Tis the season when Christians collectively bemoan the commercialization of the holy day, reminding ourselves of the importance of turning away from the retail rat race and putting Christ back into Christmas. Yesterday, though, while tuning one ear to the Christmas muzak playing in one of my favorite coffee establishments (as it has been playing incessantly for a month now, in every part of the public square) it occurred to me that this commercialization is actually putting Christ and Christianity right smack into everyone’s face . . . or ears, anyway. It’s stealth evangelization, carried out not by missionaries but by loudspeakers.
What other effort or initiative undertaken by any denomination gets Christianity into the subconscious of so many people? Overtly religious Christmas carols make up at least half of the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time playlist; no wall of separation here! Some of the most familiar of these carols combine lyrics that offer a veritable summa theologica with melodies impossible to eradicate from memory. Want an answer to Anselm’s Cur Deus homo (“Why did God become human?”)? Listen to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Risen with healing in his wings,
Light and life to all he brings . . .
That same carol neatly tackles Original Sin and its cure (“Rise, the Woman’s conquering Seed, Bruise in us the Serpent’s head. Adam’s likeness now efface: Stamp Thine image in its place; Second Adam, from above, Reinstate us in thy love”) and the question of Christ’s true nature that troubled empires (“Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord; Late in time behold him come, Offspring of the Virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with man to dwell; Jesus, our Emmanuel“). This serious theology comes swaddled in references to what Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby, in “Talladega Nights,” astutely argues is everybody’s favorite image of God: the Christmas Jesus. (This clip has been sanitized for family viewing.)