On the way to and from South Carolina for Thanksgiving, we alternated between two radio stations that were playing non-stop Christmas music. It was an interesting ride.
The music was almost entirely secular, pop songs. Seven hours each way is a long time in the company of Burl Ives singing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” Gene Autry crooning “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or someone I had never heard before singing, “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas.”
There’s nothing wrong with all that. It’s great fun, although I have some serious questions about “Christmas is No Time to Diet.” If you don’t feel a warm glow when Nat King Cole sings “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or a lump in your throat when you hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” there is something seriously wrong with you.
But most of it is Christmas drivel. It’s candy canes without a drop of protein in it.
I have absolutely no interest in the imagined “War on Christmas” which is being trumped up again this year by the folks at Fox News. I guess it doesn’t matter whether it’s true just so it pumps up the ratings. In fact, there’s almost something refreshing about the secular Christmas of alcohol-soaked parties, slick marketing, and sales reports having it’s own language and music.
The near absence of traditional Christmas carols on the airwaves didn’t make me angry or defensive. It made me sad.
It reminded me that both in terms of the music and the message, the church has something better to offer to a world that is suffering from racial bigotry, economic injustice, intractable poverty and relentless violence. In the real world of our everyday lives, “Winter Wonderland” can't hold a candle to “Joy to the World” declaring:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
The good news the carols proclaim is, in fact, the word for which the world is most deeply longing.
Good News from the Carols
The good news is distinctly counter-cultural. It announces a God who comes, not among the rich and powerful, but among the poor, oppressed and marginalized. Like Herod, we would look for the next king in Buckingham Palace, not among the refugees who are streaming from Syria into Jordan. We’d look for him in the White House, not in the homeless shelter. But there he is, “Away in a manger” with “no crib for a bed.”
The good news is also politically subversive. It undermines the "might makes right" arrogance of people and nations that assume they can control the world by their force and power. After all, Herod would not have slaughtered the children of Bethlehem in order to stop “Frosty the Snowman.”
It’s also good news of relentless hope. It declares that there is an alternative to the ways of living to which we have sadly become so accustomed and it invites us to live now in ways that are consistent with the way this world will be when:
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
So, go ahead. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Ring those “Jingle Bells” as your “Rock Around the Christmas Tree.” But when you come down from your sugar high and feel an insatiable hunger for something more, spend your time with the carols that announce good news that this old world and all of our weary souls are desperate to hear.
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that we no more may die
Born to raise us from the earth
Born to give us second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
Now, there’s a Christmas song worth singing!