Christmas may not be the most solemn of all Christian feasts. That distinction belongs to Easter. Yet our salvation through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord would never have been possible, had he not become one of us in the womb of Mary. Besides, for sheer popular appeal, Christmas still wins the gold.
Who could say no to God appearing as a baby? Who wouldn’t get fired up about angels singing glory? Who could stand back as shepherds and magi draw near?
For this reason, those Christmas carols dedicated to celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem are among the most moving and inspiring of any music, anywhere.
Given that, it is all the more irritating when these sacred songs get exploited for some trivial or banal purpose. As much as I love singing Silent Night when the time is right, I can’t bear hearing it out of season, or when Christ is not honored.
You can sing all of those sentimental favorites about chestnuts roasting and being home for Christmas. Add a few more about snowmen and sleigh bells and stormy nights. But don’t mess with my Christmas carols! I’m warning you: there’s a cold place in Purgatory for people who use sacred music to sell something that isn’t.
No one can deny that a few well-placed sound bites do stimulate a consumer’s appetite. If last year’s Christmas-related revenues in the USA alone soared over three trillion dollars, then you can sympathize with the growing, callous attitude about co-opting what belongs to faith and twisting it to represent a commodity.
Last summer, on a hot afternoon, you could herald the coming of the popsicle man just by listening for his bells. They played out “Silent Night, Holy Night” without a single apology all summer long. I figured the driver was of another religion and had no concept of how out-of-place that music sounded. But he was just doing what millions of others have done for centuries: make the most from the holidays, even when those holy-days might be halfway around the year.
Besides, his popsicles might come from some cottage industry on the North Pole.
Let’s face it: Christmas has been the greatest marketing campaign ever launched.
It was in fact God the Father himself who launched this campaign, enlisting the help of countless prophets and people of good will, offering a product that no one in their right mind could ever refuse. The genius of God in Christmas is this: by winning us over in the figure of a tiny, endangered baby, one who would soon be attacked and have to run off in exile, the Lord of all Creation sold us a product we might otherwise have rejected: his love, the gift of salvation, and the joy of heaven.
I suggest we all get in line for that kind of benefit. It is ours for the taking. And in this most beautiful of seasons, the longings of our hearts can be fulfilled — in Jesus.