A twinkle of candlelight on brass, the uplifted horn, the blast of sound reaching even the noisiest of us children waiting in the crowded kitchen. It was time to troop into the Hall in age order to see the Christmas tree. Our anticipation and expectancy were never higher.
Daddy wasn’t really a trumpet player and always played only a few notes to call us out, but years later, when my brother Stan was the herald, he would play a whole song–“Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Stan made no bones about being a perfectionist. He just played to enjoy the music and hoped everyone else would enjoy it too. By the time he finished, everyone would be crowded close to the tree, eyes widened at the beautiful sight of the immense cedar or pine lit with twinkling real candles.
When I sing the notes today, I am not only thrilled at the truths in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” such as “God and sinners reconciled,” I’m also remembering how quickly we hushed our silly prattle when the trumpet sounded, and how, with no argument, we found our places in the line–rounding a dark corner in the breakfast room and stepping down through the big arch into the Hall where we spied the tree for the first time and gasped in pure awe. Somehow the song and memory make me look forward to the next time Jesus comes, when, instead of “the herald angels,” He will appear Himself in the sky in a burst of unbelievable light. I want to be ready to put all distractions away and be quick to join Him when He calls my name.
We spent a lot of time in the woods when I was a kid. In fact, I spent a lot of time up in the trees, often with a book to read, sometimes even with a precious snack–a thick slice of Mamma’s bread spread with rich yellow butter and topped off with a layer of beautiful brown sugar, or a couple of cookies, or a baked potato snatched from noon leftovers stored in the stove’s warming closet. A few times I did fall out of one of those trees. My first concern–before checking for broken bones–was that no one tell Daddy, because he would ban me from climbing trees if he found out.
Aside from eating and reading, Suzanne and I loved to sing while aloft in a favorite dogwood. We’d sing with girlish gusto, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We giggled uproariously if one or all of our motley collection of dogs began baying. They were, after all, our usual audience. Suzanne thought they were singing with us, but I was sure they were objecting as hard as they knew how to a sound that grated on their ears.
We young sprouts didn’t understand all the words we so liltingly sang, although, until someone asked me directly whether I knew what the more advanced words meant, I probably thought I knew. I didn’t go around in a puzzled cloud wondering what in the world “the incarnate Deity” was or stop to study the meaning of “veiled in flesh, the God-head see,” either. Like solvers of jigsaw puzzles setting pieces aside until they fine a place for them, we held these words and phrases in our thinking somewhere until they made sense. Now, they are precious–a declaration of our mighty God’s humbling Himself for our sakes.
In the back of my mind, I hear Dad’s bass voice belting out “Glory to the newborn King” and Mamma’s soft yet enthusiastic voice almost trembling while singing “With th’angelic hosts proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.'” I hear my brother Stan down the pew from me at Clarkesville Baptist, singing loud enough for three how Jesus was “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”
I can see my grandson Charles Douglas’s face when, as a tiny boy, he had his first experience “lining up for the Christmas tree at Grandmother Knight’s.” His brown eyes grew so wide, and he looked awed and amazed as the notes of the trumpet sounded. But how we did crack up at his next question: “What’s that noise?”
Lord, I pray I’ll be ready when You come. I pray I’ll do my part in preparing others for Your coming. I pray we’ll recognize You and never once wonder what the “noise” is. Amen.
The above is adapted from a chapter in Christmas Carols in my Heart by Brenda Knight Graham. If you’d like signed copies as Christmas presents, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for info on this and other books and prices.