By Ian Robinson, Major –
It was Christmas morning and the alarm woke me at 5 a.m. After quickly getting ready and dressed in uniform, I hurried down to the corps hall in Sheringham, Norfolk, on the United Kingdom’s east coast.
It was bitterly cold and had snowed the previous day, so the roads and sidewalks were icy and slippery. At the corps I joined several other members of the corps band as we set off around the dark streets of that small town playing the carol “Christians Awake” over and over again.
That’s all we played for the next two hours, and I fully expected irate residents to yell words that cannot be printed in this publication from their bedroom windows or throw sharp, heavy objects at us. I thought they might even call the local police to have us arrested for disturbing the peace.
Instead, lights went on and bedroom windows were flung open so that all family members could hear the band performing in a tradition that has gone on for decades in this sleepy coastal town of 6,000 people. One man stood in his front yard in pajamas and dressing gown, holding his cell phone out so his relatives in Australia could hear us play. We slipped and slithered up and down hill until we completed the circuit and arrived back at the corps for a welcome cup of hot chocolate and a mince pie.
The tradition was foreign to me, and seemed quite intrusive in my mind. But the sentiment of John Byrom’s carol stuck with me.
Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
Whereon the Savior of the world was born!
Rise to adore the mystery of love,
Which hosts of angels chanted from above;
With them the joyful tidings first begun
Of God incarnate and the Virgin’s Son.
Byrom wrote these words in 1745 as a Christmas present for his daughter, Dolly. I’m not sure how excited my children would have been if all they got for Christmas was an envelope containing a few handwritten verses. But this simple gift quickly became a popular anthem, calling all Christians to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world—the true gospel message.
Two-hundred-seventy years later, we live in an age when the world has almost eclipsed Jesus at Christmas. There is no excitement surrounding the birth of the gospel. Christmas has become an excuse for excessive eating, drinking and spending, and the gospel message—wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—is forgotten, or worse, deliberately swept aside. Countless millions around the world live in abject poverty or slavery and there are very few angels chanting the joyful tidings to them.
In Revelation 3:2 Jesus commanded the church at Sardis: “Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God” (NLT). Does that apply to you? Does that apply to me? It is time for us to wake up, come alive and be what God called us to be. The opening lines of the third verse say:
O may we keep and ponder in our mind
God’s wondrous love in saving lost mankind!
But we won’t just keep and ponder it in our minds—we will proclaim the message of the gospel: that Jesus Christ was born, lived among us, died and rose again so that we can be saved. Christians, awake!