Some Christmas music, like Rutter’s and Vivaldi’s magnificent Glorias and Handel’s “Hallelujah” from Messiah, is transcendent and transfiguring. It takes us to places we could never otherwise go and changes us in ways we could not otherwise be changed.

Some Christmas music, like Alvin and the Chipmunks’ “Christmas, Don’t be Late” and Alan Jackson’s “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas),” is, well, let’s just say NOT transcendent and transfiguring. Some of it is trite, trivial, and trifling; some of it is maudlin, mawkish, and mushy. It doesn’t change us, necessarily, though sometimes it makes us change the channel.

So, when it comes to Christmas music, we’ve got (with apologies to Dickens) “the best of tunes and the worst of tunes, the music of wisdom and the music of foolishness” and a lot in-between. Listening to the radio, or hearing Muzak at the mall, sacred and secular songs of the season get all mixed up together. A classic carol gets followed by a country tear-jerker. There’s Jesus, then Santa. There are angels and elves, shepherds and snowmen, Bethlehem and the North Pole. They all stream our was as if they were somehow of the same story. If the randomness of a popular playlist framed the Christmas story for us, it might go something like this:

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, to see three ships come sailing in, come sailing in. Who knows where these three ships docked, since Bethlehem is landlocked? But, on the three ships are three regal-looking men, who rent camels to ride to visit Jesus and chant as they travel, “We, three kings of Orient are bearing gifts we traversed afar.” Along the way, they pick-up a hitch-hiking Little Drummer Boy, who has no gifts, since he, like Jesus, is a poor boy, too; but he says “I will play my drum for him.” A rumpa-pum-pum. Along the way, a snowstorm kicks-up; it such a bad storm that the Three Kings and the Little Drummer Boy trade their camels for a sleigh. While they wait on the sleigh to be loaded with their gifts for Jesus, they build a snowman and pretend that he is Parson Brown who says “Are you married?” They say, “No, man.”

When they’re ready to resume their journey to Jesus, they’re delayed again by cloudy, foggy skies which have hidden the star, the star, shining in the night. So they turn to a reindeer (don’t ask how a reindeer got to the Middle East) and say, “Rudolf, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide our sleigh tonight?” He says he will, but he also says his liability insurance has been canceled because, on his last gig, some child’s grandma got run over by a reindeer, namely by him. The three kings have no other options, because it would be a blue, blue, blue Christmas if they didn’t make it to the see Mary’s little boy child.

Finally on their way again, the Little Drummer Boy, tired of traveling, asks over and over again, “Are we there yet? How much longer?” The more he whines, the more the three kings wish for a silent night, holy night, when all is calm and all is bright. When, late in the night, they finally get close, they point to the city in the valley and say to each other and the tired, fussy, and impatient little boy: “O Little Town of Bethlehem!” The Drummer Boy, glad the trip is nearly over, says, “Well, joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let heaven and nature sing.” He bangs his little drum above the deep and dreamless sleep of the city, hoping to wake everyone up and get them singing, since, away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head, and Santa Claus is coming to town. When his drum isn’t enough to wake up the groggy residents of Bethlehem, he adds silver bells, silver bells and sleigh bells, so that it’s jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. With his drum, it’s actually jingle bell rock.

Once in Bethlehem, they find the road to the manger and to Mary, Joseph, and the baby. They bump into some shepherds who have already paid homage to Jesus and are on their way back to the field where they had left their sheep. The shepherds tell the kings and the Little Drummer Boy that that upon that very night, a midnight clear, they heard angels from on high, sweetly singing oe’r the plain, and the mountains in reply, echoing their glorious strain. That glorious strain is the news, news, that, right here in royal David’s city, the world’s Savior has been born. So, they say, we’re going to go tell it on the mountain, go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. Before they go, however, they say: We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Well, that’s not quite how it went!

Hope you enjoyed this bit of silliness which was my lighthearted attempt to help us realize how jumbled “Christ” and “culture” are in our minds and hearts. The jumbling is inevitable, I think, in a faith that is incarnational: the Word dwells among us and becomes part of everyday life. But, the trouble is when the jumble causes us to lose track of the gospel narrative, the narrative by which we sort and sift our culture and experience.