“All I Really Want for Christmas” December 22, 2019
“All I Really Want for Christmas”
Isaiah 7:10-16/ Romans 1:1-7
Of all the Christmas songs that have ever been written, few are as popular as the one we know of as “The Christmas Song,” also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or “Merry Christmas to You.” It was written in 1945 by the singer Mell Torme, who is well known, and a man named Bob Wells, who is not so well known. Now, it may seem a little weird to even bring this up – here, in a church service, and only a few days before we celebrate the birth of our Lord and savior; the day that we acknowledge Emmanuel, God with us; the day that we rejoice in the birth of a child that changed the world. But I do mention it because I’m betting there isn’t a soul here that doesn’t know the song fairly well – most you know it by heart. Even though there is no mention of Joseph and Mary or shepherds, angels, or wise men, there’s something about it that captures the spirit of this season that we call Christmas. And I mention it because my somewhat warped sense of irony wants you to know that “The Christmas Song” was never meant to be a song about Christmas at all. In fact, it was never meant to be a song in the first place. Mel Torme tells it this way: “I saw a spiral pad on (Wells’) piano with four lines written in pencil. They started ‘Chestnuts roasting…, Jack Frost nipping…, Yuletide carols…, and folks dressed up like Eskimos.” That was it. Now it was a hot, scorching day and air conditioning did not exist, and so it was that when Torme asked Mr. Wells what these scribblings were all about, he told him that he was trying to “stay cool by thinking cool.” He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off.” And that was it. They weren’t meant to be song lyrics at all, but Mr. Torme had other ideas and 40 minutes later the song was written. The rest is, as they say, history. I love stories like this. But here’s the kicker: the ultimate irony – at least for me – lies in the fact that “The Christmas Song,” one of the greatest of them all, was, in fact, written by two Jewish men: Melvin Howard Torme and Bob Wells, whose real name was Robert Levinson.
Now, if you’re wondering what this has to do with anything on this, the last Sunday before Christmas day, it has everything to do with it. It has to do with the way that God inspires us in the most unlikely of ways. He softens our hearts and opens our eyes to see things that we normally would never give a second glance. And when that happens, incredible things come to pass.
The gospel text for the 4th Sunday of Advent is usually about Mary, the mother of God. It is the Sunday of love, after all. But this year, our study in Matthew guides us through the Christ birth story from the eyes of Joseph. Matthew is brief and to the point, starting off by stating (Mat 1:18) The birth of Jesus took place like this. However, the story that follows is full of holes – at least for those of us who know the Christmas story well. There are no shepherds, no angels, no census, and no manger scenes.
Matthew does tell of the wise men who arrive from the east, but by and large, Matthew speaks of the prophets and he speaks of trust; he speaks of prophecies being fulfilled and, through Joseph, he speaks to us of the wondrous ways in which he will work if we open up and let him.
I know it’s been said before, but imagine being in Joseph’s shoes. Imagine being recently married, only to discover that your wife is a carrying a child that is not your own. In our time, this can be devastating. In biblical times, it was a death sentence. Yet Matthew writes (vs.19) Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. The rest of the story, we all know well. As Joseph is trying to figure out how best to get out of this awkward situation without hurting anyone, an angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream that “the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And Joseph does just that. He takes Mary as his wife and raises this child as if it were his own…but we know this already. It is part of the Christmas story. My question is, “What would it be like to have that kind of trust?” or better yet, “What inspires that kind of trust?” Is it the fear of the Lord? Is it the promise of salvation, of redemption, of mercy? Is it the righteousness of our God; the fact that he is solid, reliable, steadfast? I suppose it’s all of those things, but for my way of thinking the best way to establish a trust that is real, that is lasting, that is true is through love. How could Joseph have such trust in this moment of total chaos? It’s simple, really: once he was made to understand that he was going to be a part of the greatest expression of love the world has ever known…well, what could he do? What could he say except, “This is awesome. How can I help?” The man who was to be the earthly father of the son of God was off to a good start – he was blessed to experience the Father’s love first hand.
So this is my Christmas wish. This is all I really want for Christmas: that we as the church – we as the body of Christ – can come to trust in the raw, unvarnished power of God’s love. That is the truth, after all, of why we come together to worship and celebrate the birth of a little baby – the incredible demonstration of God’s love. And maybe, just maybe, we just might be silly enough to trust, maybe we that the love of God is what makes the world go round. And with that trust maybe we might find ourselves throwing some light into this dark world. Who knows? Who knows but that the little random reminders of the love of God we leave laying around might get picked up. And who knows that like some random words on a spiral notebook – song lyrics that weren’t meant to be lyrics – who knows that they might get picked up and inspire the world; inspire the world to the glory of the Father’s love.
Amen & Shalom