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WHEN SORROWS LIKE SEA BILLOWS ROLL AT CHRISTMAS (3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT)

christmascold

IT’S CHRISTMAS 

LIGHTS ARE TWINKLING,

BELLS ARE RINGING,

CHILDREN ARE LAUGHING

YET FOR SOME OF YOU,

COLD WAVES,

LIKE THE  WAVES OUTSIDE MY WINDOW,

ARE WASHING OVER YOU.

Within our own sisterhood on the blog, we have a woman fighting breast cancer, another having to testify in court against her son’s murderer, and a grieving grandmother who wonders if her grandchildren will ever be restored to her daughter. The contrast of the joy of Christmas to the sorrow in a heart can exacerbate the pain that is already there.

In The God of All Comfort I share this entry from my prayer journal:

Susihouse

Friday, December 12

THE SECOND ADVENT WITHOUT STEVE

Where are you, God?

Tonight I drove up to Susi’s. She was having a Christmas party for the doctors and their wives from Steve’s clinic. My first time to come alone — last year I didn’t even try. I parked on the street and began walking toward the house, carrying my offering of Christmas cookies in a midnight blue tin covered with stars. Chris and Susi’s house was laced with green boughs and tiny white lights.

I was fine until I looked through the front window. There they were: Couples. Laughing. Talking. Immersed in one another. It used to be Steve and me too.

I turned and fled before anyone could see me. The widow Brestin.

So here I am, Lord. I shed my red silk Christmas dress and retreated to my flannel nightgown and my green leather chair. I am crying out to you. Your Psalms are open on my lap. I know your Words are streams of water, and I long to put my roots deep into that water and sense You.

But where are You, God? I thirst for you, But I do not feel You here with me.

 

I wrote that nine years ago. God has brought me through the river of grief and into His arms. I still miss Steve terribly. I honestly still break down and sob sometimes. But I also have greater intimacy with the Lord and I know my life is not over. It will never be the same, but it can be good, even wonderful. In many ways I can identify with this in The Song of Songs:

          Who is this coming out of the wilderness, leaning on her lover?

(Song of Songs 8:5)

What brought me out of the wilderness? What got me through the icy waves of grief?

I know it was the truth of God, His deep voice speaking deep into my troubled soul. But how did He speak?

He often spoke to me through the truth in music and through nature. How I identify with Philip Yancey, who as a young man was suffering a different kind of pain — the repression of legalistic religion. Yet God came to Him, came to his wilderness and began to heal him through music and nature. This is what Yancey says:

Nature and classical music were the first chinks in the armor that made me aware that maybe the world was, if not good, maybe a little better than I thought. I was at a Bible college where I was viewed as a deviant. People would pray for me and try to cast out demons and all that kind of thing. I was trying to survive in that environment while they were trying to force this religion on me that I had developed antigens to. They would lock the doors to the dorms at around ten-thirty at night and fortunately I was on the first floor. I would climb out the window of my room and go through a window in the chapel where they had a nine foot Steinway grand piano. There was complete darkness except the little light by which to read music. For an hour or so each night I would sit in the dark and play Beethoven Sonatas, Chopin Preludes, and Schubert Impromptus. It was a way of restoring a kind of tactile order to a very confused world. My mind was confused, my body was confused, the world was confused. But here was beauty, beauty that I was touching and even creating. The same thing happened with nature as I began to become more attuned to beauty. If I needed to get away from the ideas and the people and all of that, I would take long walks in the pine forests of South Carolina. I would come across birds, butterflies and insects, and other reminders that there is great goodness in this world. It wasn’t a goodness I had previously experienced in family and it wasn’t a goodness I previously had experienced in church. Eventually, I became open to the idea that if there is such a thing as goodness – C.S. Lewis uses the phrase, “drippings of grace”, and I caught some of those drippings – then there must be an author or a source.

This week we are going to look at two carols that I think might help you if sorrow is sweeping over you. Or, you may use them to help others. People in high-tide grief surely don’t want to sing Deck the Halls — but there are carols you can sing, carols that are, indeed a lament. During our first week we looked at O Come O Come Emmanuel which bridges the sorrow of long waiting with the hope of Emmanuel coming. This week we will look at two more carols of lament: I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day and It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.

Sunday/Monday Icebreakers

1. What stood out to you from the above and why?

2. What “drippings of grace” are you aware of in your life right now?

Monday/Thursday: I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY

church-bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

3. These lyrics follow the format of the classical lament in the psalms which is an honest outcry to the Lord about the pain you feel, then a pause where He comes to you and give you truth to help you hang on. How do you see this in the above carol?

4. The music itself can enhance the lament. Though the following video is slightly corny, I think they do a wonderful job of showing how the music enhances the sorrow, the discord, and then the hope. Watch it and comment.

5. When I read Psalm 10, I could not help thinking of our own Chris who has suffered so after the murder of her son Daniel and must appear in court this Advent. Look at this psalm and find the honest outcry to the Lord and then the truth, the promises, that sustain the psalmist. Pray them for Chris please. (If Chris is new to you, you can read her story and see her moving video on this blogpost — also more about I Heard The Bells: Link

6. Watch Ann VosKamp’s video and comment.  I think this is the right link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQad8GPfti0

Friday: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

itcameupon

 It was Sara Groves who first awakened me to the lament in this carol. She has a contemporary version of it and the gal who put these pictures to it did a pretty good job. Listen and watch and see if you can find the lament:

6. How did Sara’s music enhance the words of the lament and the bridge to joy?

7. Meditate on the lyrics — and share what you see. What about the “babel sounds?”

These are from Sara’s rendition:

It came upon the midnight clear
That glorious song of old
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold

Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heaven’s all gracious King
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels, to hear them sing

O ye beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps so slow

Look now for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels, and hear them sing

Singin’ peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heaven’s all gracious King
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels, to hear them sing, sing, sing, sing

Still through the broken skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats
Over all the weary world

Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing
And ever over Babel sounds
The blessed angels, the angels sing, sing, sing

And I can hear the angels sing
And I can hear the angels
And I still hear the angels sing
And I still hear the angels

(Glory, Alleluia)
And I can hear the angels
And I still hear the angels sing
(Glory, Alleluia)
And I still hear the angels

(Glory, Alleluia)
Oh, I can hear, oh, I can hear
(Glory, Alleluia)
That glorious song of old

(Glory, Alleluia)
It came upon the midnight clear
(Peace on earth, Glory, Alleluia)
Peace on earth

Saturday:

8. What is your take-a-way and why?

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153 comments

  1. 6. Ann VosKamp’s video

    The link now takes me to week 4, but if you go to her blog you can get Advent week 3 at the bottom–the joy one Diane mentioned. OH it it is good. I subscribe to her blog and have to admit how often I miss a post because her writings are so rich, so deep, so full of wisdom—I need to be still to hear. I love that, and yet—how difficult it can be. Yet when I am still, I am blessed.

    The Joy video—it is REALLY good. I think this is my favorite of the series. She says “there is nothing left to fear, all fear is but the notion that God’s love ends…and God’s love never ends”.

    Being a Jesus follower is more than just believing—the difference for believers is JOY. The opposite is unbelief–cynicism, sarcasm, pessimism. Joy isn’t Pollyanna—it is what separates disciples from demons. He comes to our most broken places. Joy is possible wherever I am because He is with me. When we are near Jesus—our hearts leap for joy.

    I think I am often lacking joy. The lies that tell me I am not enough, that I am not being the mom I could or should be. It robs my joy. My self kills joy. Trying to shield it, to control it, my tight fist—only kills my joy. Flames need oxygen, a bit of wind.

    Loved this too from her blog today “Preparing for the holidays is primarily a preparing of the heart. Because what comes down is love — and the way to receive love isn’t to wrap anything up — but to unwrap your heart.”

  2. 6. How did Sara’s music enhance the words of the lament and the bridge to joy?

    I LOVE Sara’s rendition—the upbeat faster pace does bridge us more quickly to the joy that is ours.

    7. Meditate on the lyrics — and share what you see. What about the “babel sounds?”

    I was struck by this “The world in solemn stillness lay-To hear the angels, to hear them sing”. I so rarely am in solemn stillness, and the lyrics say this is HOW we hear the angels sing. If I am not still, I cannot hear.

    The “babel sounds” –“Above its sad and lowly plains  they bend on hovering wing, And ever over Babel sounds, The blessed angels, the angels sing, sing, sing” the angels sing above the babel sounds—above the confusion. They do not require our stillness in order to sing—they are always singing. But we will only hear, when we are still.

  3. I wondered at Babel sounds….it is capitalized like the Tower of Babel. Sally Lloyd-Jones says in the Jesus storybook Bible that the people building the Tower of Babel were trying to live life without God, doing their own plans and trying to be God, making a tower all the way to heaven, to see what was not intended for them to see. I wonder if “Babel sounds” are all the messages around us that tell us we don’t need God, we are good enough, neigh, better than God and His creeds. Because there is a plethora of places that those messages accosts us from. 

  4. 6. Watch Ann VosKamp’s video and comment.      
    I felt a nagging  little feeling of guilt as I watched this video.  Ann VosKamp is repeatedly saying “Slow,” and there is so much that pulls us into the fast track during advent.   I haven’t always been able to say “No” to the pressures pulling on me, although I have made a significant effort.    As I was out driving yesterday, I saw a sign that we have all gotten quite used to now, reading “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”  However this sign was leaning at about a 45-degree angle, and one corner of the sign was sliding down into a snow bank.    I thought that image portrayed the dilemma pretty well!  
    I found it difficult to write fast enough to take very many notes — and it all seemed SO GOOD! 
    The following are the segments I particularly appreciated:
    “The season can spin faster and louder and faster — the whole thing can fly by in a blur.  You can get dizzy and lost, missing something, or someone, you can’t seem to find. ”
    ” God wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us.”
    “And over the season He invites you to:  Slow  — Be still — Be remade — Be transformed.”
    “When Christmas becomes a burden it has lost something of Christ.”
    “You are most prepared for Christmas when you are done trying to make your performance the gift, and instead revel in His presence as the Gift.”
    “He climbed down from the throne of heaven to get to us.  Climb over the throes of Christmas to get back to Him.” 
     

  5. 6. How did Sara’s music enhance the words of the lament and the bridge to joy?
    Well, for me, I have not heard that melody with those lyrics before.  I think that forced me to look at the lyrics more carefully — I couldn’t just sing along on auto-pilot!   
    7. Meditate on the lyrics — and share what you see. What about the “babel sounds?”
    I  think that this was the strongest  lament in these lyrics:

    O ye beneath life’s crushing load Whose forms are bending low Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps so slow

    As far as the Babel sounds, I think I would fall in line with Jill who connected it with the Tower of Babel.   At the Tower of Babel, everyone was talking but no one was comprehending — it was meaningless talk.    During Advent we encounter a lot of meaningless communications coming our way — especially on television and other forms of media.   These are the things that numb our brains with utter distraction, and if we are not careful we will find ourselves running around in circles, gathering up gifts in a crazed daze.   However, the angels are always singing — they sing and sing and sing.   If we listen to the angels, we might actually experience “Peace on earth.”  

  6. kind of hate to ask–but if anyone sees this–no need to post it-but if you would just pray for me to get better. I thought I was fully over my sinus infection but now I’ve got a terrible cough and fever again–I’ve previously been diagnosed with “chronic bronchitis” and it feels like that, though it’s been a while since I’ve had it like this. Anyway, just asking for His grace especially through Christmas. thanks 🙂

    1. Elizabeth, praying for you! And your health. Father bolster Elizabeth’s immunity so that her illness would resolve quickly and not interupt Christmas. That you would cover her in drippings of grace. Believing for healing. Amen. 

    2. Oh, Elizabeth 🙁    Praying that you will experience His love to the depths of your lungs and that you will feel better soon.

    3. Elizabeth,  I will certainly include praying for your health along with a handful of us (myself included) who I think have the same bug!   It is going around, and I have always called this particular illness the “bad bug,” because it sends me into asthmatic bronchitis, which I am presently fighting with antibiotics and a steroid burst — and much prayer!!    

    4. Elizabeth-How are you doing today? I have been and will keep on praying! Hate to hear you have Chronic Bronchitis on top of everything else..and this sinus infection. Lord, we ask that you would come swiftly to Elizabeth’s rescue and heal her-help her and her family to enjoy you and have a wonderful Christmas celebrating You together! 

  7. Oh, elizabeth. Saw this. Praying!

  8. Just coming back to the land of the living (for a little while).  I pushed through to finish some grading before the weekend — although I guess it is Saturday now.  Missing being here more thoroughly but have been reading on my cell phone before I drag myself out of bed in the morning and before I conk out at night.

  9. 8. What is your take-away, and why?
    My take-away is one line from Ann Voskamp’s video:
    “You are most prepared for Christmas when you are done trying to make your performance the gift, and instead revel in His presence as the Gift.”
    I think that summarizes well all of the lesson for this week.  It is one line that I have committed to memory and I am reciting it under my breath as I go!

  10. I loved Sara Grove’s rendition, she’s one of my favorite artists.  Also Ann Voskamp’s video….breathtaking……how we so desperately need to 
    go against the grain of the world’s hurried notion of Christmas and S…L…O….W, drinking in the magnificent Presence of our greatest gift.  Dee
    I don’t post much, but I just need to tell you, your blog is beyond FANTASTIC…I tell everyone, who’s looking to go deeper in their faith, about it.
    Every single time I read it, I am refreshed, re-centered, rightly redirected and ready to go on.  Thank you, thank you, thank you….Merry Christmas!

    1. We love having you with us JoVeda! I already love your heart: “Every single time I read it, I am refreshed, re-centered, rightly redirected and ready to go on.”  

  11. 6. How did Sara’s music enhance the words of the lament and the bridge to joy?
     
    I knew Sara’s rendition would be wonderful! It has a longing feeling to it yet joyful at the same time. I have found joy in the Lament when I pound deeper in the reality of God becoming man and the implications of that-Him restoring me to intimacy with Him and restoring Eden-He is my hope in the middle of the painful reality of sin-my failures-and the hurt and pain in the world for some day I know all of this will be turned around.
     
    7. Meditate on the lyrics — and share what you see. What about the “babel sounds?”
     
    There will be peace on Earth-the reality now is that we still have to deal with sin-and oh life can be so ugly and can make me so weary, but I know Him-He is my peace now-He is my joy.. and in the future-oh- We have so much to look forward to.
     
    The Babel Sounds-my first impression was idolatry..how my idol pulls me with all the pull of the culture-the hurry, the control and how self serving I can be-but even in the reality of this is the reality of God with us-He is here and wants to be with me and I can turn from listening to Bable sounds and be still and enjoy Him.
     

  12. 8. My takeaway
     
    I SO fit in the category this year of going in and out of the performance trap-yet I have days where I sense His presence. this sounds weird but this Christmas I have enjoyed His presence in the Kitchen at work-in the middle of all the demands-He is present and sometimes He brings His Word to mind to encourage me, and it is like I am in such a wonderful place with Him as I adore Him and just meditate on Him..and the times when I feel like it is slavery cleaning dishes-He comes and reminds me I am doing His work in serving the staff and students..I am His hands and my work is pleasing to Him and I am loving and serving others..and He changes my heart..I can’t explain it but enjoying Him causes me to be Grateful and enjoy my job and really I could even enjoy being a janitor-I thought about that the other day when the Janitor brought in his gloves after cleaning up something gross..I thought..eww, could I do that-and the answer was yes..I could do just about anything and enjoy it ONLY because He is with me and anything I do is meaningful because I am doing His work.. sweet. 

    1. I smiled when I read your post, Rebecca.  In one job especially, I did enjoy cleaning, especially the kitchen and I used to volunteer to clean the bathrooms.  My reasons weren’t always the right ones (I figured that it was easier to volunteer to do it all the time than take my turn when it was gross enough to make me sick –was easier to prevent the extreme grossness!).  But I also liked the time being alone with God, and the bathroom was one of the quietest places.   Your heart for service and loving others is so encouraging — and I know it makes His heart glad.

      1. Renee, lol-loved this about the bathrooms-I can relate. 🙂 Cleaning is a wonderful time to commune with Him that is for sure. 

  13. Ladies, I do have a prayer request for anyone seeing this, this evening. We have a bad ice storm and snow coming..my husband will be driving in it-please pray for his protection. Thanks so much!

    1. Rebecca, I’m praying right now that God will protect your husband and wrap you in His peace while you wait.

    2. Just seeing this, Rebecca. Perhaps hubby is home by now, but praying anyway. We are having an ice storm here as well.
       
      Church has already been cancelled tomorrow for the second week in a row. Hard just before Christmas and hard on church finances.

      1. Diane and Renee, 
         
        Thanks so much! We received a lot of snow on top of the ice which, has been helpful for him. Thank you Lord, that over and over I have seen your hand of mercy and how you have met our needs with your presence and provision-come to Diane, her husband and their church and help them wade through these waters of uncertainty with your presence and provide for them in a way that holds your unique fingerprint-to you be all the glory, in Jesus name, amen.
         
         
         

  14. 8. What is your take-away and why?
     
    This has been a hard week. Visiting a young woman from my church who is very, very ill and was in intensive care…I didn’t even recognize her when I first saw her. Her mom said she almost didn’t make it. I was struggling with going to see her; another lady from church and I went together…in the back of my mind were thoughts about giving up pretty much a whole day to make the visit as the hospital was about an hour away…so much I still have to “do”…but then thoughts about how Jesus said when we visit the sick it is like we visited Him. But I hate the internal battle always. People are more important than my to-do list at Christmas. She was on a ventilator and so couldn’t speak, but just before we left, she woke up, looked at both of us, seemed like she started to cry, and raised her arms almost like she wanted to give us a hug. I thought later, surely if we are seeking His presence at this time of year, those are the places where He is to be found (not at the mall).
     
    My mom’s confusion has also been worse; seems to be exacerbated by this time of year and in her mind she has so much to “do”. She helped me wrap some gifts this week; I try to include her in things we can do together so she feels like she is contributing. Again, she later told my dad that we didn’t do any wrapping but instead that we baked cookies. I am having a hard time accepting the progression of this disease, watching it steal away my mom as I know her. So the laments of the carols, of Dee and Yancy, are very real to me. I’m trying to remind myself to “look up”…to “hear” those bells ringing even louder and deeper that God does see, hear, and understand.
     
    The Babel sounds mentioned in Sara Grove’s song…I thought of millions of voices in their suffering, sorrow, crying, and yes – murmuring and complaining…and the cacophony of noise of all of that put together…yet over all of it the angels are singing and we need to be still and listen to their hopeful song.

    1. Susan, sorry you have had such a hard week. It is heart breaking to hear of your mother’s increased confusion. I can only imagine the pain. May God bring you comfort in this difficult season.

  15. I can’t find it to reply,but thank you for prayer, my fever has been really high, I drove myself to urgent care while everyone is in bed this morning, i have gotten worse, I had a anaphalatic reaction to amoxicillin 2yrs-ago, so I am leery of antibiotics, if anyone sees this I so appreciate prayers, our family is all thousands of miles away and I had so many plans I wanted to get to forms kids,sorry tobesuch an eyesore,just have to hurry her and I,m unloading on my iPad for prayer, thanks

    1. Praying, Elizabeth!

  16. Lots of typos sorry, meant to say I have a lot of plans I hope to get to for my kids, and sorry to be such an e-ore as in Winnie the Pooh but my iPad spell check says eyesore, getting called in now

    1. Oh, praying, Elizabeth. Hope you find something from the doctor to get your fever down. O Lord, bring healing to our sister.

  17. thank you so diane–just got home–tested positive for flu (even though i did get my flu shot!) hard not to be sad–but mostly praying my kids and husband stay well, Dr is letting me try tamiflu though I may be past the 48 hr window, thank you so much, praying for you too dear sister–and for th boys and krista, joel, all your family–praying for peace this Christmas, and JOY