December 2020 — pg. 3
Play a holiday album by Barbra Streisand, Harry Connick Jr.
or Vanessa Williams, and you may find the song “I Wonder
as I Wander” that’s now considered a Christmas carol despite
its summer origin. The song is credited to composer John Jacob
Niles, but Niles wrote that he actually took the first few lines from
words he heard a traveling evangelist’s daughter sing in July 1933:
“I wonder as I wander, out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did
come for to die...”
Niles expanded the girl’s incomplete song and let listeners know
that “when Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall.” But before the
lyrics turn to Jesus’ birth, the song begins by letting listeners know
that the Savior came here to die.
At Christmastime, Christians tend to focus on the manger
without saying much (if anything) about the crucifixion. Let’s
instead follow the advice of Brett Heintzman in this month’s Vital
Signs article and “keep the cross in Christmas.”
As contemporary group Go Fish sings, “The beginning of the
story is wonderful and great, but it’s the ending that can save you,
and that’s why we celebrate. It’s about the cross. It’s about my sin.
It’s about how Jesus came to be born once, so that we could be born
Catholic Priest Steve Grunow writes that one carol, “The Holly
and the Ivy,” uses “familiar Christmas decorations as symbols of the
passion of Christ: ‘The holly bears a berry, as red as any blood. …
The holly bears a prickle, as sharp as any thorn.’”
Grunow also notes that some of the original lyrics for “What
Child Is This” often are skipped: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him
through. The cross be borne for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word
made Flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.” Perhaps these phrases aren’t
familiar to you because leading Protestant hymnals — from Baptist
to Methodist — leave out these lines. Thankfully, a few modern
musicians such as Josh Garrels are bringing these lyrics back.
The new book “Prayers for the Seasons” compiles reflections
and poetic prayers by Free Methodist Bishop Emeritus David W.
Kendall. Here are Kendall’s words from Dec. 4, 2016:
“In an Infant who grew up, but never really ‘grew up’ to match
Who went around doing good,
Who challenged the powers that oppress us, enslave us, and
And Who indeed overpowered them, but with that gave His
own self to the death, not to ruin but to redeem, not to demand
their lives but to offer His own life.”
Kendall understands that Christmas is meaningless without the
cross. His Dec. 23, 2018, prayer included these words:
“Self surrendering to Self to seek and save the many,
Self surrendering to show what is good, right, true, and
beautiful; to accept
Dark and deadly challenge, to defy the odds, obeying against
them, to give all
Until all lay exhausted and expired on a cross-shaped altar,
twitching ‘til still.
Lovingly, surrendering Self to creatures whose love of power
would kill Life.”
At the end of a year filled with unexpected horrors, we certainly
need some “Joy to the World” through understanding “the Savior
reigns” even as, Lydia Choi reminds us in in this month’s Focal Point
article, “there are storms that might come our way.” As Bishop Matt
Whitehead shares in the Leading Edge article, “mature Christians
understand that loss, pain and suffering are a part of life.”
What do these stormy portions of life have to do with joy? The
book of James reminds us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and
sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know
that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (1:2–3).
One person who understands life’s trials is Phyllis Sortor who
survived kidnapping while serving as a missionary in Nigeria.
Another is Chaplain Larry Lyons, who has experienced the
devastating effects of COVID-19 in his own family and at the
Detroit area hospital that’s been at the forefront of the fight against
coronavirus. Keep reading to learn more about how suffering hasn’t
stopped Sortor or Lyons.
As Michael Simmons notes in this month’s Viewpoint article,
the Christ of Christmas is our Savior and our Initiator who says,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take
up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Don’t expect to find
that message in a Hallmark movie or greeting card, but it’s key to
following “the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.” +
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive
editor. He is a member of John Wesley
Free Methodist Church where his wife,
Jen, serves as the lead pastor.
By Jeff Finley