For many years now, I’ve been a “collector” of Christmas music.
I’ve always had great affection for the songs of this particular season: in fact, some of my earliest and best memories are of Christmas Eves spent with family at the Lowry Homestead with my father at the piano, playing songs and carols as my Aunt Louise sang and my Uncle Alex accompanied on saxophone. Of course, having been a child of the sixties, I must confess that the soundtrack of my life is also filled to overflowing with songs from the Rudolph, Frosty and Grinch TV specials, with some “Little Saint Nick” and the rock and roll classics from the “Phil Spector Christmas Album” thrown in for good measure. And this is to say nothing of all the classic holiday tunes that are still an essential part of any December playlist: Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” Nat King Cole’s rendition of “The Christmas Song” and so many others I could name that even now quickly and easily hearkens fond memories of Christmases long ago.
It was actually that deep nostalgia that began my on-going search, online and elsewhere, for those songs I remembered from days gone by (because, friends, once Steve and Eydie’s rousing and romantic version of “Let It Snow” has gotten into your head, it never truly goes away!). In the process of all the searching, however, I’ve discovered that there’s a treasure trove of Christmas music out there both secular and sacred, some of it dating back several decades and representing just about every musical genre you can imagine.
Some of this music is new and original, but then there’s also a whole lot of covers that seek to put a new spin on the old and familiar melodies. There are some songs that make you laugh, while others never fail to bring a tear to your eye; and, yes, these songs do range from the sublime to the ridiculous (I have one recording, for instance, that’s entitled “Christmas Piggy (With the Apple in The Mouth),” and features a children’s chorus of, you guessed it… oinks. Trust me here; this song is everything you think it’s going to be, and more!).
However, no matter the musical styles or where they happen to come from, almost all of these songs do have at least one thing in common: they represent an idealized vision of Christmas both real and imagined. Not that an imagined vision of Christmas is any less real to our hearts; after all, I may never have ridden in a “one horse open sleigh,” or built a snowman just to “pretend he is Parson Brown,” but that doesn’t make the notion or wonder of such a thing any less appealing. On the contrary; in an increasingly busy, chaotic world, all these songs about “candy canes and silver lanes aglow,” end up embodying a small, sweet and enduring hope that someday, just maybe, we’ll “hear sleigh bells in the snow” and the promised dream of a White Christmas – and all the warmth and love that entails – will indeed come to pass.
In a way, it’s actually sort of like what the season of Advent is all about.
Each year as we in the church enter into this time of waiting and watching for the birth of a Savior, I am struck by how as we’re all preparing ourselves for the busyness of yet another Christmas celebration, our reading of scripture encourages us to not only look to the manger, but also beyond it. Indeed, we are called to look far beyond December 25 to that time when God’s promised kingdom will be bursting forth from heaven and unto earth; that final moment when the Son of Man comes on clouds with great power and glory, sending out his angels and gathering “his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (Mark 13:26-27) It’s a promise from Jesus himself, and it represents the fullness of time toward which all prophecy points. In the Greek language, the word used is kairos, which simply means that the time is ripe; it means that something new and wonderful is about to happen! So, says our Lord, be waiting… be watching… and be ready, because soon, and very soon, there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, and our hope will be fulfilled!
Some would call this “pie in the sky” thinking or, at best, a wishful reality no different than clinging to childhood memories of Christmases past or the sentimental melodies of a holiday song on the radio; but in fact, it’s realism born of faith. To quote Will Willimon, it’s “the conviction that God intends to have the world as God’s own and that God will not stop until God gets the world that God intends.” And the glorious, wonderful truth is that even right now, even in these crazy, baffling, uncertain times we live in, we’re on the verge of this all happening! No, it hasn’t happened yet; but the thing is, we’re almost there… so we need to wait and be ready, because one thing is for certain: God is not done with us yet!
Now, I know, this is not the same thing as counting down the days that “you better watch out…” because “Santa Claus is Coming to Town;” nor should it be. But just maybe the music, as silly and sentimental as it can often be, serves as a way of helping us to pause in the midst of all the holiday mayhem; perchance to take a moment to stop, take a breath, and prayerfully make room in our hearts and lives for Emmanuel… who is “God With Us?” And isn’t that what getting ready for Christmas is really supposed to be about?
And besides… when that moment finally does come… both in the manger of Bethlehem and in the fullness of time… isn’t that the time when all “heaven and nature sings?”
That’s the music I really want to hear!
But more on that soon…
c. 2016 Rev. Michael W. Lowry