Depressing Songs, Joyful Message

              Last year, I created, and burned to CD, a playlist of tunes that I called “Depressing Christmas Songs”. It got a lot of rotation in my car stereo as I went about my holiday rounds. I expect to listen to it quite a bit this year, too.

             It’s quite a play list. It includes songs about broken relationships (“Fairy Tale of New York” by the Irish Tenors, “Santa Can’t Stay” by Dwight Yoakam, “Lonely Christmas Call” by George Jones), impoverished children skipped by Santa (“Will Santy Come to Shanty Town” by Eddie Arnold, “The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot” by Nat “King” Cole), substance abuse (“Please Dad, Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” by John Denver), war (“Christmas In the Trenches” by John McDermott), loneliness (“First Christmas Away from Home” by Stan Rogers, “Christmas in Prison by John Prine ), and dying loved ones (“The Christmas Shoes” by Newsong).

             Why subject myself to such a bleak series of songs during this most wonderful time of the year? I think I listen to my depressing Christmas songs for the same reason that the late Johnny Cash wore black–as a way of reminding myself of all the pain in the world. That’s an important concept at Christmas because the pain in the world is why Jesus came. Jesus came to us because this is a world of brokenness and poverty, a world of war and loneliness, a world in which substance abuse happens and people find themselves far from home. It is a measure of His love that He was willing to come into this broken, sinful world of ours... “for poor, ornery people like you and like I”, as a classic American Christmas song says. He did not come to a tinsel Fairyland, but He came into this messed-up realm where we live. In fact, He left a tinsel Fairyland–heaven itself and all its splendor-- to come to this sin-darkened world of ours. That took a lot of love. So oddly enough, my depressing Christmas songs underscore the love of God in Jesus Christ.

             It’s also a way of reminding myself that not everyone’s life is apple-pie happy the way mine is. For many, Christmas is a very sad time. Its joyous atmosphere simply underlines their melancholy. I want to remember people who are down at Christmas, and ask God’s blessing upon them, and help them as God gives me the opportunity.

             Even in my depressing Christmas songs, hope often breaks through. The child whose mother is dying in “Christmas Shoes” knows that she’s going to a better place in heaven. The British soldier in “Christmas in the Trenches” experiences Yuletide comradeship with his German foes. Both these songs inevitably cause me to bawl my eyes out, but they are not tears of hopelessness or despair. Rather, the tears celebrate how God can be present even in desperate situations of conflict and loss. And isn’t that a key part of the joy of Christmas?

             If you think my fondness for depressing Christmas songs is a little odd, consider this: a lot of Christmas songs that we think are happy really aren’t. The three best non-religious Christmas songs are “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas “, and “White Christmas”. These songs aren’t obviously depressing like “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” or “Please, Dad, Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas”. But they do share a melancholy theme: dreaming about something that you don’t have. “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas”. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas if only in my dreams”. “Next year all our troubles will be far away”. They all express unfulfilled yearning. The most obvious reason for this yearning is the fact that these songs were written during World War II–when lots of people were separated from home and loved ones. But there may be another factor. When “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was presented to film director Vincente Minnelli, the song had this line: “Someday soon we all will be together if the Lord allows.” Minnelli thought the reference to “Lord” was too religious, so he asked the songwriters to change it. They substituted “fates” instead. (Ironic–a Christmas song being scrubbed of religion!) So maybe that’s why these songs are a little depressing, and have such a sense of unfulfilled longing–because they try to celebrate Christmas without Christ, and there’s always going to be a bit of emptiness there.

             Does that mean we shouldn’t sing these songs? On the contrary–they remind us of the longing that we all have...a longing for home, a longing for a place we’ve lost. A longing, ultimately, for Eden–the home with God that the human race lost because of sin. When I dream of that White Christmas, when I long to be home for Christmas, when I pine for that time when we will be all together... I’m really yearning for Eden, and my true home in heaven. And the Lord Jesus came to bring us back to our lost home with God. Our Eastern Orthodox friends sing this in their Christmas liturgy: “The angel with the flaming sword withdraws from the gate of Eden, and I enter into Paradise and eat from the tree of Life”. As we enjoy “White Christmas” and all the others, let’s remember that our Christmastime longing for home is fulfilled...because Jesus Christ left His home in heaven to bring us home to God!!

             Whatever your Christmas play list may be, I pray that this wondrous time will bring you joy–knowing that Christ has come to take upon Himself the negative things in this world, and to bring to us the beautiful peace of God.

             God loves you and so do I!


Vol. 81 - No. 12
Dec 2010