I dread the day in November when someone flips a switch at all the local radio stations and pop-Christmas music appears, always seeming to arrive too early, and sounding like the soundtrack to the crass commercialization of the Christmas season.
Yet somewhere along the road to Dec. 25, I change my tune as I’m singing along with these same pop-Christmas songs. One of my favourites is Boney M’s Mary’s Boy Child. I love the music, I love the words, I love the steel drums and I love thinking of someplace warm. On the other hand, there’s that…uh… classic (?), Last Christmas I Gave You my Heart. As the synthesizer plays, I’m left asking, “Why!? Why, oh why, did someone encourage Wham! to write a Christmas song?!” Like the Griswolds’ jello, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, every single year.
One Christmas song that catches my attention is Greg Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas (U2 has done a worthy cover as well, and both can be found on YouTube). It has some beautiful guitar riffs and a hopeful quality to it, despite some lyrics that could be seen as disparaging to Christmas. I appreciate the authenticity of Lake’s song, with its movement from promise to sadness to disillusion to hope. Lake has stated that the song was not intended to be anti-religious, but I think many can relate to the crisis of faith about which he sings.
The sanitized Christmas story of perfect lighting, peaceful barnyard animals and a baby who doesn’t cry may make for a good Christmas card, but it misses the mark in portraying the gritty conditions of the first Christmas – for Jesus was born into a violent world, under the oppression of the Roman Empire. The first visitors to see Jesus were not the religious leaders or cultural elite, but a bunch of smelly shepherds.
Regarding Jesus’ birth and life, Mark Driscoll has written that he was born in a “rural, hick town.” His unmarried teenage mother claimed she conceived through a miracle. Jesus was adopted by his carpenter father, and spent his first three decades “in obscurity, swinging a hammer with his dad.”
The first Christmas was not the squeaky-clean image that we often imagine, any more than our own lives are the picture-perfect image we sometimes try to portray. Beneath the surface, the true image that emerges contains some messy realities. Yet like Charlie Brown’s care for a broken little Christmas tree, the first Christmas offers a message of hope and love that speaks into the messiness of our lives.
This Christmas, I invite you to ask yourself, what if it is true? What if Christmas is really about grace and hope in a difficult world, given by God through the birth of Jesus? What if God is actually offering His grace to me? You might be surprised to hear God answer, in ways you might not expect, for He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.
I wish you a hopeful Christmas.
Tim Strickland is Senior Pastor of Waverley Road Baptist Church located at 129 Waverley Road in The Beach, and online at waverleyroadbaptist.ca. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. You are invited to attend our December Christmas services Sundays@11am, and on Christmas Eve at 7pm.