Bring on the Christmas carols.
Those who know me well may find a disconnect between how I feel about music during December and my relation to it the rest of the year. I’m not a particularly musical person. I don’t play an instrument can’t carry a tune. If alone in the car or at home, I am much more likely to put on National Public Radio than classic rock or contemporary hits. As a kid, I never bought records or tapes, and unlike many of my friends, I didn’t have a poster of Andy Gibbs on my wall in fourth grade. As a young adult, I rarely bought CDs and my apartment as a twenty-something, was one of the few I knew without the ubiquitous CD tower next to the stereo. I’ve downloaded exactly 13 songs off iTunes, and all of them were purchased for the purpose of background music for one of our family slideshows. If I need music downloaded for a party, I put my 13-year-old or husband on the task. It’s not that I dislike music—I love to dance and do have a few favorite bands (U2; Midnight Oil; REM.) It’s just that music isn’t something that I consciously approach on a daily basis-- except during Christmas. During the Advent and Christmas season, I cannot get enough carols. On the radio; on cheesy Christmas CDs; from the Pandora Web site, which figures out what music you like by having you click “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” after a song— I love it all.
In thinking about why I like Christmas carols so much, what I discovered is that the carols, played during a season that is undeniably a lot of work, tell me what I should be thinking of while I am doing that work. They bring me to a better place. While I know others who get cynical and bitter about all the work of the Christmas season—cleaning, cooking, baking, decorating, entertaining, I can be lulled into a spirit of peacefulness—if not full blown joy—by simply listening to “Away in a Manger” as I peel 24 potatoes for the upcoming family dinner. Here’s what I take away from some of my favorite carols:
Little Drummer Boy: If the Drummer boy can play a drum for Jesus and be satisfied with that, I can be happy with what I’m doing, too. Am I a faultless mom? A flawless writer? Are these potatoes going to be the most delicious my guests will ever taste? Certainly not, on all three counts. But by in large, I do my best for Him. I play my life for Him. Pah-rum-pah-pah-pum. “The Little Drummer Boy” reminds me that whatever I offer is enough.
O Come All Ye Faithful: First, triumphant is an outstanding word. Try saying triumphant without straightening your shoulders a bit-- it’s impossible. Seldom are we invited to the feeling of triumph. It seems a word reserved for winning the Kentucky Derby or medaling in at least three events in the Olympics. Yet this song dares to begin, “O Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” This song is telling me that I’m welcome to feel joyful and triumphant simply because I’m faithful. I’ll take it. And now I’ll write 17 more Christmas cards even though it’s already 11 p.m.
Do You Hear What I Hear? It’s the questions in this song that capture me. Whether it’s the Night Wind speaking to the Little Lamb or the Little Lamb asking the Shepherd Boy, everyone’s running his or her observations about that first Christmas past someone else. Regardless of how obvious the miracle is, we still need to ask each other, “Do you see what I see? Do you know what I know?” And this is why faith must involve community.
What Child is this? I never hear the word “lap” in church. It’s not in the first or second readings, the Psalm response or the Gospel. It’s rarely in the homily. Yet, “lap” is a word I—and every mother I know—uses every day. There’s something about the juxtaposition of “What child is this, who laid to rest, in Mary’s lap is sleeping,” with the line a few moments later in the song, “This, this is Christ the King.” Christ the King started his life in a lap. And in some ways, this is the point of the feast of Christmas—to point out just how ordinary and human Jesus’ beginning was.
An ordinary beginning— a young family not sure exactly what they’re getting into, but understanding God is leading. Angels guiding; stars shining; night wind questioning. And two thousand years later, we’re still singing about it.