The Gospel in Unexpected Places: "White Christmas"
A long time ago on a blogosphere far, far away my older brother undertook to write a series of blog posts with the theme and title "The Gospel in Unexpected Places" in which he explores the (sometimes subconscious) gospel message found even in "secular" Christmas traditions. He turned out two such pieces, one on It's a Wonderful Life and the other on "Good King Wenceslas" (links provided at the end).
As the Christmas season is upon us, I have decided to resurrect this idea and examine a few traditions myself. I would also like to extend the idea of "the Gospel in Unexpected Places" beyond this time of year. Romans 1 tells us that the natural creation declares the existence of God to man, leaving him without excuse. Art mimics creation, so it stands to reason that art will contain (even if unintended) homages to the original Creator.
Let me make a disclaimer though. This is not a "Biblical Truths in Star Wars" or "A Theology of Designated Survivor" thing. While I believe there are certainly Biblical concepts woven into works like Star Wars, I don't condone employing these as missional tools. If you want to bring people to Christ, you share the Gospel, from the revealed Word of Yahveh. But in a non evangelistic setting, with an eye toward seeking deeper meanings in art, I heartily endorse this concept.
So, let the fun begin!
The Gospel in Unexpected Places: "White Christmas"
The form our subjects of study may take include songs. An undeniable signal that the Christmas season has come upon is is the iconic sound of 24/7 Christmas music stations. In my hometown of Huntsville, there is only one Christmas station- "Lite 96.9"- unless you count BBN (which I typically don't listen to). This guarantees that pretty much every establishment is playing this station (unless they have their own playlist or canned music). There are many classics that float through the stereo of my Nissan multiple times as I am and about driving. One of those is "White Christmas". Sometimes DJ's select atrocious covers instead of Bing Crosby's performance but when you hear that warbling baritone voice begin to sing, "I'm...dreaming....of a whi-----te...Christmas...." you know that Christmas has truly arrived.
By way of background, Irving Berling composed "White Christmas" for the 1942 movie "Holiday Inn" (which is substantially better than the movie "White Christmas") starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds. In the movie, an easy-going entertainer named Jim Hardy (Bing) tries running a club that only opens on Holidays, allowing Bing/Jim to take off the other days. The conflict occurs when he finds gold in undiscovered talent Linda Mason (Reynolds), but his old partner Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) is determined to steal her away to be his new dancing partner and (eventually) bride. Jim fights back and the result is a movie full of old fashioned charm and fun.
The song is first sung when Jim pitches the idea of "Holiday Inn" to Linda and performs it for her with just a piano and the tinkling sound effect produced by his pipe on the bells dangling from the Christmas tree. It's a sappy but sweet introduction to their eventual romance and to a song that has etched its place in Christmas sounds. One of the best lines from Crosby precedes "White Christmas" and sets the tone:
Linda Mason: My father was a lot like you, just a man with a family. Never amounted to much, didn't care. But as long as he was alive, we always had plenty to eat and clothes to keep us warm.
Jim Hardy: Were you happy?
Linda Mason: Yes.
Jim Hardy: Then your father was a very successful man.
White Christmas is fundamentally a song of nostalgia and Jim Hardy is man who in seeking a simple but happy life induces nostalgia in Linda and everyone watching. In the end of the movie (SPOLIER!), Linda rejects the lure of Hollywood and chooses instead to marry her simple but loving Jim when he surprise her on the set of a movie she is in (incidentally, a movie about a guy who starts a club called "Holiday Inn"...yeah it's confusing- just watch the movie, okay?) as she performs "White Christmas." In that moment, she realizes what she has truly wanted all along, and it isn't the lights and glamour of Hollywood.
Nostalgia, as one of my RBC professor's is fond of saying, is ultimately a longing for Eden. I think we feel this longing in White Christmas. The singer pines for a more peaceful, happier time when Christmas is as it ought to be (in his mind). A Christmas without snow feels somehow broken, lacking and unsatisfying. We all have those Yuletide associations that, if we don't have them come December, it leaves a melancholy flavor in our gingerbread and an emptiness in our hot chocolate. Christmas is more than our memories and traditions, but we are human and our memories and traditions affect us.
The gospel reminds that while all might not be right with the world in our eyes, God has wrought for us redemption through the atoning death of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. He is restoring what was lost. Christmas is at the beginning of this grandest of all coups. So as we revisit Christmas memories and sip our wassail, give thanks and remember that to God our heavenly Father the whiteness or lack thereof in our Christmases does not matter one farthing, for our sins, though red as scarlet, are now white as snow. And that, is the real "White Christmas".