The Difference That Christmas Makes

Whenever I get to preach I like to do a round-up of different things from my research that didn’t make the cut, different inspirations, further reflections. I’m particularly excited for this one because it’s Christmas themed! So, even if you missed the sermon (when it makes it on-line I’ll update this post) there should be something here for you! Enjoy!

Peanuts Christmas Panorama. Kevin Dooley. Some Rights Reserved.

1. I was sort of exaggerating when I said I listened to Christmas music in March (Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas is year round music, as are a few tracks from Sufjan Steven’s Songs For Christmas) but each year in mid-November I start to curate what I think is the hippest, most eclectic Christmas playlist of them all. There’s a few songs on there that I think capture some of what I was trying to say in the sermon, particularly Simon and Garfunkle’s 7 O’clock News / Silent Night, The Flaming Lips’ A Change at Christmas [Say It Isn’t So]. Also, some trivia, occasionaly during the instrumental during Prayer Partners I’ll play a pop-song to see if anybody catches what I’m playing. It’s very rare anybody notices. I started doing this last year during the Christmas season when I played I Wish It Was Christmas Today by Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sans, and Chris Kattan from the late 90’s/early 00’s SNL. There’s a killer version of the tune on this playlist as well.

2. “Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)
Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

3. Last week was the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I read this great reflection from the NPR blog Monkey See, A Charlie Brown Christmas’ at 50, that talked about why Christmas special like this one just don’t get made anymore and why the Charlie Brown special is so shocking and enduring.

So as much as A Charlie Brown Christmas is about the significance of the religious tradition as what Christmas is “really about,” it sees that tradition at least in part as a gateway to, and an inspiration for, other actions. It doesn’t only suggest Christmas is really about the Bible story; it suggests Christmas is also really about friends, dogs, cooperating, the beauty of humble things, singing out loud, and hope.

4. One of the things that I tried to do with this past sermon was only to use texts that are lyrical songs. Obviously both Psalm 40 and Psalm 42 are tunes, and I mentioned in the sermon that Luke 1.46-55 was a tune, called the Magnificat. Beyond that the scripture I used from Philippians (Phil. 2.5-11) is thought by some to be a hymn fragment that Paul was quote that the ancient, first century church would sing. A theologian I enjoy listening to occassionaly, Michael Horton on his podcast the White Horse Inn, once said something along the lines of – “Believed theology is sung theology.” There is something about singing that connects our minds to our hearts to our spirits. I could say until I’m blue in the face and cognitively believe the truths of Christianity, that Jesus heals the hurting, but when I’m feeling lowdown the Spirit uses not the catchphrase I tell myself but the songs that we sing to do the healing work of Christ.

5. This was previously the best version of Little Drummer Boy but after this past Sunday it is now the second best version.

6. One of my favorite authors to read this year was Eugene Peterson. Particularly this summer I enjoyed reading his book on praying through the Psalms, Answering God. Here are some of his thoughts on “hope” from a different and earlier book (also about some select psalms):

Hoping does not mean doing nothing… It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain.

It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what He said He will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it His way and in His time.

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

7. Netlix and chi… You know what? Last time I used that phrase somebody told me what it actually meant. My bad. Anyways, this past weekend Netflix released a new Christmas special starring Billy Murray – A Very Murray Christmas – it is as sardonic as it is cloying and nostalgic. If you’re a Bill Murray fan and strong language doesn’t offend you then I’d say check it out.

Other Christmas favorites on Netflix – also I can’t vouch for the lanugage and content in the following: A Nightmare Before Christmas, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, White Christmas, Love Actually, Fireplace For Your Home.

8. This August GQ ran an incredible story on Stephen Colbert, The Late, Great Stephen Colbertit’s well worth the read. Though our theologies likely differ (he’s Catholic and for what it’s worth I’m still protesting the papacy) I’ve found Colbert to be the rare Christian voice in mainstream entertainment that doesn’t make me cringe – I’m looking at you Baldwin brother from Bio-Dome. Colbert’s story is a sad one, when he was ten years old he lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash. In the interview he talks about what that was like, dropping incredible lines like, “people’s suffering is sacred”. He addresses his and his mother’s pain in a visceral manner. In the sermon, I did my best to be honest about life’s challenges – particularly at Christmas – but I think Colbert preaches better than I could. Here’s a few choice quotes:

He lifted his arms as if to take in the office, the people working and laughing outside his door, the city and the sky, all of it. “And the world,” he said. “It’s so…lovely. I’m very grateful to be alive, even though I know a lot of dead people.” The urge to be grateful, he said, is not a function of his faith. It’s not “the Gospel tells us” and therefore we give thanks. It is what he has always felt: grateful to be alive. “And so that act, that impulse to be grateful, wants an object. That object I call God. Now, that could be many things. I was raised in a Catholic tradition. I’ll start there. That’s my context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next—the catechism. That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings.”

He was tracing an arc on the table with his fingers and speaking with such deliberation and care. “I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“We would have done it [discussing the Charleston shooting on air], if we had to,” he said when I asked if any part of him had felt a desire to talk about it on the air. “But no,” he said. “It’s such an old form of a particular evil. Such a pure form, that it feels very old. It was like a dragon showed up. Like, yeah, there used to be dragons. I didn’t know there still were dragons…and I don’t necessarily crave facing that dragon with my little sword.” He paused for a moment and looked down at the table. “Tragedy is sacred,” he said. “People’s suffering is sacred.”

He used to have a note taped to his computer that read, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.”

“It took me a long time to really understand what [loving the bomb] meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.” (You’re welcome, Dune nerds.)

…he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

9. The difference that Christmas makes is hope:

The Gospel According to Calvin and Hobbes.

10. Alyssa and I have been debating whether or not Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas qualifies as one of my sad Christmas songs. I think it does, she doesn’t. My suggestion is that the use of “little” is absolutely pejorative, that the melancholic melody paired with the saccharine lyrics make for a downer, if not sarcastic song. Alyssa finds it warm and nostalgic, sort of what a grown up Christmas feels like. Which seems valid. Either way it is one of my favorites. I’m curious what others think and what your favorite Christmas tune is, share in the comments below.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

The Difference That Christmas Makes

2 thoughts on “The Difference That Christmas Makes

  1. All Is Well by Michael W. Smith and a couple other writers is one of my favorite Christmas songs.

    Mel Torme wrote Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire and I love hearing it sung by Amy Grant or Karen Carpenter. On our honeymoon in 1974 we stayed at Disney World Polynesian Hotel. One night we went to dinner and show at the restaurant at the top of the Contemporary Hotel in Disney World. Mel Torme was the show so we got to hear the writer sing it. In my opinion no one can top Nat King Cole singing it.

    Amy Grant, Karen Carpenter, or Judy Garland singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas is another one of my favorites especially since the original words were changed for the Meet Me In St. Louis movie.

    Can you imagine any of them singing the original lyrics below?

    Judy began work on ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ when she was 21 years old. It was during the filming of this movie that she became romantically involved with Vincente Minnelli.
    The movie was completed in April 1944, and released in St. Louis on November 22, 1944. It broke box-office records all over the country as not only Judy’s greatest hit to date, but MGM’s top money maker, second only to Gone with the Wind. Margaret O’Brien won an Oscar for her portrayal of Tootie, and ‘The Trolley Song’ was nominated for Best Song Academy Award. ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is one of the most beloved musicals ever made, and considered to be one of the best.
    Judy initially wanted nothing to do with ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ because she was finally being given some adult roles, and she was concerned about being cast as a seventeen-year-old. Mayer was insistent, and Minnelli eventually convinced her to play the part. After she began working on the project, she became enchanted with the story and came to love it.
    Courtesy of:

    The original lyrics for ‘Have Yourself A Merry little Christmas’ ,written by Hugh Martin, were considered by many, including Judy, to be too depressing. Although Martin resisted at first, he made the changes to the song … & it is what we have today as a great American classic Christmas song.

    Original lyrics:

    Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
    Next year we may all be living in the past
    Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
    Next year we will all be living in New York.
    No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
    Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.
    But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
    From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
    So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

    I think we all understand why Judy wanted it changed:
    Have yourself a merry little Christmas
    Let your heart be light
    Next year all our troubles will be
    out of sight
    Have yourself a merry little Christmas
    Make the yule-tide gay
    Next year all our troubles will be
    miles away
    Once again as in olden days
    Happy golden days of yore
    Faithful friends who are dear to us
    Will be near to us once more
    Someday soon, we all will be together
    If the Fates allow
    Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
    So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
    *No copyright infringement intended*
    Meet me in St. Louis

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