Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

Not a Hallmark Holiday


I want, as I am wont to do sometimes, to offer a different point of view on topics. Sometimes we, as Christians, need a reminder that matters of faith are more joyful than we realize. When I was a young boy, it struck me how worshipers reciting prayers or the liturgy, or singing hymns, spoke “Hallelujah” as if it were a funeral dirge. No smiles, nor louder voices.

And sometimes we need to realize that things that we celebrate – or observe – and about which we prepare in festive modes… are far more serious than we think, or don’t think. I am not saying they are grim; but are worthy of spiritual contemplation. Those second thoughts, deserving of meditation, is what I aim for here.

So. Not a “downer,” not at all. But if we realize some things about Christmas, for instance, that we seldom think about, we might appreciate the day in a new way.

It is interesting to note that Christmas – “Christ’s Mass” – was not a major holiday in the church for most of its history. Yes, it was observed; it was a holy day (holiday); but it did not eclipse the other church holy days as it does today, with the exception of Easter. Ascension Day, marking the absolute confirmation of Christ’s divinity, scarcely is observed in most Christian churches, and is more significant. Despite the Magnificats and Christmas oratorios, Christmas had not the dominance it does today.

Cards, children’s activities, and commercialism changed a lot of this beginning about 175 years ago. I have a dear friend who works for Hallmark Cards, and I truly appreciate the role of greeting cards, seasonal cheer, and the “sentiments” they generate in Kansas City… but they and Norman Rockwell and Haddon Sundblom, illustrator of the Coca-Cola ads, likely have shaped peoples’ impressions of Christmas as much as the angels and shepherds did.

Do we realize that the birth pangs of the first Christmas were not Mary’s alone? Herod believed the Prophecy of the Savior’s birth – even if people today are more indifferent – and decreed that all baby boys in a wide perimeter of Bethlehem be slaughtered? Historians’ numbers vary wildly on the number of slaughtered sons – from triple digits to multiple thousands, mostly based on population estimates and the area stipulated in Herod’s sweeping decree – but it was a frightening time, whether mothers hid in fear or mourned. Birth pangs that accompanied the Nativity.

The haunting Coventry Carol is not a beautiful lullaby but a mothers’ lament for their slaughtered babies… what history records as the Slaughter of the Innocents.

I have made the point (my own imagining, really) that Bethlehem surely had rooms during the Census, but were told, as the Bible relates, that there were no lodgings. I have a suspicion that that couple were denied rooms because Mary, likely still unwed and at any event a young teen very pregnant, were not respectable to innkeepers. The manger, despite the fluffy, antiseptic setting in Hallmark cards, was a trough of straw from which animals ate, therefore full of bugs and spittle.

Mary and Joseph had to escape the slaughter by fleeing ignominiously to Egypt. Christians seem little concerned about that escape or the subsequent years (although Anne Rice has written interesting speculative fiction about Jesus’ boyhood there). Much in the Bible is symbolic, even down to numbers (3, 7, 40 – you must notice), certain metals and woods, and of course symbolic places: the Promised Land, Crossing Jordan, and the Land of Egypt. The world Moses left and where Jesus found escape.

And so forth. Other symbolism we might draw ourselves, without being in Bible concordances or commentaries. For instance, we might – I say we must – consider more carefully the Slaughter of the Innocents.

We can look at the symbolism to the Slaughter of Innocents today. The abortion nightmare kills babies too – in a scenario crueler than under Herod. Today, mothers sanction the murder of their own babies. Today, these deaths occur not to accompany the birth of a Savior, but to reject His saving power, His miracles, His ability to bless in the face of hopelessness. I am in no way callous to the angst of these mothers when they make tortured decisions; believe me I am specially tender, but always opt for life.

Can that view of the widespread slaughter of babies not be a learning experience from the Christmas Story when we stop, in this busy world at this busy time? To open (metaphorically speaking) the greeting card, beyond the pretty manger scene, and think of the many other implications of the Christmas story? …what really happened back then? …and what can happen in our hearts today, seriously, because of that Birth?

Look to the Bible, friend; not to greeting cards.

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The lyrics Coventry Carol were written in 1534 for the Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors Guild in the English town of Coventry. The mother’s soothing words over a sleeping baby, “Lully, Lu Lay,” are the basis of “lullaby.”

Click: Coventry Carol

Category: Christmas, Contemplation, Worship

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses

  1. Mark Dittmar says:

    Didn’t know Christmas meant Christ’s Mass. Thanks for the insight, Rick.

    Mas de Cristo!

  2. Leah Morgan says:

    Thank you for leading our thoughts beneath the beautiful surface of a holy day to contemplate even more lovely truths. I could not have named the melody of the Coventry Carol, even though it’s become so familiar and special to this season. I visited the only shop in our small town one Christmas not long after I was married. Instrumental versions of carols played in the shop, while I browsed, and were so serene and peaceful, I purchased a copy which I played every night during the Christmas season outside my children’s bedrooms. This was our custom for years. This melody is the singular sound that identifies that collection and conjured up all of those precious beginnings. I’m richer knowing its story. Thank you so much for sharing the findings of your inquisitive heart. Many blessings wished for you.

  3. Thank you; how lovely. Among many comments, I received a few criticisms of painting a dark side to Christmas, that is not there, or should not be dwelt upon. I think just the opposite (like the brutal; depictions of the brutality, the Passion of the Christ). The Incarnation was so history-changing and of universal significance (both terms understate the situations) that it is useful to try to understand Jesus’ journey past earth and into our hearts. I pray for your ministry in this coming year.

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About The Author

... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More