The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.
The teaching of their God is in their heart,
and their footsteps do not falter.
Going Christmas caroling has always been one of my favorite December activities. In high school, I even harangued my friends into going with me so we could sing at the nursing home near the school– and then go to the principal’s house to carol to him and his wife, too.
I learned to love caroling from the church I grew up in. Every December, we’d meet up at the church, pass out well-worn carol booklets, and go from one nursing home to another, bringing tidings of comfort and joy.
I especially remember one year when I was about ten years old, one stop we made at one particular care center. Most of the residents seemed a little lost, a little confused. It was like they weren’t quite sure who we were or why we were there, or, perhaps why they were there either.
Then we started to sing.
I watched, fascinated, as these old people transformed before my eyes. They sat up straighter. Their eyes focused. Their fidgeting stopped.
Then they started to sing.
They sang without song books! And not just the first verse, either. They kept on singing all the verses of all the carols. I’d be wondering what came after “the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay,” and they’d already be be starting “the cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes.” These people knew every carol. Sometimes they even knew a verse that wasn’t printed in our booklets, and they’d keep going without us!
I looked around again as we sang through It Came upon the Midnight Clear: “And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow: look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!”
It seemed to me, at age ten, that if there was anybody who had been crushed, bent low, and moved with slow steps, it was the residents of this nursing home. Yet the words and melodies of Christmas were in their hearts so firmly that nothing along this weary road of life could silence them.
It’s a gift of modern life that we don’t have to memorize much. Our phones remember addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and more. Our bills can go on autopay so we don’t have to remember when they’re due. Even the dentist and doctor send us reminders of our appointments a couple days in advance.
But no technology can replace the kind of memory that happens when we repeat something over and over, so that it’s ingrained into our very being. When we repeat the songs of our faith, the Lord’s Prayer, the Catechism, or Scripture, we get God’s word onto our lips and into our hearts. Once it’s carved there, it lasts even when we’re crushed by life or toiling along as best we can. And those words keep coming back, even when all our other words are lost.
O God, let your word be so often on our lips that it becomes engraved on our hearts. When all other words fail us, may we never forget your Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. Amen.