Over the past year, I’ve enjoyed listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, “Happier.” Although Rubin and I differ on some views, I appreciate her practical wisdom and advice on how to establish habits and practices that help us cultivate the lives we want.
Recently, I enjoyed her episode on holiday hacks. Hacks are imperfect yet savvy solutions to ordinary problems, like buying Christmas gifts. While listening to the episode, I realized I had adopted a hack of my own this Christmas.
My Holiday Hack
If you’re like me, it’s easy to get swept up in the fullness of the season and give little thought to the significance of the church calendar. I want to dwell more on the birth of Jesus and what His birth means for the world, my community and my life, but too often that goal remains elusive because I don’t have any practical ideas for how to introduce moments of reflection into my day to day life.
Enter my hack — my imperfect-yet-savvy solution to this problem.
I decided to make a Christmas carol my theme song for the season. In a movie, a theme song expresses the essence of what the movie is about through music and lyrics. In the same way, I wanted a song to root me in this season of Christ’s birth and capture my imagination for how this event impacts my life and our world.
I’m choosing to dwell on the lyrics and memorize them, digging into their theological truth. Then, whenever I hear the carol, whether I’m at the grocery store, in my car or cleaning my house, I’m encouraged to pause and remember the Christmas story instead of letting the music go in one ear and out the other.
The Beauty of Christmas Carols
Here’s why this hack is helping me dwell on the beauty of the Christmas season:
Christmas carols are filled with theological insight. I’m a fan of all genres of Christmas music and the atmosphere it creates, but I love how carols uniquely connect the Christmas story with the larger story of the Bible. Carols are essentially sermons/poems about the Christmas story that engage the imagination while offering nuggets of of biblical truth.
Christmas carols are a festive way to celebrate. Singing Christmas carols is a special aspect of the season. By making a carol “mine” for the season, I’m embracing the celebrations of Christmas.
Carols help breathe fresh air into the Christmas story. As someone who has heard the Christmas story her whole life, it can easily become rote. Through their language, imagery and music, they give me insight into the Christmas story.
Carols are everywhere this time of year. This is the big reason why this hack is especially effective. Not only do I have my carol on my Spotify playlists to listen to, but I also hear it at the grocery store or while in my car driving around town.
Making This Hack Work for You
If you find yourself in the same boat as me, looking for ways to create moments that encourage you to pause in the midst of this full season, here’s how to make this hack yours:
Pick a carol and make it yours. Is there a Christmas carol you’re particularly drawn to? Although there are some beautiful new Christmas carols being written right now, it’s best to find a traditional carol because they’re more likely to be on the radio, playing at the grocery store, etc.
This year, I chose “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” My church is taking inspiration from this song for its sermon series this advent, considering different lines of the song. It’s already one of my favorite carols, so I decided to own it this season.
Read all the verses and see how they illumine the Bible. What Scripture passages are the lyrics rooted in? Over a meal or one evening, look over the words of the song and consider how they’re tied up in the Bible.
For example, I love these lines from “Hark, the Herald Angles Sing”:
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleas’d as man with men t’ appear
Jesus, our Immanuel here!
As I think through these lines, I’m reminded of Moses, who couldn’t look at God because of His glory, but now we have Jesus who is hidden in flesh so that we can look at Him without fear. I’m reminded of John 1, where we learn that Jesus is the Word become flesh who came to dwell among us. I’m reminded of Matthew 2, where we’re told that Immanuel means “God with us.”
As you hear the song, remember what you’ve learned. When I hear “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” I’m jerked out of the humdrum that can come with Christmas. The music gives me something concrete to focus on in the midst of my busy schedule instead of only having an ambiguous goal of pondering the Christmas story more.
What’s Your Christmas Carol?
There are lots of wonderful Christmas carols to choose from if you want to make this hack yours. “Joy to the World” beautifully connects the Christmas story to Psalm 98. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” shows how the birth of Jesus is part of the larger narrative God continues to unfold right now. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” offers words for our longing for a God who is with us. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” touches on the tension we experience as we live in between Christ’s first and second comings.
During Christmas, it’s easy to overlook the joy of the season if we don’t creatively and practically cultivate habits that help us embrace the story of Christmas. My little Christmas hack offers me a simple solution to this problem, and my knowledge and love of the Christmas story is going deeper as a result.
What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Do you have any habits that keep you grounded during the holiday season?
Copyright 2017 Abigail Murrish. All rights reserved.