of those feelings. I’ll be quoting some of your post.

  9. That song was beautiful, thank you for sharing. You have described my exact sentiments of Christmastime these past few years – it’s good to remember that next year (or even this one) might feel different if I keep trying to find the spirit of the season in the right places.

  10. Thank you for that! Working in the retail sector I sometimes find it hard to “feel childlike wonder, reverent awe, overflowing love for Jesus” at this time of year! This has helped!

  11. Thank you, Kristine.

  12. Just when I thought I knew most of the best Christmas music around. . . . Really nice. Good thoughts to add, as well. Thank you.

  13. Kristine,
    You were so born in the wrong church.

  14. In a sense, we all were, Ronan.

    Thanks for the lovely links and wise thoughts, Kristine. And merry Christmas!

  15. Beautiful, Kristine. I’m so glad you’re here.

  16. Thank you for the post. Every Advent, Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter, I wish I could go back to being a free lance church goer (before baptism). I regret the standardized, “pretty much the same as usual” tone in our church. My husband and I have solved our Christmas problem by attending 8 or 9 services of a local boychoir’s Lessons and Carols every December for the last 15 years. Simple biblical readings, gorgeous boy treble sounds, beautiful and reverent red robes, acoustical mystery of old churches built for such voices, and the congregational songs performed with beauty, meaning, and purpose. That December when my father was dying of cancer in the nearby hospital and my mother had “checked out mentally,” it was the only thing that kept me whole. Like you, I yearn to feel God’s gift at this time of the year and music speaks to me.

  17. “But there have been lots of years, most years, perhaps, when Christmas has seemed like mostly a list of chores, with “feel childlike wonder, reverent awe, overflowing love for Jesus” somewhere near the top.”

    Dead, solid, perfect. Thanks Kristine.

  18. Mommie Dearest says:

    After listening to this I clicked on the link and got lost in the wonderland of Kings College You Tube videos, and then I ventured a little farther and found this:

    Every year my own personal observance of Christmas revolves around the rehearsals and performance of our stake choir, the singing of praise and expression of wonder are as pure and un-commercialized as Christmas worship can be, for me. I am the only active member in my immediate family and the choir is my celebration, for me, of the birth of the Savior. We perform early in the month, so it’s all over now for me but the shopping, wrapping, tinsel and late nights. Except I keep coming back here and listening to the beautiful music so I can feel the holiness again and over again.

  19. Kristine,

    I’m a devout lurker but wanted to say that this post is perfect. Thank you.


  20. Thank you for putting that so eloquently into words.
    And the Boys of Kings College was a big plus!

    I am a HUGE fan of the boy choir. Muchas gracias, y Feliz Navidad!

  21. Beautiful, Kristine. Thanks for posting your so well-expressed thoughts.

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