Last night at church we had a carol sing and delicious cocoa bar afterwards. The sanctuary had been decorated for the season and it was beautiful.
Before we started, our pastor asked everyone what our favorite Christmas song was.
Hands went up all over. (Well, no hands really. People sort of loudly announced their choices).
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” **
“Mary, Did You Know?”
“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” (which is actually called “The Christmas Song,” by the way).
And so on.
Pastor scanned the crowd and asked those of us who hadn’t responded to share our favorites as well.
“Anything old sung by Andy Williams or Tony Bennett,” I said.
Because “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams reminds me of my childhood (which was fraught with dysfunction and disjointedness). It also reminds me of my mom who passed away over 35 years ago, and while it’s a bittersweet song, the tears that occasionally accompany me while I listen are a tender reminder.
My mother loved to sing and wanted us to love music as well. She dragged me and my four siblings to free Christmas concerts in our Southern California town so we could be exposed to some of the more classic expressions of the season. She was fond of large choirs and majestic sounding choruses, but I’m confident she’d love James Taylor singing The Christmas Song.
Whether it was Johhny Mathis or Andy Williams, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was one of my mom’s favorite songs, so it reminds me of Christmas. Not the “Jesus is born” part of Christmas, but the family and heart and love and kindness part of Christmas, even in the middle of a rocky childhood with many a challenging holiday due to no money in the bank. When we had no reason to be happy but we were, at least as children.
Well I’ve grown up, and of course there have been decades of Christmas celebrating since then, through raising children and traveling to share with relatives far and near. In the last almost twenty years, I have the joy of being with my grandchildren during the holidays.
So why is this the most wonderful time of the year, as Andy Williams/Perry Como/Tony Bennett reminds us?
Because even without the mention of Jesus we know, especially those of us who are Christians, that the wonderful part is that Christ was born.
A Christmas song doesn’t have to be about Jesus. It doesn’t have to mention him by name. In fact, He has many names, as the Advent song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” declares.
God with us
King of the Nations
Key of David
Stem/Root of Jesse
All those things.
What the world needs is Jesus, like the Sunday School answer so clearly declares. But what the world really needs is more joy.
But joy most of all. The joy that comes when “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” plays over the speakers at the grocery store.
Or James Taylor croons “Santa Claus is coming to Town” while you’re in line at Starbuck’s.
Or when you high five a stranger next to you in church, as we did last night and you grin from ear to ear singing, “Jingle Bells.”
(Which, as our pastor reminded us, is a “sleigh ride drag racing song.”)
Music is a common denominator wherever we go and at this time of year can stir up the deepest of memories in all of us.
Some of us need those memories to remind us who we are.
- Cared for.
- Worth coming for.
A Christmas song doesn’t need to be about Jesus.
Photo: (l to r) Kevin LaRoche, Brother Charles from Adult & Teen Challenge PNW, Jordan Miles), Renton Christian Center, Renton WA.
**The text for “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” comes from a 7 verse poem that dates back to the 8th century. It was used in a call and response fashion during the vespers, or evening, service. The original text created the reverse acrostic “ero cras,” which means “I shall be with you tomorrow,” and is particularly appropriate for the advent season. A metrical version of five of the verses appeared in the 13th century, which was translated into English by J.M. Neale in 1851. hymnary.org.