Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Pleased as Man with men to dwell

I have an ambivalent relationship with Christmas music. At it's best, it is a wonderful acknowledgement that the Incarnation changed the world forever. When Christ broke into my life, it was Joy to the World that poured out of my lips, the only suitable expression at hand of what was welling up inside me. Hark the Herald Angels Sing has some of the best lyrics ever written. At it's worst -- well, words fail me. (Thankfully, they don't fail James Lileks. Take a look at his column in the Star Tribune. You may have to register to gain access. It's worth it.)

It may surprise you (it does me) that I don't resent the Winter Holiday music that inhabits the "all-Xmas-music-all-the-time" radio stations, malls and doctor's offices. True enough, I could live very happily without ever hearing "Frosty the Snowman" again. But the commercialization and "inanity-zation" of Christmas, though stricken with spiritual poverty, does have an up side. When you're celebrating the birth of Jesus, He lurks around every corner. It's HIS birth being celebrated, no matter how poorly and inadequately. In spite of the studied godlessness into which so many children are being raised, there is an annual month of something that later can reveal itself to have been grounded in deep and wonderful meaning.

Our society today is going to find something to both celebrate and commercialize. That's the way things get and keep our attention in Western culture. For instance, in the absence of high-powered commercialization of Thanksgiving, which remains primarily a family-centric holiday, we have seen the rise of Halloween as the Autumn Holiday both in stores and schools. Who can possibly argue that we are better off having such a thing in the forefront of our children's attention for months on end?

So if we North Americans are going to shred and deface a holiday, please forgive me for thinking that I'd just as soon it would be Christmas. Who knows but that a child will someday be touched by the mercy of God, link it back to a vague memory of Joy to the World, and whisper to Christ "So . . . it was you all the time."


Therese Z said...

Very interesting insight. If the stations would play more hymns and carols, though, instead of Andy Williams grating on about ho-ho-ho-ing.

What's great about the assortment of hymns is that they range from the very simple and accessible ("Away in a Manger") to starkly meditative ("Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"), so there's something for every level of awareness. I remember being absolutely touched by "Away In A Manger" when I was in grade school, because picturing the little Lord Jesus without any comfort, cold and shivering, made my heart break. That fit my tender little heart at the time.

This year, paying attention to the daily readings, I'm getting the real hang of Handel's Messiah, because I can now identify the Bible verses and hear Isaiah crying out the news of Who is coming, the news passing from prophet to people, from angel to people.

Thanks for making me think.



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