Silent Night, Holy Night

 The second wave of Covid-19 is hitting us especially hard here in Alberta.  My small town of Cochrane has had over fifty active cases and a staggering number of people have been diagnosed province-wide with the virus.  To combat the spread, our Provincial Government is forced to place more restrictions on us.  On the minds of everyone is, “How do we celebrate Christmas this year?”

We are told that we can no longer have any kinds of indoor gatherings other than those who live in the same household together.  We cannot have outdoor gatherings with numbers of more than ten people, and even if we keep the numbers to ten outside, we must all wear masks, keep distance from one another, and not share food.  Keeping in mind Alberta temperatures can dip to -25 degrees Celsius, so meeting outside may not be an option.

I have three married adult children and five grandchildren.  Including my husband and I, that makes thirteen loved ones whom I had hoped to gather on Christmas Eve for our dinner and gift opening.  There is the strong likelihood that we may not be able to do that this year due to the Covid restrictions.  For my husband and I, it would mark the first time we would be alone for Christmas since our children were born.  

And it is breaking my heart.

2020 is a year best forgotten I suppose.  I keep hearing people say it was the “worst” year ever!  I would imagine to many who are experiencing financial hardship, grief, isolation, and anxiety brought on by this pandemic, 2020 may be the most challenging year some have ever faced.  I can’t say that personally.

2020 was my “recovery” year from my battle with cancer in 2019.  I celebrated strength, stamina and my hair returning!  My youngest daughter was married in July, and my fifth grandchild was born to my son and daughter-in-love the day before the wedding.  My husband and I managed to get out camping quite a bit to combat the Covid blues.  Just being able to enjoy the great outdoors kept our minds off the stresses brought on by forced lockdowns.  We took long drives, exploring sights we had all but taken for granted before Covid forced everyone to change travel plans.  My oldest daughter and son-in-love sold their house quite unexpectedly and are now building their “forever” home only ten minutes away from us.  Although we do not know what will happen in the days or weeks to come, my children still have jobs, we all have homes, and we all have our health.  All things considered; I certainly cannot call it the “worst” year for us as a family. 

Setting up my Christmas tree this year, I put on a DVD with a compilation of all my favourite Christmas hymns, carols and songs, to force myself to get into the spirit of the season.  I tried to sing along to some of them, but admittedly my heart just was not into it until I heard “Silent Night“.    

Silent Night“, written by an Austrian priest named, Joseph Mohr just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, was an attempt to bring a sense of hope to his little congregation who had suffered through twelve years of war and were now experiencing bitter cold and widespread famine.  Mohr hoped that the song’s message of peace and of God’s goodness in giving us the Gift of His Son, would speak into the hearts of those who were experiencing such hardship in 1818.  

Silent Night” has always been one of my most beloved Christmas songs.  We sing it every Christmas Eve at church and at home.  It describes so melodically what my Danish parents always called the night before Christmas: “Hygge Aften”.  

“Hygge” is a Danish word used to acknowledge a feeling or moment.  “Aften” is the Danish word for “evening”.  Many of my Danish relatives will tell you that “Hygge” cannot be translated adequately into English because there is no one word to describe it.  To experience a sense of “hygge” is to be fully present in the moment, to recognize the blissful feeling of tranquility; to be in a state of perfect peace.  The Nativity scene, with Mary embracing Baby Jesus in her arms while He sleeps in heavenly peace, is the closest I can come to describing a visual representation of the first perfect “Hygge Aften”. 

“Silent night, Holy night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin, mother and child

Holy infant, tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.”

My husband and I are already thinking about how we might be spending this Christmas without our family gathered around us.  I know we will profoundly feel the silence of the night, without our children and grandbaby voices and laughter around us.  It will be a far different Christmas than the one I had thought we would have, but I am still determined this year to experience “Hygge Aften” with the same sense of wonderment as I do every year.  I will purposefully immerse myself in quiet contemplation of what Christmas is all about.  I choose to fully embrace the Joy of the Season giving praise to God for the incomparable Gift of His Son given to us on the most holy of nights.  

The song “Silent Night” alludes to the fact that the first Christmas was not at all what was expected on that starry night over two thousand years ago.  Although the Saviour of the world was prophesied, no one expected a King would be born in such lowly estate, with angels heralding His birth.  The shepherds never imagined that a baby lying in a manger would be their Deliverer and mine as well.

“Silent night, Holy night

Shepherds quake, at the sight

Glories stream from heaven above

Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.

Christ the Savior is born,

Christ the Savior is born.”

“Silent night, Holy night

Son of God, loves pure light

Radiant beams from Thy Holy Face

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!

Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!”

The first three verses of “Silent Night” I know so well, but it is the rest of the song I seldom sing that have a poignant meaning for me this Christmas as never before:

“Silent night, Holy night

Here at last, healing light

From the heavenly kingdom sent,

Abundant grace for our intent.

Jesus, salvation for all.

Jesus, salvation for all.”

Every year I pray that friends and family will accept the Gift of Salvation through Jesus Christ, and that the Good News will bring the promise of Hope to a lost and hurting world.  Singing the last two verses of “Silent Night” becomes my heartfelt prayer for 2021, that each of us would be reminded that God is in control, no matter our circumstances.  I pray for that peace that surpasses understanding as we celebrate, each in our own way in 2020, and look forward with great anticipation to the New Year ahead.

“Silent night, Holy night

Sleeps the world in peace tonight.

God sends His Son to earth below

A Child from whom all blessings flow

Jesus embraces mankind.

Jesus embraces mankind.”

“Silent night, Holy night

Mindful of mankind’s plight

The Lord in Heav’n on high decreed

From earthy woes we would be freed

Jesus, God’s promise for peace.

Jesus, God’s promise for peace.”

Amen!

(read more of the history of  the song, “Silent Night” here: https://theconversation.com/the-humble-origins-of-silent-night-108653) and the translations of the song: https://www.stillenacht.at/en/text-and-music

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A Life Well-Lived

Up until last week, I thought of Covid-19 more as a nuisance, an inconvenience, just something to be endured. I complained about wearing a mask, and about restrictions that have been imposed by the government, restrictions that seem to change dependent upon where we might live in the province or the world. I heard the distressing statistics about rising numbers of Covid-19 and the numbers of people world-wide who are sick from it. They were mere numbers to me. I was saddened by the loss of life, but again it really did not affect me personally.

Until last week.

Until we lost a friend to Covid.

We had known Dan and Melanie for ten years when they lived here in Cochrane. Dan was a seminary professor and an active member in our church. He had a passion for the Gospel and was a church planter and missionary. He and Melanie led many Bible Studies, and we enjoyed gathering with them in and out of church. My husband worked with Dan on the last Pastor-Search committee. We celebrated birthdays together; had games nights with them, and rejoiced over grandchildren being born into both our families. We prayed often together, especially last year when I was battling cancer. They were numbered among the many prayer warriors I had in my corner. When Dan retired from the seminary in January, we sent them off to the States with a happy farewell knowing they were looking forward to spending time with their children and grand-children after years of being away from them because of their ministry here in Canada. I kept up with them online as they settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma and liked to hear updates from them.

Dan commented on Facebook on June 28th: “Reviewed the research on Covid-19 last night. There is a growing consensus among virologists that, unlike many viruses, the early symptoms of Covid-19 for many people are so mild they rationalize them away. It doesn’t change the fact that they are contagious. They are contagious before they know they are sick! They are breathing out micro-droplets that have the virus in them. The other conclusion was that a few people “shed” virus in their breath, etc. in far larger quantities than others. These “super spreaders” are very dangerous when they aren’t showing symptoms. You can’t tell by looking at someone whether they are in the early stages of infection or not, so it is prudent to take precautions any time you come in contact with others, whether they look healthy or not. Yet, the reality is that almost no one can entirely isolate themselves. the two guidelines of health departments make sense in light of the research: wear a mask, N95 rated if you can, and stay a “safe” distance from others. Having said that, when Mel and I have gone out in the past two weeks, almost no one we encounter is wearing a mask. It is no wonder that the infection rates are climbing rapidly in many parts of the US. This is my appeal to all my facebook friends; wear a mask out of kindness to others in case you are in the early stages of infection and don’t know it, and out of prudence lest you run into a “super-spreader” who is not taking any precautions.”

My husband and I, although not fans of masks, made a point of wearing them “out of kindness to others”. Oftentimes, we were met with piercing looks by those who, for their own reasons, refused to wear a mask in public. We didn’t judge, we just chose to mask up and keep our distance from those not wearing masks.

On August 1, Dan and Melanie welcomed their eighth grandchild, Ender into the world. We had welcomed Everett into our family on July 17th, and on July 18th our daughter, Carmen got married. Dan had been Carmen’s professor of World Religions when she attended seminary, so they once again sent congratulations.

On the prayer chain, in mid-October, we received word that we should pray earnestly for Dan. On October 9th, Dan tested positive for Covid, developed pneumonia, and was put on a ventilator. Dan had always been so healthy, so robust, so we felt confident he would be okay. But on November 4th, Melanie and the family had to make the heart-wrenching decision to remove him from life-support and he passed peacefully from this world and into his eternal reward. He died a few weeks shy of his seventieth birthday.

For a few days, we were just numb.

My husband has especially taken the passing of his friend very hard. Dan and Charles both have educational backgrounds in physics. Charles enjoyed speaking with him on all topics. Dan, an American, and Charles, a Canadian, often talked politics, sports, cars, and even as we had been praying for Dan while he battled Covid, we were praying about the U.S. election and how that political battleground would affect our lives here in Canada and in the States.

That’s the thing. Life goes on.

Over these days of heaviness and grief, I have thought a lot about this fragile life that God has given to each of us. Our days are numbered by God and who am I to challenge Him in determining why He would heal me last year of cancer, but not heal Dan of Covid? We are both statistics in the government’s eyes…me a survivor and Dan one of over 200,000 in the States who have died due to Covid. I will never look at the Covid numbers again with the same distracted indifference I did a week ago. Every time I put on my mask, I will not complain, but will think of Dan.

This morning, it is cold, but sunny here in Southern Alberta. Dan and Melanie often talked about their home in San Diego, where they lived before moving to Canada. My husband and I loved visiting San Diego, mostly because of the moderate weather there. I can’t help but think of them and San Diego this morning as the blustery, bitter winds here in the foothills are playing a factor in dropping the temperatures to – 15 degrees Celsius. I shiver and begin my quiet time praying for Melanie, their adult children, and eight precious grandchildren. We may be distant in miles, but close in heart. I long to be able to hug on Melanie, but we will watch the memorial service online this week, and celebrate Dan’s life. We take comfort that Dan is in the presence of our Saviour. He spent his life pointing others to Jesus and his life of faithfulness to that mission is now being rewarded.

That’s the thing. Eternal life goes on forever!

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I’m a Holy Ghost Writer

Books have the ability to change lives, change history, change the world. It is no wonder that when we Christian writers put pen to paper, or in this day and age, PDF’s to ebooks, we must be constantly aware that we will be held accountable one day for what we write.

I had a debate with someone after I published my first book, “Shoot the Wounded”, that I shouldn’t “limit” myself to writing about God. I know he was being well-meaning at the time because he knew how difficult it was then, and still is, to market and promote my contemporary Christian young adult novels in a predominantly secular market. He said, “You’re a great writer. You could write in any genre and it would be amazing!”

Well, my friend makes a good point. The Christian marketplace for books is relatively small when compared to the secular market that focuses on the occult, explicit sexual content, and profane language. Certainly I could spout out the same vulgarities and write content that would make my friends blush. I might even make money at it… but would it be right?

My writer’s life has been for the most part a solitary one. It’s basically me parked in front of a computer screen, tapping out a plotline that is only imagined in my mind and then brought to “life” on paper. It’s a weird process really. It’s even weirder when I consider all the other bizarre imagery and thoughts also rattling around in my head at the same time that I could just as easily regurgitate to life and then instantly regret. Silly, stupid, and basically messed up things that really should NEVER be put to paper. Fire yes,… paper… no!

James 3:1 says that “not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” I dare say that a writer in many ways is a teacher, especially those of us who are called by God to write. Our words may teach, empower, embolden, condemn, accuse, uplift, benefit and reprimand. Look at history. Mein Kampf caused an entire nation to embrace the ideology of a madman. The book, 1984 by George Orwell coined the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” – a phrase that takes on new meaning today in this world of interconnectedness on the internet. The word “Twilight” will no longer be just a time in the day to sit and watch the sun go down, but now will be forever associated with vampires and werewolves. Even a simple journal, found after a young girl’s death, has become a symbol of racial persecution, something the young Anne Frank likely never would have imagined as she wrote her private thoughts into her diary.

Now I would be incredibly egotistical to think that my little books will someday “change the world”… Whoa! Still, whenever one person picks up and reads one of my books, whatever I have written will likely elicit a response… good, bad or indifferent in that person. No doubt when I look at my reviews later I will be able to determine what the ultimate response has been…

The thing is, I write to a “higher calling”. I am not writing to glorify myself but to glorify God. Writing what the world might like may get me noticed and possibly sell more books, but as a Christian writer that should not be my focus. My pen (computer keyboard) is in God’s service. So I hope you will allow me the artistic license this one time to change the wording in James slightly to keep me ever mindful as a writer Whose I am:

“Not many of you should presume to be (writers),… because you know that we who (write) will be judged more strictly.”

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