What Should We Do about Christmas?

If I were a devout Muslim or even a lukewarm agnostic for the past few days, I certainly would have observed oddities that Christians in the U.S. take for granted as normal. I am thinking of the oddity of hearing Dean Martin or Nat King Cole or Johnny Mathis or Tony Bennett crooning lines like “Christ the savior is born” or “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Indeed, one of the mysteries of American popular culture is that so many pop singers have felt compelled to cut a Christmas album (I was especially aware of this yesterday during a meal accompanied by a Christmas song Pandora station that was featured on the family room television screen.) Has any holiday of the monotheistic faiths, the birth of Abraham, the Exodus, the birth of Mohammed, his flight from Mecca to Medina, been the subject of so many songs that in turn become the back drop for shopping and dining for almost an entire month of the year?

Granted, not all of those Christmas or in-the-deep-deep-winter songs have Christ’s claims in view (nor does winter feel very deep so early in the season or in an era of climate change). Yesterday, for instance, was my first encounter with the song “A Marshmallow World,” sung by Dean Martin (what agent ever told Dean that he had a voice?). Here are the lyrics:

It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,
When the snow comes to cover the ground,
It’s the time for play, it’s a whipped cream day,
I wait for it all year round.

Those are marshmallow clouds being friendly,
In the arms of the evergreen trees,
And the sun is red like a pumpkin head,
It’s shining so your nose won’t freeze.

The world is your snowball, see how it grows,
That’s how it goes, whenever it snows,
The world is your snowball just for a song,
Get out and roll it along.

It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts,
Take a walk with your favourite girl,
It’s a sugar date, what if spring is late,
In winter, it’s a marshmallow world.

The world is your snowball, see how it grows,
That’s how it goes, whenever it snows,
The world is your snowball just for a song,
Get out and roll it along.

It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts,
Take a walk with your favourite girl,
It’s a sugar date, what if spring is late,
In winter, it’s a marshmallow world,
In winter, it’s a marshmallow world,
In winter, it’s a marshmallow world.

Of course, the season is littered with any number of “seasonal” songs, sung apparently by pop stars whose agents and recording companies tell them that a holiday album will sell and enhance their hold on the singer’s adoring public. But many of these albums include the Christmas standards, “Silent Night,” and “O Holy Night,” which then introduce some rather vigorous theological claims about the baby Jesus and what he was born to do.

Which raises the question about whether Christmas stands as evidence of successful transformation of culture by American Christians or is it a sign to anti-transformationalists of just how thin the project of transformation inevitably becomes. If I were a “let’s keep Christ in Christmas” guy, I might take encouragement from hearing Johnny Mathis singing “Silent Night,” that is, if I could stomach that insipid melody (bah humbug yourself!). But I could also imagine a devout neo-Calvinist insisting that stars like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra cheapen the meaning of “Silent Night”‘s lyrics by singing them without meaning what they sing, or only intending to make a profit.

Either way, Christmas stands as testimony to how much Americans take a certain variety and practice of Christianity for granted. That nonchalance may be good for shop keepers and manufacturers who depend on December purchases to have a good fiscal year. But it appears to be lousy for considering the deeper significance of Bethlehem babe’s purchasing power.

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “What Should We Do about Christmas?

  1. All those cheesy “Christmas” songs don’t bother me. A lot of them remind me of my childhood and carefree, imaginative days.

    And Frank and Dino or Elvis or Tony or anyone at all who sings songs when maybe they don’t know the true meaning or live out a life that might tell us that they do understand…that doesn’t bother me, either.

    The Word will make it’s own way regardless of the earthen vessel from which it emanates.

    Our task and burden is to speak into this world that does not understand about Christmas and what it means, and in that telling and hearing, some may come to a living faith and trust in He who came at Bethlehem…and Who still comes today.

    Like

  2. “I was especially aware of this yesterday during a meal accompanied by a Christmas song Pandora station that was featured on the family room television screen.”

    How did they do this and accomodate the virtual yule log at the same time?

    I’m reminded of Hugh Grant’s character in “About a Boy”, living of the royalties of his father’s successful Christmas song.

    Celebrity Christmas albums remind me of Pat Boone’s “In a Metal Mood”:

    Like

  3. My wife told me the other day that she liked Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. I called the elders to see if this was sufficient cause for divorce. They’ll confer and get back to me.

    Like

  4. I subscribe to a daily devotional booklet put out by the Fellowship of St. James, who also publish Touchstone magazine. The readings for Christmas day were Ps 2 and Ps 110, which I suggest most truly identify the “reason for the season.” Nonetheless, while Dino soothes the hardened heart with his marshmallow world, I too appreciate the tranquil sentiments that will only be fully realized in the eschaton.

    Like

  5. D.G. Hart: Either way, Christmas stands as testimony to how much Americans take a certain variety and practice of Christianity for granted. That nonchalance may be good for shop keepers and manufacturers who depend on December purchases to have a good fiscal year. But it appears to be lousy for considering the deeper significance of Bethlehem babe’s purchasing power.

    RS: Dr. Hart, I apologize for what I am about to say as I know it will cause you some distress and perhaps cause others to question your level of sobriety when you wrote this. However, amen and amen.

    Like

  6. DGH: Which raises the question about whether Christmas stands as evidence of successful transformation of culture by American Christians or is it a sign to anti-transformationalists of just how thin the project of transformation inevitably becomes.

    Darryl, even a cursory reading of the Bible should tell you that God transforms and curses people. By what criteria? Obedience is the key!! So if transformation looks thin to you, it’s because you refuse to believe the Bible. You need to see life through the lens of Scripture by faith.

    Christ curses people along with families, churches and even nations for gross violations of sin. (See the Bible). We must walk by faith if God is going to bless our personal and corporate works, if we will not walk by faith, God will curse us to ur face!

    To the church in Ephesus Christ Jesus says:

    Vs 5: Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitins, which I also hate.

    To the church in Sardis:

    Vs 2: I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

    Darryl, I hope you’re will to admit that God transforms the lives of his people

    Do not be conformed to the world, but be *transformed* by the renewal of your mind,

    The historical record suggests that God did remove some (if not all) of his local lampstands in Asia Minor; does that deny transformation? Of course not! Moreover I don’t have to look (with my natural eyes)(i.e. Christmas) to believe God transforms whole societies. What did Jesus say will overcome the world? Our faith. I believe it, why won’t you?

    Like

  7. My wife told me the other day that she liked Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. I called the elders to see if this was sufficient cause for divorce. They’ll confer and get back to me.

    Erik at least put her on church discipline lol!

    Like

  8. Doug

    I am with you (though Darryl probably has his doubts) that the gospel transforms those who believe it (I am not the best of believers but to be sure my life is completely different to what it would have been without Christ). Where I disagree is in the transforming of societies (unless of course they all become believers). When John writes, ‘this is the victory that overcomes the world… even our faith’ he does not mean that our faith will transform the world but that our faith will prevent the world from transforming us into its image; our faith, in other words, will enable us to resist the world. Actually, in Scripture, especially in John, the world (humanity opposed to God in thrall to sin and Satan) is never converted. It is always opposed to the Father. The world is simply ‘corporate flesh’. It is destined to be destroyed not deified (glorified).

    Like

  9. I find Steely Dan & Talking Heads more than sufficient for the Holidays, much like the other 364 days of the year. This is one time I am in agreement with Richard’s Puritans. Other than some extra time to spend with family I am pretty much down on the whole thing — the commercialism, the sentimentality, the lack of Scriptural warrant. I loved it as a kid, though, but for all the wrong reasons (me getting lots of stuff!).

    Like

  10. Hah! This is the reason why, after about the last week in November, I plug the output of my Apple laptop into the input of my hi-fi (showing my age) and begin streaming some of the numerous iTunes playlists for the next month or so instead of listening to that insipid stuff coming over the airwaves this time of year.

    Like

  11. The good thing of course is that old school Presbyterians do not celebrate man-made holy days. You don’t have to worry about questionable, simplistic, and sappy incarnation hymns when you do not join with new school Presbyterians in adopting Anglican worship practices.

    Like

  12. D.G. Hart: If I were a “let’s keep Christ in Christmas” guy, I might take encouragement from hearing Johnny Mathis singing “Silent Night,” that is, if I could stomach that insipid melody (bah humbug yourself!).

    RS: Was Christ ever in Christ-mass? The Jesus of December 25 is more like Santa Claus than that of the living God on the throne of the Universe. If the the third commandment is still valid, then I would argue that the pagans who sing songs with God’s name in it to get attention and money for themselves are violating that commandment. But then again, I would argue that against preachers who do the same thing each Sunday as well.

    Like

  13. Benjamin P. Glaser: The good thing of course is that old school Presbyterians do not celebrate man-made holy days. You don’t have to worry about questionable, simplistic, and sappy incarnation hymns when you do not join with new school Presbyterians in adopting Anglican worship practices.

    Benjamin Glaser’s Pastoral Letter (found by clicking on his name)
    There are a lot of opinions being thrown about concerning gun-control, mental health, video games, etc… as secular America looks for ways in which to prevent things like the shooting in Connecticut from “ever happening again”. There is of course nothing men can do to prevent wicked men from perpetuating violence and horror. In the days of Christ there was a great calamity that happened in Jerusalem when the Tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen. The people were attempting to try and figure out a justification for “why” this happened. Some thought the eighteen had done something to deserve the wrath of God. Jesus responds quite quickly to this notion by saying, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?”(Luke 13:1-4). The answer of course is no, there is nothing the eighteen did personally to deserve their death. But the reality is they died nonetheless in an unimaginable fashion. The real question is why is there death, why is there violence and wickedness at all? Why is it we live in a world where these kind of things happen? Well the simple reason is because of Adam’s fall. Paul speaks that because of Adam’s Sin, the curse of death entered into the world. (Romans 5:12-19). Paul also says in this section that it is only by Christ’s death are we saved from the final effects of sin, which is eternal death. The fact of the matter is we live in a sin-sick nation that is doing all it can to deny Christ and especially deny His Lordship over all things. As our society releases itself from the moorings of God’s Word we should not be surprised when the wider culture revels in its own wickedness and wallows in the mire of its own sin and destruction.

    RS: That was really good. I find those words as ringing with so much truth and substance as opposed to all that has been ringing hollow and empty during this time of year.

    Like

  14. Ben says: As our society releases itself from the moorings of God’s Word we should not be surprised when the wider culture revels in its own wickedness and wallows in the mire of its own sin and destruction.

    I especially like this last paragraph! So true, so insightful, so sobering!

    Keep pressing on Ben!

    Like

  15. Pop singers feel “compelled” to record Christmas albums because it is the record companies that do the compelling. Christmas albums are money-makers. Have Dean Martin (or whoever) record a Christmas album. Then the record company can release that sucker every single Christmas season for, probably, the next several hundred years. The standard rule applies here as elsewhere: “In all cases, follow the money.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s