Death and Christmas
I know it’s a rite of pious holiday passage to complain about the commercialization of Christmas and to remind everyone to keep the “Christ” in Christmas. And don’t forget the secular “war on Christmas”. Whatever.
I think they are played out narratives. I do less worrying about what the nameless and faceless “culture” is doing to the holidays and more about cultivating my own Christmas cheer. That’s right, I’m listening to Christmas songs and braving the crowds in the mall, and saying Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays) or leaving a bit of an extra tip on the table. I try to smile at strangers and fight away the dark clouds of depression that follow me most of the year. Why? It’s Christmas.
Maybe this is the one time of the year that there is not a “war” on the church by the “unwashed secular heathen”. Maybe our fear of everything progressive and secular has blinded us to the one time of year that peace and goodwill towards men gets a little more play than usual. And while it is often in the broadest sense of “let’s have some good times and pass the eggnog” (which, is not a bad thing) it is often accompanied, sometimes unbeknownst to most, by the clearest presentation of the Gospel that might catch the ear of the person who hasn’t darkened the doorway of a church in years.
Before you paint me as an overly cheery mix of Pollyanna and Clark Groswold, I’m usually a pretty somber guy. I’m not overly optimistic about much (I’ve got pills to keep me from going over the opposite edge of optimism). This time of year, however, it’s the dissonance and then resonance of the season that gets me. It’s not just one Christmas movie or song, or treat. It’s the whole package.
We all resonate with various Christmas songs, movie quotes and scenes. Whether it’s Dean Martin, Jimmy Stewart or Will Ferrell we can usually quote them word for word. One of my favorites is one that I rarely hear. It’s usually the one that rings in my ears on late nights when I’m stressed out over the right presents and budget and family:
Charlie Brown: I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.
I know that the Charlie Brown Christmas ends with Linus reciting from the Gospel of Luke and everyone comes to help decorate Chuck’s tree. But the first few lines always get me.
But, part of this that rings true for many (the depression that Christmas brings) it is ultimately a dissonant chord that is resolved when we hear strains of tunes that remind us that at sometime this season, we will affirm that one has come to “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night. And death’s dark shadows put to flight”.
It’s amazing, really. Despite commercialism, depression, stress, etc... glad tidings of joy are pumped into our ears whether we want them to be or not. Even in the darkest den of iniquity and temptation. Yes, even in Target.
I was in Target looking for an outdoor extension cord and timer. I always get lost in Target. The similar layouts of the stores don’t help. In the 15 minutes looking for the cord, I end up getting a new pair of jeans, some soy eggnog and a yoda ornament for my tree. Damn it. It’s weeks a way from Christmas and I’ve got full blown Christmas fever, but this last minute trip to Target (and knowing that by adding that Gift certificate to my bag will push me over the dreaded $80 mark) has put me in a foul mood.
And then what to my wondering ears do I hear?
“Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die: Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.”
(Hark The Herald Angels Sing)
Now, for every great hymn there are plenty of crap Christmas songs (Jingle Bell Rock is an abomination, and I have NO idea what the hell we’re supposed to make of a baby Jesus that doesn’t cry or act like a normal baby). But check out some other crackers I’ve been listening for (and hearing repeatedly) amidst the bustle of suburban moms and spoiled kids in dens of commercialism and red and green sensory overload.
God rest ye merry gentlemen, Let nothing ye dismay, Remember Christ our Savior Was born on Christmas day, To save us all from Satan's pow'r When we were gone astray
(God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)
I’m dismayed! Look at the news? Look at the hash I’ve made over the past year. Astray? Turn that into a verb and I’ll do it three times a week.
Then let us all with one accord Sing praises to our heavenly Lord; That hath made heaven and earth of naught, And with his blood mankind hath bought
(The First Noel)
Blood? This is getting morbid. What about the little baby that “no crying he makes”?
I think I prefer the one that promises:
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
(Hark The Herald Angels Sing)
And how, pray tell, does this happen? Well, next time you’re waiting in line amidst the feuding parents and unruly children, and find yourself just barely “muddling through somehow”, listen carefully to the music that replaces the muzak for one month a year. Maybe you’ll catch this:
Why lies he is such mean estate Where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear; for sinners here The silent word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce him through, The cross he borne for me, for you;
(What Child Is This)
In the meantime, next time someone bemoans a culture going to hell in a hand basket, or the secularization of a holy day walk through a Target, clutch your wallet tight and perk up your ears.
Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays. Or X-Mas. Just Remember that the silent Word has plead, and now God and sinners are reconciled.