Home for Christmas. These words are in a song we sing and hold a sentiment we believe in. There’s nothing like driving on familiar streets and seeing the twinkling tree that proudly showcases years of your handmade ornaments. Eyes truly are all aglow as you hug tightly those you love most dear.
There’s nothing like home, but for me, there’s also nothing like my home away from home: Ouachita Baptist University. While many make the drive to Arkadelphia during the holiday season for the annual Festival of Christmas, there’s another lesser known, but just as profound Ouachita tradition that warms my heart like chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon A Service of Lessons and Carols my freshman year at Ouachita, but I’ll never forget how it moved me.
The Thursday before Thanksgiving that year, my grandfather passed away. Two days later a great aunt also went to be with the Lord, meaning our family’s Thanksgiving break (if you can call it that) consisted of two funerals. When I returned to Ouachita the following week, I was greeted with love and support from so many professors and friends.
As you can imagine, I was also greeted with my own grief and in much need of the joy of Christmas. I found this joy – the joy of Jesus – while celebrating Christmas at my home away from home. I found it on stage as a choir member in Festival of Christmas. I found it in a dorm room party with a few new lifelong friends, where we drew names and exchanged gifts. I found it at a Christmas party that Dr. Deborah and Dr. Jeff Root hosted for the newspaper and yearbook staffs. I found it by making Ouachita my home. I found it at A Service of Lessons and Carols.
Six years later, the Lord delivered that same reason-of-the-season joy as I drove back to Ouachita with my mom to attend A Service of Lesson and Carols with my sister, who is now in her sophomore year there.
A Service of Lessons and Carols is an advent event that first began in England in the 19th century. Ouachita adopted the worship service in 1997, making this the 25th year of hearing carols and reading scripture. The evening took place in W. Francis McBeth Recital Hall in Mabee Fine Arts Center on Tuesday, Dec. 6, where we sang old Christmas hymns, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “As with Gladness Men of Old” and “Joy to the World.” We also heard special music from the Ouachita Singers and Ouachita Low Brass Choir.
Professors, students and Ouachita President Dr. Ben Sells led in prayers and readings from Genesis, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke and John, summarizing the Gospel story and the need for Heaven to come down to earth. Through these lessons, we were reminded of our sin, its consequence, and the rescuing power of the grace that we can experience because of Jesus’s sacrifice.
Ultimately, we drew our minds to the thrill of hope and the promises of our Savior. As one of the old congregational carols said: “when earthly things are past, bring our ransomed souls at last where they need no star to guide, where no clouds thy glory hide.”
The service concluded with an ear-pleasing, arm tingling rendition of Noël Nouvelet played by Dr. Ian Aipperspach on the pipe organ, an instrument whose presence throughout the songs perfectly captures the spirit of Christmas. Every note, whether it was played robust and glorious or soft and mild, spoke of Christmas. In fact, it was almost as if we could hear the voice of the angels singing to the shepherds and the peace of a night we think of as silent.
His presence – the presence of the Great I Am – filled the room. And it’s that same Holy Spirit presence that comforted my grieving heart in my freshman year and continues to prompt me to draw near for peace today.
There truly is no place like home for the holidays because your heart finds a true home when you find Christ.
This Christmas, I am encouraging myself to remember that just as Ouachita is my home away from home, this earth is my home away from my eternal home: Heaven. One day, I will get to greet thee who was born on that happy morning we call Christmas. That day will be glorious. That day I will be home.