At the close of 2021, I offered up a list of the songs that had impacted me throughout the year. I would like to do the same at the close of this year. The following songs have played a significant role in my life over the course of the past year. Some were used for corporate worship, while others ministered to me on a personal level. Where they are available, I have included YouTube links for the songs so you might be able to listen to them. Please consider supporting these artists by purchasing their albums or downloading/streaming their songs.
It was an ordinary week-day at the church, midway through December. Christmas preparations were reaching their final stages. I had just finished rehearsal and was making my way down the hall toward my office. I searched my pocket for my keys, and once I had them in hand, I glanced up.
There, across the hall from my closed office door, was something I hadn’t seen in months. The door to the senior pastor’s office was wide open and the lights were on. The unexpected sight caused me to stop in my tracks and stare for a second. Obviously, preparations were being made for our new pastor, so the open door shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did; as I sat down in my own office seconds later, I considered my response. Why did I feel tears at the back of my eyes and yet also a flutter of excitement all at the same time? It was just an open door. Did it really mean anything?
Yes, I decided, it definitely meant something. It symbolized a new beginning— a welcome to hope. Even though our pastor hadn’t arrived yet, there was the promise that our time of waiting would soon be complete. It was as if to say: “We are ready for you; please come in.” I’ve expressed it so many times over the past eighteen months, but I’ll share from my heart again. Almost from the moment our senior pastor had departed our church in May 2021, I was eager for the new beginning. I knew it might be a long wait before we would call our new pastor, but I was so hopeful. I had just walked through the pandemic with my congregation in worship and music, all while enduring the loss of a dear loved one and battling a health diagnosis. Often, the new beginning seemed so far off in the distance, but just like you can smell rain before the storm or hear a train whistle from a mile or two away, I could feel the changes taking place. The new beginning was on the horizon.
Advent has been a journey for me this year, and I have engaged with the season more powerfully than ever. I was submitting photos for a photo montage that would be included in our church’s Christmas program when I thought of a song I had sung for years at my annual Christmas concert. The photo that had jogged my memory was of me and a fellow singer, and we were posed before one of our performances. As if my memory was replaying scenes from a movie, I began to recall many of the songs we had sang and played together and the beauty of our harmonies. In particular, I thought of “Just a Girl,” originally written and performed by Brandon Heath.
From the first time I played the song, I fell in love with its piano progression and storyline. It chronicles the perspective of the innkeeper that first Christmas— the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph before the birth of Jesus. Now, the Scriptures don’t say anything about the innkeeper, and His name is never mentioned. The Bible also doesn’t detail the innkeeper’s thought process or emotions during this critical time, but the lyrics of “Just a Girl” imagine what he must have been thinking and feeling.
It made me ponder the door the innkeeper must have opened that night to the travel-weary Mary and Joseph. “Just a Girl” tells the listener that they didn’t “have room for anymore” and that the innkeeper closed the door and went back to bed. He didn’t know who was standing on the other side of the door, beyond that they were a couple, seeking a place to stay. The song goes on to describe the innkeeper’s guilt as he realizes that the Son of God has just been born in the humble stable. He asks, “What have I done?”
Now, I’ve never been faced with the innkeeper’s reality, but I do know what it feels like to be faced with a decision of the heart. I’m a pretty guarded person, and after the past eighteen months, it feels like the walls around my heart have risen even higher. I struggled to lead worship during the pandemic, only to experience significant loss. The eighteen months of pastoral vacancy were an uphill battle at times, and there were moments I had to temper my expectations so I wouldn’t be crushed by disappointment. Relationships were tested and some suffered greatly; to this day, I am still awaiting healing for two personal connections and my heart aches for restoration. I will admit that I have hidden my emotions and limited my interactions with others this year because I didn’t want to feel the pain of loss and rejection any longer. I know one has to open their heart in order to welcome in something new, but like I expressed earlier, I am guarded. I want to hope, but at what cost? Will the new beginning arrive and be everything I thought it would be, or will there be broken promises along the way?
Yes, it’s been a difficult few years, but it’s nothing in comparison to what the Israelites experienced as they waited for the Messiah. I was reflecting on this recently as I got ready to release my latest track, “New Song.” I gave a testimony at my home church on the morning of the release, and I shared my personal journey with our congregation and a charge to keep the faith as we completed our time of waiting for our new pastor. As I was preparing my message, I told one of my co-workers that this testimony was resonating pretty strongly with me, even though I had written it and lived through it. My time of preparation brought to light one striking reality: I do not wait patiently. In fact, if the past few years have revealed anything, it has been my lack of calm endurance. When things got difficult, I shut down. I didn’t try. I sought out the shortcuts. I didn’t have the energy to go one more step. I wanted to see resolution and restoration immediately, and it was slow in its arrival.
So as Christmas approaches, I wonder: am I prepared to celebrate this year? And by asking this I mean to say: am I truly ready to celebrate Christ’s birth? For so many years, Christmas has been a flurry of memorized songs and service planning. Yes, I remember the real reason we come together in worship, but often, its easy to get caught up in the preparations without truly opening my heart and mind to the wonder of the season.
This Christmas, I want my heart to be an open door— open to more than just the music on the stage, the hope of welcoming in a new pastor, or simply working through the hustle and bustle. I want to be open to witnessing the hope of Christmas, recognizing that a babe born to “just a girl” would have the power to change the world. There is no better “new beginning” to witness than the fulfillment of the greatest prophecy. God, keep my eyes and ears, heart, mind and soul open to receive the gift of Your precious Son this Christmas. Amen.