I keep getting stopped in my tracks as I’m out and about this month. I’ll be scrambling around trying to check items off my Christmas shopping list, putting eggnog in my cart at the grocery store, walking through a department store while trying to keep the kids from pulling things off the racks, and I’ll hear some familiar old Christmas tune begin. And I’ll stop, forget everything else, and listen intensely for just a second. Even as I go back to what I was doing, I’m acutely aware of the music in the background.
This is only the second Christmas since I’ve believed in God. And it’s the first Christmas that it ever occurred to me that the songs about the birth of Christ are distinctly, vastly different than the songs about reindeer and Santa. It’s the first time it ever occurred to me that they’re religious. These songs were not written to be light little ditties about imaginary characters; they were written by Christians about one of the central events to their faith: the birth of Jesus Christ. The event that humanity had awaited for so long, that people from many different times and places had whispered about throughout the ages, when Someone from the other world would come and somehow make everything right. It finally happened. And in our Christmas songs, we proclaim this great event.
All my life I made no distinction between Santa Clause is Coming to Town and The First Noel. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman were fairy tale songs about mythical characters, as were Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night. It never once occurred to me that it could be otherwise. Not even as a child, not even for a moment.
So it’s really impossible to describe how those songs sound to me now. I wish I could, because it’s one of the most thrilling, amazing feelings in the world. The closest I can come is to offer this analogy:
When I was a kid I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (we didn’t know C.S. Lewis was a Christian, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have read it). I was so enchanted by the idea of these children discovering that a dusty old wardrobe was a secret portal to another realm full of wonder. I wanted so much to experience something like that, to stumble across some other world different from the one in which I lived, a place of great thrills, adventure and mystery. Once or twice when visiting my grandparents I would be looking for something in one of their cluttered old closets, and I would reach back through the clothes…just in case. Though I was never surprised, my heart always sank a little bit when I felt the wall.
When I hear Christmas songs now, I feel the way I would have felt if one of those times that I reached to the back of the closet against all odds, I felt cool air and a snowflake fall on my hand. It was supposed to be a fairy tale. This story of a loving God who created these creatures who scorn and reject him over and over, yet made himself one of them to suffer for them, to die for them, to save them…it’s the best story ever told. And, to my astonishment, I discovered that it is true.
When I hear the first few bars of What Child Is This? or Joy to the World! waft above the clanking of shopping cards or the ring of cash registers, I feel like grabbing everyone around me and hugging them, jumping for joy while yelling, “It’s true! Can you imagine anything so wonderful? The stuff that this song is talking about — it’s true!” I imagine that most stores have policies against that sort of thing, so I refrain. But I always smile, and I always feel overjoyed to have these reminders to rejoice, for a Savior has been born.