I have always thought that the Vince Guaraldi song “Christmas Time Is Here,” from A Charlie Brown Christmas is the among most melancholy holiday songs written. There are sad songs like Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and the Carpenter’s “Merry Christmas Darling,” both about absent lovers. But Lee Mendelson’s words for “Christmas Time Is Here” are joyful, and almost a limerick:
Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all
That children call
Their favorite time of year….
You would expect these words to have a quick, upbeat score. But that isn’t what Guaraldi wrote. He took it slow and almost in minor key. It is a kind of disconnect.
Yet, in pondering this, I was struck by how appropriate this combination of happy lyrics and melancholy music is for Christmas. Both Christmas stories in the Bible combine joy and melancholy into a whole story about the human situation.
Luke tells about the Roman Empire imposing its will on a poor couple from Nazareth who are required to travel dozens of miles to get to Bethlehem. Arriving in town, Mary and Joseph discover there is no room in the inn. When their baby comes, a manger is all they have for a cradle. That is melancholy! Yet, the angels sing for joy and the shepherds go away amazed. A joyful response to the melancholy prelude.
Matthew tells of Magi coming to worship a newborn King of the Jews. They bring exotic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. That is joyful! Yet, wicked Herod sends troops to destroy the child, forcing Joseph and Mary to flee to distant Egypt until safety returns. Even then, the Holy Family must settle in Nazareth for fear of Herod’s son on the throne. A melancholy response to a joyful prelude.
The human situation is a series of highs and lows. And Christmas reminds us that God is with us in the peaks and valleys of life. The tiny baby born between the evils of a Roman census and a murderous tyrant is the source of angels’ songs, shepherds’ wonder and Magi’s worship.
So, too, at the other end of Jesus’ life. The passion of the crucifixion becomes the joy of the empty tomb.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8, excerpts)
Melancholy or joyous; melancholy and joyous. May the Spirit of Christmas be with you on all your life’s journeys.
Peace and Merry Christmas,