Ok so, maybe saying I hate Christmas music goes a bit too far, but there IS something I thoroughly dislike about how we, collectively, engage with Christmas music.
Before we get to that though I have to say I really didn’t grow up spending a ton of time in advent church services. I didn’t sing a lot of carols growing up either. People who know me though know that I have a hard time being satisfied with going halfway. I grew up in a family that lived by the mantras: “if you decide to do something you should do your best at it” and “Don’t be satisfied with mediocre.”
Similarly, I’ve believed that truly “good” art leaves a mark on its audience. It changes lives in a way. It’s not just…well…background music. And let’s be honest that’s mostly what Christmas music is. Isn’t it?
We decorate cookies, wrap presents, open presents and even shop for presents while listening to someone’s best Spotify Christmas music playlist. That can be fun. I get it. Buuuuut…
Isn’t that the same as making a beach music playlist and going to the beach? Actually a beach music playlist is pretty analogous and is ripe with potential to annoy me in a similar way. Now, I wouldn’t be sitting there in my bathing suit upset on my beach towel, but hear me out…
On a beach music playlist someone is likely to incorporate Bob Marley tunes like “Jamming”, “Buffalo Soldier” or “Could You Be Loved” and then have it serve as background music to a lovely beach day. On one hand this is perfectly normal to do. Right? Why would anyone object to that? Well, my issue with it is that these songs are culturally subversive and revolutionary. They’re not only technically good for a number of reasons, but the style was innovative historically and the lyrics were meant to be chewed on and thought about. There's so many things to find interesting in Bob Marley's music. I love that!
His music was meant to be the cry of a revolution not the background music to a beach hang. I think similarly Christmas music (if it’s any good) is filled with lyrics that tell of a miracle. They tell of a God who becomes a baby that becomes a man who has subversive and revolutionary teachings and ultimately dies for his cause and for his people. This shouldn’t just be background music should it?
Would you hang Picasso’s “Guernica” up in your bathroom as bathroom art? Ha! No way. You hang up some print of a random boat painting. That’s bathroom art. You don’t want to challenge your guests to ponder the meaning of life on your toilet. You just want to give them fresh, positive vibes while they…you know…do their business.
If this all comes off in a way that makes you think, “Geez, Dave is a real complainer.” I’m ok with that. Really, I am. I love chewing on good art and I really want to feel and taste and truly know what it means if God truly came to Earth. Like I said before, if I'm going to pursue the truth then I won't be satisfied going halfway.
I mean, if it’s all not true and the best thing about the whole season is just getting presents and drinking some nog to some nostalgic snowy time jams then I guess background music suits us best. But if we really believe this stuff then it would make sense to stop and think, meditate, pray, even sing at the top of our lungs together and really engage with all that connects to the heart of the Gospel…generosity, forgiveness, showing love and peace when it makes no sense…you know that kind of stuff.
Now, as I’ve wrestled once again with my Christmas music frustration. This time around in December 2017, of course I realize there’s much crazier, more sinister things going on in the world. There's much more serious things to worry about than whether it’s appropriate to play some Christmas songs as background music, but this time around I think something has changed in my overall outlook.
I have two kids now, 7 year old boy and 3 year old girl. I’m older and wiser. I see now that some people don’t leave their mark on the world by going out and doing the seemingly most revolutionary thing that gets a ton of attention, the fame, the glory! Some people leave their mark on the world by cooking meals day in and day out for their families to give them sustenance and keep them healthy. Some volunteer with the elderly. Some have devoted their lives to protecting their fellow citizens or researching cures for disease.
Sometimes the longest lasting and most effective way to have an impact on the world is a quiet persistence of just doing the right and good thing over and over and caring for the people around us…which strangely enough sounds a lot like what Jesus called his followers to…and in a way kind of seems similar in effect to I guess what you could call “good” background music…hmmm…well, that’s frustrating.