Getting sappy in my old age. Particularly around Christmas.
I’m driving on a Saturday night in Advent. An evening’s run to the bookstore while listening to some “moldy oldies” — early Stones, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel — is one of God’s tender mercies.
But it’s Christmas season. Since the day before Thanksgiving, my oldies station has fed me nothing but an effluvium of the best and worst of Christmas standards — everything from Bing Crosby and David Bowie performing a duet of “The Little Drummer Boy” to Elvis warning of a “blue, blue Christmas without you.” I like the Porky Pig version better. So I’m grouchy. And I keep the radio on only so I can wallow in it.
Then a song comes on that just blows sappy right out of the water. It’s the “Christmas Shoes,” the one with the scruffy little kid trying to buy new shoes for his mother on Christmas Eve. His mother is dying, and the kid explains that he wants the shoes for her “if momma meets Jesus tonight.”
To make certain it reaches for the lowest common denominator, a chorus of kids sings the refrain. Twice.
Awful. Just awful.
I’m sitting at a stop sign and just as the kids reach their crescendo, an SUV drives by with a tree strapped to the roof, heading home to be the centerpiece of a family’s Christmas.
Momma is dying, a family Christmas tree — it all comes together in one gooey mess, and I begin to blink away a tear.
I actually get angry. “Think football!” I shout, and stick my head out the window for a blast of just-about-freezing evening air to shock some sense into me.
Getting old. Getting sappy. But Christmas will do that to you.
In Sara Gruen’s novel “Water for Elephants,” the 93-year-old protagonist understands that his kids just don’t really listen to anything he has to say now: “My real stories are all out of date ... ancient history now. But what else do I have to offer? Nothing happens to me anymore. That’s the reality of getting old, and I guess that’s really the crux of the matter.”
The eternal lament. But it’s not true at Christmas. A Christmas story can be 80 years old and still captivate a child perched on grandpa’s lap. And the 2,000-year-old narrative of the first Christmas can startle anyone into conversion.
Christmas is when the faith can’t be pushed to the periphery, no matter how hard we shove. In fact, we open our doors and invite it right into our homes with the tree, the stockings, the cards and the gifts. No matter how much the culture tries to gloss it over into secular mush, the faith can’t be avoided at Christmas. It’s front and center, the whole reason why everything else happens.
So let Elvis be blue and let that kid keep holding onto the pair of Christmas shoes. Let the downtown lights be lit, let Santa hold court at the mall, let the halls be decked with boughs of holly. It’s all evangelization.
With apologies to the author of the Book of Daniel (3:52-90), and my buddy Mike, who first suggested it, we need a Christmas litany to remind us that:
“Christmas lights and Christmas candles, Bless the Lord.
“Shopping lines and the last-minute rush, Bless the Lord.
“Stockings and mistletoe, Bless the Lord.
“Wrapping paper and bows, Bless the Lord.
“Gifts and gift cards, Bless the Lord.
“Sappy songs and trees on SUVs, Bless the Lord.”
God uses creation for his miracles. And all that because, as the Book of Daniel states, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever” (3:89).
Have a joyous — and sappy — Christmas. And a blessed New Year.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.