Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Promise, The Person, The Purpose: Hymn Titles Tell the Story

Writers through the ages have understood that titles are important to catch the eye of the readers, to give people a clue to content and a hunger to learn more. This being the Advent season, let’s look to see how well the hymn writers accomplished their task in telling the story of Jesus.
 I went through my hymnal and chose titles to cover the Nativity story. I started from the very beginning. No, not Do-Re-Mi. (Sorry, this musician couldn’t resist the pun.)

The Promise 

John 1:14 in the King James Version specifically declares Jesus is “begotten of the Father,” and God’s plan for mankind started before there was any human on earth. The 13th century melody with lyrics that date previous to that—4th century!—“Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” is a call of praise to the Trinity, glorious and eternal.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is an 18th century hymn reminding us of God’s promise: the Son of God will appear and save His people. Not only does the hymn plead with Christ to come, but it looks further to the future when He will come again to reign over us in peace.

The Promise is fulfilled! Celebration that Christ is born. Handel set Isaac Watts’s poem to music to proclaim the good news in Joy to the World!

The Person

With the birth of Jesus, the familiar Nativity tableau is set. Enter the shepherds. While Shepherds Watched Their Flockstells us immediately something was going to happen. The shepherds were just minding their own business doing their jobs which included working at night.
Then angels appeared. Hark the Herald Angels Sing immediately signifies the angels have an announcement. And since they don’t ordinarily appear to people this must be quite a proclamation!

They announce the identity of the newborn King, they announce His purpose, and they reveal to the shepherds where they can find Him: in “(O)Little Town of Bethlehem.”

After such an amazing event, the shepherds hurry to follow the angels’ directions, and sure enough, they find the Baby lying in a manger. What does the title, How Great Our Joy?” tell us? The shepherds worship and are filled with joy. I’ve always wondered if the entire town of Bethlehem was aware of the miracle within twenty-four hours as the shepherds spread the news.

The Purpose

While we add the presence of We Three Kings to our nativity scenes, in reality, the shepherds were long gone, angels were not visible, and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had moved into a house by the time the magi arrived. The first line of the hymn states that these kings were from the Orient, and they came to worship this new King, which immediately lets the world know that this King did not come to save only the Jewish people. He came for every human being in the world.

Philippians 2:7-8 describes how Jesus made Himself into the likeness of a man, humbling Himself out of obedience to the Father, and sacrificing Himself for us, gutter scum that we are. In five stanzas, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne tells the story of the above scriptures.

And finally, "O Come, All Ye Faithful." The title is a command, and it identifies those who are to obey. This is why Jesus came to earth. He invites all to join the family God. He calls upon us to encourage others in the hope of a wondrous eternity.

So I encourage all who read this today: Come. Let us adore Him.

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.
Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft. She still visits the school and teaches creative writing workshops.
Where Linda can be found on the web:



Saturday, December 9, 2017

Revisiting "Little Women" at Christmas

My favorite novel with Christmas scenes is Little Women. If you’ve never read at least the first two chapters of the book, I suggest you do. (You can download it free from Amazon.) And of course, part of the book’s charm for those of us who love to read and write is young Josephine’s portrayal as a budding playwright and author.

Louisa May Alcott paints a picture of Christmas excitement and cheer, challenge and heartbreak, kindness and giving through the young March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy; their mother, whom they call Marmee; and their neighbor, Mr. Laurence. One reason I love this book is that those Christmas chapters written in 1868 are devoid of the twenty-first century holiday hype and commercialism that today are barely held back before November arrives.

Yet here we all are, living in the twenty-first century. How can the kind of meaningful Christmas I see in Little Women, and perhaps we would all like to see in our own lives, be portrayed in contemporary Christmas stories and scenes to give readers more than a passing glance? What would we love to see?

Here are a few ideas, taken from this beloved nineteenth-century novel, for not only writing Christmas for characters, but for planning our own most meaningful Christmas experiences. 

  • Giving specifically thoughtful gifts. Beth makes and monograms new handkerchiefs for her mother with “Mother” rather than her initials, M.M., to ensure they won't be mixed up with Meg’s. 
  • Keeping Christmas activities simple, perhaps centering around church or a community center, or a gathering of friends. Marmee allows Jo and her sisters to invite a group of friends to their home on Christmas Day for a play they produce and perform themselves. 
  • Sharing an especially touching Christmas experience from a book or movie. I don’t know if the books she read had any Christmas scenes, but Jo could cry over a heartfelt story as well as anybody (see chapter 3). 
  • Making a significant sacrifice, putting aside tendency to focus on self. The March sisters overcome their own selfish desires to not only provide comforting presents for their weary mother, but to give up their Christmas breakfast for a family in desperate need. 
  • Spreading unexpected joy. After learning about the March family's kind gesture to the mother and children in need, Mr. Laurence sends a special treat to the sisters and their guests. Not every sacrifice will be met with gifts, but sometimes kind deeds spur others to kindness. And of course . . . 
  • Intentionally keeping Christ in Christmas. The March sisters’ chaplain father is away at the war, which is part of the reason they’ve come upon challenging financial times. Though on Christmas morning fifteen-year-old, spirited Jo is momentarily disappointed she has no stocking full of gifts, she quickly appreciates how meaningful Marmee's gift to each of her daughters is: a personal copy of the book with “that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived.”  

May you have a meaningful and merry Christmas, dear writers and friends, and blessings all through the year. 

photo credit of card:

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries 
(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with thirty years of experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a regular contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children (plus two who married in) and five grandchildren, with foster grandchildren in their lives on a regular basis.