Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
December 23, 2018
Fall on your knees!
Scintillating! That word comes to mind when I hear someone sing the magnificent Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” While I love many of the familiar carols, this is my favorite. It stirs my soul in ways no other carol does.
Who composed it? I decided to find out, thinking it might have been Bill Gaither or Charles Wesley. I was surprised to discover the music was composed in 1847 by a Frenchman, Adolphe Adam.
Even more surprising was the fact that the words are from a French poem written by a wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau, a contemporary of Adam. Cappeau wrote it when a parish priest asked him to pen a Christmas poem. Using the Gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau composed the words while traveling in a dusty coach down a bumpy road on his way to Paris one evening.
The song has no mysterious meaning. Its message is clear. It begins with the “holy night,” with the stars “brightly shining,” when Christ was born. Then we are invited to “fall” on our knees because of the hope our dear Savior brings to a world made weary by sin. The holy moment of the song for me comes with the words, “Fall on your knees.” Chills run up and down my spine as those stirring words touch my heart.
Read the gospels and you notice many people falling on their knees when they came to Jesus for help. To kneel before another person is to admit one’s need of what the other person has to offer, as when a man kneels to ask a woman for her hand in marriage.
During this journey called life, I have been on my knees many times, usually seeking God’s help and guidance. Dean and I got on our knees together more than once to save our marriage or to ask for help with life’s problems. It is a humbling experience driven usually by desperation. But is can also be a good way to humbly thank God for his mercies.
Christmas is a good time for us to fall on our knees and give thanks for our blessings, especially the mercy God extended to us by sending his son to save us from our sins. Many of us will be on our knees when we receive holy communion on Christmas Eve.
Some Christmas Eve memories are special to me. Every yearI remember Charles and Jennifer Jones and their family in Opelika. They never missed communion and they always arrived at the same time – just as the service was ending.
Their son Robert, an attorney now, was seven he pulled a good one on me. As he approached the altar he became conscious of the wad of bubblegum in his mouth. The resourceful little fellow did not panic. Without missing a beat, he discretely removed the gum from his mouth and with a sly smile handed it to me. Only the most observant souls saw the transaction occur. Ever since that night I have felt good about Robert. He has what it takes to handle the ups and downs of life and keep smiling.
Not everyone receiving the sacrament on Christmas Eve will be as carefree as little Robert was that night. Some will be teary-eyed, knowing that this may be the last Christmas they will have with someone they love dearly. None of us knows how many more Christmases we will share with our loved ones and friends. So it behooves us to remember that because life is short we should do our best to squeeze the last drop of joy possible out of every moment.
Life is not a cakewalk. We have to embrace it all – the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet, the joy and the sorrow – and like Robert, walk on and keep smiling. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all hurt when families are torn apart and the end of suffering is nowhere in sight.
Still, we can get on our knees and give thanks! Despite our pain we have much for which to be thankful. Nothing is gained by cursing God and allowing cynicism to ruin our lives. Bitterness is a dead-end street. Its end is always gnashing of teeth and lonely darkness. As long as there is one sip of joy left in the cup we must not let bitterness rob us of its sweetness.
On aging knees then, before Santa shows up, I will find a place to get on my knees and thank God for all my blessings, especially my wife and my family. At my age it is not easy to get up from being down on my knees but it is the best position in which to pray. It is a way to acknowledge the sovereignty of God when sorrows are tearing your heart out.
When bad things happen, it helps to remember that God is still God and he is able to bring good out of bad. Christmas is a great time to praise God for relationships that have been healed and restored. To thank him for the reconciliation that his grace provides and to ask him to give sweet reconciliation to those who still need it.
Are their tears on the cheeks of genuine thanksgiving? Of course. Tears come quickly when we recall God’s mercy and realize we did not deserve it. Tears gush freely when we recall times when things did not go as we had hoped but somehow we found the strength to go on. Broken things were picked up and unseen hands helped us put life back together.
As long as old knees will bend, and stubborn hearts become submissive, there will be reasons to bow down and offer thanks to God. Christmas may mean more this year if you follow the poetic advice of Placide Chappeau: “Fall on your knees!”
You may not hear “angel voices,” but you might hear your heavenly Father whisper, “Merry Christmas, my child; I love you.” + + +