(Here’s a previous column reborn for this season.  I thought you might like it!)

Like Sam, my 14, soon to be 15-year-old, I feel ‘a flutter in my stomach’ at Christmas time. He and I love it, like everyone in our family. However, our culture is starting Christmas festivities earlier every year. Not only the ads and shopping, but even the music seems to bombard us sometime around, say, Labor Day.

The first Christmas songs I heard this year echoed through the airwaves sometime the first week of November. I sympathize with the folks who get weary of them. With all due respect to Brenda Lee, ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree’ just goes straight to the spine after about the fiftieth time you hear it each season. ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ makes you break out in hives after ten repetitions. And for all their charm as characters, even ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ can wear on the nerves.

If I had to work in a retail store and hear them all day, every day for over one month, I’d probably go a little Christmas nuts. Retail workers should be allowed to use their MP-3 players and i-Pods just to keep from going crazy during the mad rush of shoppers.

However, I think we’re missing something important. You see, what we mostly hear are Christmas songs. But what we really need to hear are Christmas Carols. The Christmas Carols get less play. They’re less up-beat, at least on the surface. You’ll only hear one after every 10 or 15 versions of ‘Blue Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad.’ That’s not based on any research, by the way, but on my own anecdotal experiences of the last two weeks.

Christmas Songs encourage us to shop and buy, to be festive and have parties. Christmas Carols, on the other hand, teach us some theology. They remind us of what Christmas represents. The give us something deeper than ribbons, gifts, bows or snow. The Christmas Carols do not require geography or weather conditions to be relevant.

I realized this one day when I was listening to ‘O Holy Night.’ The second verse goes ‘Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.’ That’s powerful stuff, especially in a world in which slavery is now more common than ever in history. And it tells us something about the Christ child, the Christ man.

In the third verse of ‘Do you hear what I hear,’ is this line: ‘Said the king to the people everywhere, listen to what I say, pray for peace people, everywhere.’ Jesus inspires kings and commoners alike. O Little Town of Bethlehem reminds us of the desire of Christians down the years: ‘O Holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.’

The great carol ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ tells the Christmas hope: ‘And at last our eyes shall see Him, through His own redeeming love; for that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heaven above, and He leads his children on to that place where He has gone.’

The old writers of carols had great gifts. They could summarize our beliefs in a stanza. The last verse of ‘The First Noel,’ says: ‘Then let us all with one accord, sing praises to our Heavenly Lord, that hath made heaven and earth of naught, and with His blood mankind hath bought. Noel, noel, noel, noel, born is the King of Israel.’ And if we need a simple reminder of grace, it lies in ‘Silent Night,’ fourth verse: ‘Silent Night, Holy Night, Son of God, Love’s pure light. Radiant beams from They holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth.’

But if you need to be delivered from jingling bells, sleigh rides, elves, snow and all the superficial things that have trapped our souls in commercialism which should be free from pain and fear, listen to these simple words, as old as the 12th century: ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here, until the son of God appear.’

Christmas songs are fun, in small doses. They can come in toxic doses, however, and drive us to really dislike the season. But Christmas carols, when we listen closely, can deliver our hearts to higher places and brighter dreams than even dear old Brenda Lee.

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