Please allow me this month to share excerpts from my Christmas book, Christmas Carols in my Heart, published October, 2019. I call it an interactive Christmas journal because, not only do I write of memories evoked by twelve Christmas carols, but I invite you, the reader, to write down your memories too. The following is part of my entry for “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” by Heinrich Suso.
Good Christian Men
I tugged at quilts and straightened heavy muslin sheets, scraping my knuckles while dealing with tight spaces between antique headboards and mattresses. It was all part of making beds at Stone Gables, a regular job for me when I was a teenager. Daddy expected the boys to work outside, not inside. As I cleaned up after my brothers, I listened to music on Stan’s new radio. Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice…Even the carols were male oriented. Why should only men rejoice?
But as I opened my mouth and began to sing, my resentment melted away like morning mist disappearing from the grove in front of our house. My question wasn’t exactly answered. It just didn’t matter anymore. Of course men weren’t the only ones to rejoice. Because I was rejoicing and I knew it. Suddenly it seemed clear why the song said Christian men. Nothing else would fit poetically. Try to sing the song with women or children in place of men.
Years later, singing in our Cairo church congregation surrounded by Charles and our children and one special guest, I could appreciate even better the words to this song and rejoice more completely. He hath opened heaven’s door, and man is blest forevermore. Now I knew that “man” means mankind, including women and children. And I had so much about which to rejoice that day. Festive wreaths were up once again high above the doors on either side of the nave and along the balcony railing behind us were graceful loops of garland, hung lovingly by Sarah Timmerman and helpers. A Chrismon tree glowed near the right transept. Even though it was a very gray cold day outside, warmth and friendship surrounded us here.
But the best part of that day was that a missionary to Alaska was visiting us. As director of women’s missions that year, I had asked him to come from his retirement home in Tallahassee and here he was. He would be speaking in only a few minutes. Calls you one and calls you all, To gain his everlasting hall.
Rev. John Isaacs and his wife, Lillian, pioneers in teaching English as a second language in Kentucky, then Alaska, had always sought to bring their students to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They became dear friends of our family after they retired, even helping churches in our community start ESL classes. Always we’ve enjoyed remembering that particular day when Rev. Isaacs first came to our church.
As we all stood outside after services talking about Alaska, the weather in our little south Georgia town made a distinct change. Snowflakes began to fall, lighting on our shoulders and hair. William and Julie and church friends ran about in great glee. It was the first snow we’d seen in years!
We took Rev. Isaacs out for lunch, and as we sat at the table in Pizza Hut eight-year-old William blurted out, “Can you believe it’s snowing today?” John Isaacs, never one to miss a chance to tease, said in his low key way, “Yes, son, I can believe it. I put in a special order early this morning. So glad you like it. It’s Alaskan snow, you know.”
It was one of those years when my brother Charlie’s teenage sons James and Nathan did most of the work of cutting and setting up the Stone Gables tree. We arrived as a small crowd of other family members were pulling out Mamma’s ornaments and starting to decorate the tall rafters-high cedar. William took a handful of sparkly icicles from his grandmother and dashed up the stairs to work on the top third of the tree. Julie accepted an angel and began to hung for the very best lower branch. Evelyn, James and Nathan’s older sister, hummed “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” with her twin cousins Fairlight and Rebecca, as they chose ornaments to place.
My sister Ginger was on a ladder working on the middle branches when she suddenly screamed and Suzanne grabbed the ladder to steady it. There, draped gracefully across a branch near the trunk of the tree was a long gray snake skin.
“What in the world!” said Mamma, immediately looking at Nathan. Though we all accused Nathan, his neck never turned red the way it did when he was guilty. But he did take the thing out like a young gentleman.
I couldn’t help expecting to meet that snake in its new skin wound around a chair leg or lining itself up in a shady corner of the breakfast room. But he never showed up and the merriment grew merrier. Nathan, to this day, declares he did not put that snake skin in the Christmas tree.
I’ve been married nearly fifty-five years to a “good Christian man,” and I am so grateful for him. Charles is a godly leader in our family and in our church. He takes his instructions from God’s holy Word and I trust him. He is faithful as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a deacon, and a veterinarian. And he is so patient in putting up a straight Christmas tree.
Oh, Jesus, how You continue through the ages to give Your words, Your truths to humble folk. You use nobility and skilled persons and You use children and people of low esteem. I’m so grateful, Lord, that You’re always ready to respond to our seeking. Help me learn something new every single Christmas. And thank You for all the good Christian men You’ve put in my life–father, father-in-law, brothers, son, especially my husband. Amen.