Cornerstone

"When you hear Christmas music playing, whether its in the car, in the store, or in the church service, it produces a different context. It signals your heart and your mind that you are in a unique season, the Advent season."

We celebrate advent in diverse ways. Some of us have longstanding family traditions; some of us have a tradition of non-tradition. Some of us associate the Christmas season with great happiness, and others with a mixture of joy and pain (as so eloquently put by Fawn recently). As a church family, we celebrate Advent through sermons, children’s stories, and daily readings. But there are some aspects of the Advent season that are so common and seemingly universal that we seldom think about why we do them, or how they connect to the glorious news that God became flesh in the person of Jesus.

Over the next four weeks I’d like to look at four of these timeless traditions, and remind us of how to avoid getting lost in then but instead to redeem them, using them as an opportunity to set our hearts and minds again on the “things that are above.”

Let’s start by looking at the tradition of listening to and singing Christmas music. While some Christmas music is, admittedly, maddening (thank you, Mariah Carey), why is Christmas music such a big deal?

There are essentially two kinds of Christmas songs: modern holiday songs and traditional Christmas carols. Let’s look first at the carols.

Christmas carols have existed almost as long as the celebration of Christmas itself. Recorded Christmas songs date as far back as the 4th century. Traditionally, Christmas carols are songs that reflect on both the anticipation and culmination of the God of the universe becoming a helpless baby. In this way, they are musical meditations on the most humble, selfless act the world had ever seen. Truth set to poetry and melody becomes a memorable and powerful reminder. During the advent season we get a unique opportunity to meditate on this selfless act by our loving God, through the constant (and catchy) reminders that the repeating of Christmas carols provides.

It may not be hard to see the power of Christmas carols given their theological content, but how should we view some of the popular music that may not be ridiculous, but still isn’t theological in nature. Most popular Christmas music appeals to one of two emotions: nostalgia (I’ll be home for Christmas) or silliness (Feliz Navidad). Even without deep theological content, these can be powerful and important reflections for us as Christians. Nostalgia reflects both a sweetness of memories as well as a longing for those memories to be rekindled or recreated. All sweet family memories are tiny reflections of the joy, love, peace, and security that we will experience when we are with Christ. Nostalgia points us to the “already, not yet” of living in this fallen world, and that reminds us of the promised fulfillment of our ultimate desires in Christ. Silliness has its place among us as well. The silliness of Christmas songs is a reflection of the childlike wonder and awe that are usually associated with the holiday. This may be a sensation that we lost long ago, but when considering the incredible news that God became a human for our sake, as an act of love for us, that we might become his children…a little childlike wonder seems to be completely in order. Some of the silliness of the holidays ought to be reminders that, in light of who we are in Christ, we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously and that we are free to have fun, laugh, chuckle, and even be a little goofy.

Finally, there’s something simply about music in general that connects with our hearts and directs our minds. When you hear Christmas music playing, whether its in the car, in the store, or in the church service, it produces a different context. It signals your heart and your mind that you are in a unique season, the Advent season. In Southern California we don’t really have seasons. Summer feels a lot like winter and spring feels like fall. It’s difficult to feel any sense of annual rhythm or to be interrupted from our precious routines. However, Christmas music does just that. It breaks into our normal routine to declare, “Something’s different!” It interrupts our lives and requires us to think about what it means that we are hearing the tunes we are hearing.

Now, many of you may resent that interruption, I know that not everyone is a fan of Christmas music, but I’d ask you (whatever your emotional holiday persuasion): how might God be glorified in your response to that fills the air this time of year? Is he glorified when the music reaffirms your idolatry of family and tradition? Is he glorified when the music produces bitterness and dismissiveness from your Scrooged heart? Or, might he desire to be glorified as you use the seemingly omnipresent sound of Christmas music this year to increase your meditation on the magnitude of his love, the magnitude of his condescension for you, and the magnitude of childlike joy he longs to produce in your heart.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King! Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ!

Scott Mehl

Scott serves the church by overseeing leadership, development, global ministries, and counseling/discipleship

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