And the other great thing about after-Thanksgiving, pre-December 25 days is that we sing Christmas carols in church (and chapel for the lucky 59% of us TU students who actually take advantage of that blessing we have three days a week.) But I'm a little bit skeptical of happy, "comfort and joy" Christmas songs lately. For one thing, how can we talk about peace and happiness so casually, as if snowflakes falling actually represent some calmness and quiet in the chaotic world we live in?
I've had to grapple with "Silent Night" lately. (Oh, jeez. I'm such a dork. No one talks about "grappling" with "Silent Night.") Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. I can't reconcile "all is calm" with the BBC headlines that pop up on my screen with "Charges Over Iran Prison Deaths" and something about World Cup-brand condoms in South Africa where there are 5.1 million people invected with HIV. (No, it's not funny.)
And I also have trouble with the idea that people all over the United States of materialism listen to these same songs with no concept of what Christ actually did for them. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (II Corinthians 5:21) "Calm and bright" makes me think of what Gandalf says to Pippin in The Return of the King. "It's the deep breath before the plunge." On that evening of starshine and angelic visitations, the heavenly realms rejoiced on our behalf, but in the realization that from that moment forth, Christ was in the territory of the enemy.
But this is also compelling. I realize that I must let the world know this, that this is our mandate: to show the world that peace and joy are not "harmony and happiness" but true communion with the one Creator who loves and finds pleasure in us.
Even so, what distinguishes a Christian Christmas? Is it merely the feeling and sensibility which we acknowledge when singing praises like "O, Come let us adore him!" Will mere reflection, though perhaps more genuine than the sentiments of a non-believer, redeem the season and songs that our culture has polluted? When you hear "Joy to the World," how will you recall the glory of what God has done?
My favorite Christmas carol has always been "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." O Come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come for thee, o Israel. Imagine--the Son of God came in the form of human flesh. Does the Incarnation fill you with wonder? Do you marvel at the miracle and paradox of God becoming like the traitorous creatures over which he rules from his throne in heaven? Will you sing from your soul as the carols ring out on Christmas Eve?