Christmas Music

Luke 1:39-56

The Third Sunday of Advent

December 16, 2012

In the summer of 1942, Paramount Pictures released a movie called Holiday Inn. As many of you know, it was the story of a burned out New York entertainer who had moved to Midville, Connecticut where he bought a farmhouse. His idea was to turn the farmhouse into an inn that would only open on fifteen holidays scattered throughout the year and thus be called the Holiday Inn.

What you may not know is that part of the idea behind the movie was the desire to showcase the music of Irving Berlin. At the time, Berlin was becoming more and more famous for his holiday songs like “Easter Parade” and he had developed quite a repertoire of similar seasonal pieces. As a result, the movie, with its theme of an inn only open on holidays, was to feature numerous Berlin numbers.

Before the movie opened, most critics assumed that the song from the movie that would become an instant hit and crowd favorite would be Irving Berlin’s brand new piece for Valentine’s Day called “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” But, they were wrong. Instead, the song from the film that would emerge as Berlin’s new hit was a Christmas piece that made its debut in the movie. It went like this….


White Christmas would become the Christmas song of that era and I suspect some would suggest it is the Christmas song of all times. It would spend 11 weeks in 1942 at the top of the charts. It sold out seven times and amazingly the die stamp used for production of the record wore out because of overuse. What might be most startling is the fact that over the years, 350 singers including Bing Crosby, Elvis Pressley, the Partridge Family, Martina McBride and Blake Shelton have recorded what the Guinness Book of World Records proclaims the most popular Christmas song of all time.

But, why? Why is White Christmas so loved? Beyond the beauty of the music, some historians suggest that the popularity of White Christmas is associated with the idealized place the song describes. The idea of a beautiful Christmas, in the snow, with sleigh bells and happy feelings is what we all long for and deeply desire to experience and White Christmas captures this dream. It was the case in a world torn apart by war in 1942 when the song was released and it remains the same today in 2012. We all long for a Christmas where everything is as it should be. Perhaps if we could experience such a moment, we could know happiness as we have never experienced it before.

In the midst of the feelings conveyed by White Christmas, however, Luke 1, verses 46-56 offers a very different song to us with a very, very different idea at its heart. We know the song of Luke 1 as the Magnificat or Mary’s Song. It is the song that Mary sings while in the home of her relative Elizabeth while she is pregnant with Jesus. It is her song of thanksgiving to God as she reflects upon her role as the mother of the long promised Messiah. Mary’s song goes like this…

Sanctuary Choir Sings The Song of Mary

White Christmas speaks of the exterior aspects of life and the longings that we all have for a perfect Christmas that will lead to happiness. Remarkably, Mary sings of an interior joy that cannot be overcome by what is happening in the everyday affairs of our life and the world.

No doubt, what was happening in Mary’s life on the outside was likely far from merry and bright. After all, Mary was a teenage girl who was engaged but not yet married. She was also pregnant. Every indication suggests that she and Joseph were common people with little in terms of money or possessions. Just how were they going to care for and raise this child? Further still, there is every reason to believe that Mary may have been staying away from home with her relative Elizabeth as a result of the gossip being spread about her back home. Concisely stated, her world was far from rosy.

In turn for her to sing as she did of God’s favor, blessing and care in her lowly state was for Mary to speak about what was happening in her heart rather than what was happening in the world around her. In her heart, Mary was filled with joy. After all Mary had given God the entirety of her heart — she had pledged to give God first place and she lived with a willingness to do what God asked of her even if God’s requests were difficult and different from what she might have preferred. As a result, Mary really knew the peace that passed all understanding. Mary really knew the joy that had little if anything to do with the temporal experiences of her life but which had everything to do with the peace and contentment that she found in her relationship with God.

What I would suggest to all of us is that this is the human temptation that we face at Christmas. The temptation that we have is to sing White Christmas rather than The Magnificat. What I mean by this statement is that our temptation is to hunt for happiness through discovering the perfect Christmas or the perfect life experience and setting. But, what the scriptures call us to do is to seek joy rather than happiness. Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all opposed to all of those things that we all enjoy about the American Christmas. I love all of the wonderful aspects of this time of year and enjoy them as much as the next person. In fact, I love the song White Christmas just like most of you.

Having said that, if we think that creating just the right holiday moment is what will finally bring our lives joy we are sadly mistaken. Oh, it may make us happy and it might make us smile for a brief while but those feelings are only temporal and they will ultimately change as quickly as the weather or with the same rapidness that the decorations of Christmas will come down from our homes and be tucked away until next year. The happiness of White Christmas, as nice as it is, is always a fleeting feeling.

But, if we can sing of and long for the joy of The Magnificat, well, that is a different matter all together. If we can sing even in life’s difficulties because we know God is with us — that is when we have moved beyond happiness to joy. If we can sing in the midst of uncertainty because we are living obediently — then we have moved from happiness to joy. And, if we can sing not because we have achieved the American dream but because our faith has led us to make our world a better place — we have moved from happiness to joy.

There is no doubt…when we move from happiness to joy…a different song might become the classic Christmas song for us….