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The Disheveled Theologian: Reveling in the joy of the Christmas story

By Gretchen O'Donnell

I am not a person who enjoys noise.

My sister, for reasons known only to herself, enjoys the bone-jarring sound of a motorcycle racing past her at ungodly speeds. She’d probably like snowmobiles, too, only she lives in a place where snow is scarce and snowmobiles even more so.

She must have gotten the lion’s share of the noise-tolerance genes in our family, because I have none. I’m always asking my husband to turn down the television … which does not bode well for our senior years when he’ll be going deaf and I’m not. (How do I know this will happen? I don’t. It’s just an educated guess.)

There is one exception to my noise-intolerance. One exception per year. It comes every December when I pull out my favorite Christmas CD, “Noel,” by the choir from Kings College in Cambridge, England.

I adore this CD more than chocolate, coffee and cheesecake, all put together.

My favorite song — which also happens to have been my Scottish grandmother’s favorite Christmas carol — is “Once in Royal David’s City,” and it is this song which inspires my once a year Excessive Volume Exception. The CD begins with this song, and I prepare by turning up the stereo as loudly as it will go. Yes. That loud.

One lonely choir boy, singing a cappella in the cathedral, begins the song, and his dear soprano voice rises in intensity until he is joined by the entire choir, and I begin to cry. Every time. When the organ kicks in and they reach the penultimate verse, I am in a rapturous stupor.

I am incapable of movement for the 5.31 minutes of the song. The dishwater gets cold. The timer on the oven may be squealing — it doesn’t matter. I am transported. At full volume.

I freak my children out every time.

This year, when this annual event took place, my youngest daughter — hands clapped over her ears — came running up the stairs.

“Mom? What’s going on?” She did not remember this ritual from previous years. She stood and watched me standing there, my eyes filled with unshed tears, an enormous smile upon my face.

“What are you doing, Mom?” she shouted over the music, her own eyes sparkling at the spectacle of her mother reveling in sound.

The song ended. I turned down the volume, knelt before her, and took her in my arms. “I’m worshipping God, little one.”

“Oh,” she said through the hug. “Does the song make you feel like you’re right there with Him and you can almost see Him?”

I pulled back my head for a moment and stared at my 6-year-old daughter in amazement. “Yes,” I choked out. “It does.”

“That’s cool,” she said. “I thought for a second that something was wrong.”

“Nope,” I assured her, smiling through my tears. “Everything is just right.”

She skipped off, and I stood up, marveling at the insight given to little children.

I returned to my dishes, but the words of the carol continued to echo in my heart.

“And our eyes at last shall see Him, through His own redeeming love; for that Child so dear and gentle, is our Lord in heaven above: and He leads His children on, to the place where He is gone.”

The joy of the Christmas story isn’t only the miracle of the baby in the manger, but what that little baby was destined to do for the world. Merry Christmas, everyone.

And Happy Easter, too.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs” — Psalm 100: 1, 2.  

Gretchen O’Donnell is a free-lance writer who lives in rural Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, runs monthly.