Simeon the prophet never wished anyone a "holly-jolly Christmas" or envisioned anything about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But there's our songs too, the songs of the church. We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the ... "narrative tension" of the Christmas story.The biblical Christmas story explodes with surprises and rich nuances, but our songs generally ignore such aspects in favor of feel-good lyrics and tunes.
On the first Sunday of Advent this year, we sang the first verse of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" in church. One of my favorite Christmas songs, its minor-key mournful tone perfectly captures the theological longing of Advent. But then we stopped after the first verse, which left me disappointed and wanting more. A couple of days later during a worship planning meeting for the third Sunday of Advent, one of the church's pastors (who likes to tease me since he thinks I am weird for preferring minor-key music) pointed out for me that we would sing three verses of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" that Sunday. "Oh, good!" I injected as I told him how I had been excited Sunday when we started singing it but disappointed that we only covered one verse. He then explained we were adding a verse every week this year to keep us waiting until Christmas comes. Laughing, I added that it clearly worked as I would now be waiting with greater anticipation for the upcoming services. Of course, the problem still remained that Advent has far too few verses to get the whole song! We also sang one of the other good minor-key Christmas carols, "What Child is This?," that third week. I am not trying to be a scrooge (but, while we are on it, at least our Christmas songs do not talk about doing something like "raising my ebenezer"). However, I would love more songs that capture the complexity of Christmas.