Monday, December 11, 2006

Blue Christmas

I was listening to Christmas music and noticed how much several songs of Christmas are different than I expected. Of course,there are a lot of Christmas songs that are all about frolicking in the snow, or falling in love while getting close to someone on a winter's night. To my surprise there are also a number of songs that have a more somber mood. Even more surprising, almost all of the more somber songs are more directly related to the spiritual side of Christmas.

I am no musical expert, but have you noticed how many songs of the season have minor chord arrangements? I do not think O Come, O Come Emmanuel can be sung well as a joyous and celebrative piece. It is meant to be a song that is somber and full of heartfelt longing for redemption and new life. I have also come to love "Mary, Did You Know?", which is a song that makes one think both of the hope to come and the suffering that must be endured to get to that point. Sting sings what appears to be a classic lesser known hymn called "Gabriel's Message" which is a hauntingly beautiful meditation on Gabriel's telling Mary she was going to have a child that was going to die to save the world. Ever listen to "Down in Yon Forest" sung by Bruce Cockburn? That is downright creepy, bloody story of the Holy Grail and Christmas. Speaking of Bruce Cockburn, I have also enjoyed Mary Had A Baby. This song has a more celebrative tone, but the message is a Negro Spiritual communicating that the Underground Railroad has "left the station" to head north.

Also, have you noticed how many Christmas songs are filled with questions and mystery? Do you hear what I hear? Mary Did You Know? What Child Is This? These are all titles of songs that begin with and ponder questions. There is even a sense of apprehension and doubt in Little Drummer Boy, which reminds of our own insecurities and doubts of acceptability in the eyes of a God become man.

Finally, there are a lot of songs that are simply filled with wonder. Even the Christmas song is filled with meditative wonder at the gifts and the blessings of God in our lives.

In our eagerness to celebrate Christmas, I have begun to think we need to take time to ponder at Christmas time a little more. There is a lot of emphasis by persons of faith that we need to remember the "reason for the season", but a lot of time that does not change much of how we remember. The remembering just goes from us getting a bunch of stuff from Santa to associating our materialism and parties with Jesus.

Maybe at Christmas time, especially in the Advent season that precedes Christmas, we need to rediscover the importance of wonder, of coming to terms with our spiritual emptiness and longing that we feel, and to give voice to our desparate longing for renewal and redemption.

Something to think about anyway.


wilsonian said...

Excellent post. I think we cheat ourselves when we bypass the longing, even for a short while.

If my people had been waiting for a messiah for generations, I'd sing in minor keys too.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, it's hard to write a truly beautiful melody in a major key. Exciting, powerful, upbeat melodies, sure.

But minor key melodies are almost inherently beautiful. The main reason is because minor keys have more dissonance. Major keys are just too assonant (I hope this isn't too technical).

Dissonance, especially the slight dissonance of minor keys, creates musical beauty. I have no idea why, but that's how it is.

Great post.

San Nakji said...

I say it every year, but I love Good King Wenceslas :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Clint.

Your post made me think about the longing of Christmas transitions into the longing of Lent. Both are full of anticipation, expectation, longing. Both are fulfilled by even greater celebration. Actaully, even after Easter, we are left with the promise of Christ coming back someday.That makes a great deal of our "spiritual calendar" spent looking forward to what is in store. That seems to place us in a position to continually ask, what do we do until then? How we answer that question leads us to matters of purpose and identity.
That's an interesting thought to consider!