This Advent season has been filled with tragic headlines, making the seasonal songs about hope, peace, joy and love seem disconnected from the worldwide disposition.
Yet, Jesus was born in discordant times to a lower-class Jewish couple living in an occupied land. They were forced to travel a great distance for a tax-related census before his birth and then flee a brutal ruler’s madness soon after.
The angelic announcement of “good news of great joy for all people” followed by a choral song about peace on earth is proclaimed into a time of thick darkness for the people living in Judea.
So, perhaps singing lyrics contrasting sharply with our present reality is a central element of Christmas.
In addition to well-known Advent and Christmas songs, a few less familiar lyrics have influenced my seasonal reflections as the daily headlines herald anything but “good news of great joy” or “peace on earth.”
Dave Matthew’s “Christmas Song” depicts Jesus in prayer pondering his mission and asking, “Father up above, why in all this hatred do you fill me up with love?”
I resonate with this inquiry. Being filled up with love in a world of all-too-frequent acts of violence and all-too-common hate-filled rhetoric seems a foolishly frustrating experience given the situation on the ground.
A gentle answer may turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), but it is far less satisfying and natural than responding to hate with hate.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – though it limits unbounded violence to proportional responses – is still a more natural reaction than Jesus’ guidance in Matthew 5.
Another song by the Black Eyed Peas comes quickly to mind with a message aligned well with the teachings of Jesus.
Wondering aloud, “Where is the Love?” they sing, “When you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah. Madness is what you demonstrate. And that’s exactly how anger works and operates. Now, you gotta have love just to set it straight.”
The love of which these songs speak and that we celebrate at Christmas is something more powerful than a sentimental, greeting card emotion.
It is not ultimately about circumstances or how we feel; it is not something we “fall into” or that happens to us inexplicably.
Rather, it is an intentional choice to respond positively to a fundamental imperative set forth in both the Hebrew Bible (see Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:8) and the Christian Scriptures (see Matthew 22:34-39; 1 John 4).
The church sings about hope, peace, joy and, especially, love even amid expressions of hatred and violence because we believe that the bad news of the day is not more powerful than the good news of the gospel.
This kind of defiant hope is seen in the Christmas morning singing of Dr. Seuss’ “Whos” down in Who-ville, the Grinch’s actions notwithstanding.
Singing songs of hope in times of despair, peace in moments of conflict, joy in experiences of grief, and love in the face of hatred need not be a dumb denial of reality, a refusal to acknowledge the darkness surrounding us.
Many churches wisely provide a service during Advent that provides folks an opportunity to acknowledge personal grief and global tragedies, individual and collective losses before the jubilant celebration of Christmas morning.
While acknowledging grief is healthy, so too is singing Christmas songs amid the world’s collective darkness.
This is a vital practice because, as Shakespearean scholar Harold Goddard once said, “The fate of the world is determined less by the battles fought and won, than by the stories [the world] loves and believes in.”
By singing songs of hope, peace, joy and love we choose to love and believe again in the story of God’s love revealed in Jesus, offering a witness to the world that is desperately needed at a time when despair and darkness surround us.
An upbeat, joyful song called “Shake Up Christmas” by the band Train came to my attention for the first time last week. I have listened to it in the evenings as an antidote to the depression-inducing daily news cycle.
“Shake it up, shake up the happiness. Wake it up, wake up the happiness. Come on all, it’s Christmas time,” they urge.
It’s constructive, needed advice. A people walking in the darkness of global violence and unrest can see a great light; a society living in the fear exploited by public figures can hear a proclamation of good news, if we will but remember to sing.
Let’s be sure that amid daily headlines of dreary news that we don’t forget to “shake up, wake up the happiness.” After all, it’s Christmas time.
Baptist Center for Ethics will observe its 25th anniversary in 2016. If you benefit from the daily articles appearing on EthicsDaily.com, as well as our documentary films, video interviews and other moral resources, please consider making a donation today. Click here to donate in $10 increments. Click here to donate in $25 increments. Click here to donate in $50 increments.