One of the habits I nag my choirs about is singing too much consonant and not enough vowel on any particular word. It’s especially noticeable on words with the “s” sound: one song includes the phrase “this time” repeated on eighth notes, and results in a sputtering hiss upon which even my most sophisticated singers cannot improve.
I faced this challenge from the other side of the conductor’s podium this past weekend, when I had to try to make art out of singing the word “Christmas” over and over. At a certain point I admitted defeat, all the while wondering why I had never before noticed that this word gave choirs so much trouble.
Then I remembered that I conduct liturgical choirs, and we don’t sing about Christmas.
Now, before you get all “war on Christmas”, hear me out. I don’t celebrate Christmas. I celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, the Incarnation, the awesome generosity of a God who became human just like me. I celebrate these realities in the context of a larger year of grace that over the course of a turn of the earth tells the whole wonderful story of our salvation and looks forward to the salvation to come. I try to celebrate these things every day, and the liturgical calendar has given me special days to celebrate them, just in case I forget any part of the story.
When people huff and puff about people forgetting “the meaning of Christmas”, I have to laugh. There are plenty of people who celebrate Christmas by celebrating the celebration. It’s not a commemoration but a celebration, and that’s just how they like it. They didn’t forget anything, and our reminding them is not going to change them any more than their ignoring the origins of the feast would change my observance of the feast.
I sing songs that worship Christmas instead of Christ because it’s gig, and I frankly can’t see much harm in it. I am in the midst of celebrating Advent right now while half of the country is celebrating Christmas. If I could magically force them to wait until December 25th, would that make their celebration the same as my commemoration? We’re not celebrating the same thing.
This post sounds more “us vs. them” than I want to be, because in truth the line between us and them runs through every human heart. But I wish the people who try to fight the war on Christmas would accept that it has already been lost. The holiday has been transformed, and we are left to keep our Christmas as it suits us. We can be aggravated that the word was appropriated, but that is a bell that can’t be unrung. There are two Christmases now.
With every year that goes by I become a little more complacent, but I still maintain my subversive core. At this time of year, it doesn’t yearn to remind everyone that Christmas is about Jesus, or harangue consumers. But it thrills a little to know that I am keeping my Advent and Christmas seasons in my heart and in my faith community, even if the media and the world is suggesting something different. We can keep the traditions and hope that people will join us.
God so loved the world… Nothing anyone can do or say or know or forget or struggle with or insist upon can negate that or improve upon it. All I can do is create small spaces of grace where God can come again. Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.