Today, ICOM’s David Empson shares about some family traditions . . . and about how music has been central to his enjoyment of Christmas through the years.
By David Empson
Christmas means many things to me, with most of my thoughts centering on family gatherings and music.
Our family get-togethers, of course, include Christmas dinner and gift-giving. The gatherings have grown to include three generations, and they have survived many years and miles . . . a divorce, various entanglements, and now even two deaths. Through it all, we still have lots of laughs. Yes, we have paper crowns on our heads [see the picture] from the “Christmas crackers”—a British holiday tradition—that we pop before we eat our meal, after we have said our blessing.
Family is big for us. My brother Neil left us suddenly in 1995. Dad passed in 2017, much too soon, and Mom is still alive and well, almost 98 years old. This scene around my sister’s table is where we will be this December 25. Mom’s cranberry fruit gelatin salad, turkey with the trimmings, and pecan pie are legendary. (Are you hungry yet?)
Christmas music also floods my memories. We always went to Christmas Eve services. For many years I led either the adult Christmas cantata, sang in one, or led children’s Christmas musicals.
There is something so special about a Christmas presentation—the comradery and the effort of so many people working together. But, most of all, it’s the message put to song that makes Christmas come to life for me. John W. Peterson’s cantata Night of Miracles is my all-time favorite. Angels Aware! (for kids) by Kathie Hill is another great one.
Narrowing down the message of the hope of the world coming to life in the form of a baby brings tears to my eyes. The expressions on participants’ faces just gets me.
The most recent song to touch my heart is Michael W. Smith’s “All is Well.” I heard the choral version first. This song’s message is timeless, just like Christmas. Our church Christmas choir sang it last year during a time when our country and culture are so messed up . . . just like during the time of Jesus’ birth. But on that starry night in Bethlehem, all was well . . . and all went according to plan.
Things have not changed so much today, what with all the economic and political distractions and surface rage. Do your best to turn off these things, because “all is well.” The greatest Christmas presentation ever, the original, still imparts that same message: “All is well.”
David Empson serves as executive director of the International Conference On Missions.