Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 20, 2015

A Voice from the Past Looking Ahead to the Holidays

The picture of Pastor Kurt Eggert near the collection of books that bears his name in the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary library.

The picture of Pastor Kurt Eggert near the collection of books that bears his name in the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary library.

Summer is a good time for future planning in the parish. One important upcoming service that gets planning attention this time of year is the children’s Christmas service. The service we’re going to use at St. Mark’s has already been selected, but it was our brief Christmas service discussion that reminded me about this article from the Spring 2001 edition of Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. Prof. James Tiefel at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary wrote the following article in which he quoted the late Pastor Kurt Eggert’s insightful thoughts about children’s Christmas services, and then included some further related commentary. I’ve shared this with others often enough through the years that I thought I’d share the article online. Perhaps Eggert’s voice from the past will offer you some good food for thought as you make your Christmas service plans in your own local parish this summer or fall.

(As an aside, the WELS Hymnal Project has made Viva Vox — a worship journal that Kurt Eggert and Ralph Gehrke produced in the mid-1950’s — available on its resources page. Check it out for more of Eggert’s wisdom and insights from the past).

THE SAME OLD STORY … THE SAME OLD SONGS

There is a certain post-Christmas relief that settles over church and school in January. The annual Christmas services are over and done. Winter may be a good time to review what took place during December.

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of a letter the sainted Pastor Kurt Eggert wrote long ago as a review of a children’s Christmas Eve service. He must have been writing to the service’s author or arranger. What Eggert wrote may be helpful as you begin planning for Christmas 2001.

The children’s Christmas Eve service is an annual challenge that confronts almost every pastor and teacher. What is our focus? What do we say? What songs do we sing? Our publishing house offers assistance, but it is the rare congregation that uses the services just as NPH produces them. One gets the impression sometimes that there are as many different services, recitations, and songs as there were angels in the sky that holy night!

Pastor Eggert has some sound advice about children’s Christmas Eve services. The emphasized words and phrases are his.

I believe that the wonderful events of the Christmas story itself ought to be the large emphasis of the service. Ample opportunity should be given simply to re-live the events of that night. This retelling, together with our response of awe and joy, reflected in our prayers and songs which all can participate in comfortably and whole-heartedly, are quite sufficient for our celebration on this night. This does not mean that I contemplate a sentimental or superficial celebration. The service must be placed into scriptural perspective and the doctrinal significance of the Christmas event must be unfolded. But let that be primarily an unfolding of the incarnation. The marvel of God become man and the wonder of his willing humility is really sufficient for this festival night. One can learn much about this kind of celebration by a thoughtful reading of all the stanzas of Luther’s hymn From Heaven Above.”

[Too often we try to] “jam the whole Bible into one service. The result is that the Christmas story itself and the marvel of the incarnation is somewhat brief in order to give room and time to expound on the implications of the Christmas event for our lives today and particularly as it looks forward to heaven … No one would want to argue with the validity of these emphases, but it is a matter of balance.”

Since we have apparently decided to give Christmas Eve over to the children, why not focus on the simple, marvelous happenings of Christmas night and then respond with awe and devotion as the shepherds did at the manger and with relatively easy and joyful expressions of praise.

Pastor Eggert went on in his review to comment on the music the author had chosen for the service. His comments concern specific choices and would not have much value here. But in the quoted paragraphs above he twice made a point that he repeated in the musical review: Let the songs for Christmas Eve be “songs which all can participate in comfortably and whole-heartedly.” He encouraged that Christmas Eve services be arranged “with relatively easy and joyful expressions of praise.” Eggert wrote, “Tell the same old story.” And then he seems to have added, “Sing the same old songs.”

One wonders how he might review some of the services used in our congregations today. Kurt Eggert valued original composition; he was a good composer himself. But his words leave us with the impression that he would have been sparing when it came to including newly-composed and untested songs in Christmas Eve worship. And his thoughts about focusing on the incarnation make us suppose he would have advised using Christmas songs on Christmas Eve and save other songs for other times of the year. In his review he wrote, “There are a number of fine and interesting carols for the children and some better hymns which I would choose before the ones included in the service under discussion, e.g., From Heaven Above; Christ the Lord to Us Is Born; Come, Your Hearts and Voices Raising; Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord; O Rejoice, Ye Christians, Loudly; Let Us All With Gladsome Voice; Praise God the Lord, Ye Sons of Men; and To Shepherds As They Watched by Night.”

Pastors and teachers who read Eggert’s words today might counter by contending that children these days are tired of the old Christmas songs or that they will not sing the old songs. No one denies that children are singing less these days or that parents are not as willing to teach children to sing old songs—new ones, for that matter. But it is generally true that children will sing eagerly when they’re taught enthusiastically. Perhaps we assume too much about what children will or will not sing and then give up too easily.

Children do not remain children for long. We need to teach them quickly before they’re off into their own world and their own lifestyles. It seems to me—and I’m guessing it seemed to Kurt Eggert—that the children’s Christmas Eve service gives us an opportunity to teach both a story and some songs that will sink in and then last a lifetime. Apply the Christmas gospel, of course, but apply it on the basis of the incarnation and with the angel’s message in mind. Add a new song or hymn occasionally—variety is the spice of life—but add it judiciously. We’ll find, I think, that long after our children have grown up, it will be the old story and the old songs that they long to hear on Christmas Eve. Who knows how the Holy Spirit will use what is embedded deep in their memory to strengthen and enliven them and, in some cases, to recall them.

Tiefel, James. P. (2001). The Same Old Story … the Same Old Songs. Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, 98, 129–131.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Thanks for this, Johnold. I couldn’t agree more. Absolutely no need to apologize for or shy away from the old Christmas classics. And the points in this article, especially the note about teaching enthusiastically, apply beyond children and Christmas, to all of our worship music selections and presentations. When worship leaders believe in quality worship, certainly including the gems from the past, it will show, the worshipers will be blessed, and the Lord will be praised. Amen! 🙂


Categories

%d bloggers like this: