Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I was listening to one of our local radio stations, WMAG, during lunch today, because they have been playing all Christmas music. (Those of you familiar with the station, fear not - I don't normally listen to it.) I was surprised to hear the announcer, in between songs, read the passage in Luke 2 that describes the appearance of the angels to the shepherds. It may be Christmas, but I wouldn't have expected a secular station to openly read Scripture on air.

Throughout the year, when this station isn't playing Christmas music, they're playing what they call "pop-rock" - though there's nothing "rock" about it. The contrast in style is itself noticeable. For instance, when I was a teenager and listened to the station (way back in the 80's), it wasn't uncommon to hear Johnny Mathis's song "Chances Are". Now I hear them playing Johnny Mathis's Christmas songs, but they wouldn't play him the rest of the year. Why the change, I wonder? It certainly isn't because there has been lots of better music made since then. Something about Christmas makes the difference in the popular imagination.

I like the fact that I can listen to Christmas music at work and hear styles that are normally ignored by secular radio the rest of the year. Not only does this include jazz styles, but also classical choral and hymn styles. It's because our Christmas practice is rooted in history, and therefore carries with it the musical styles that gave shape to our celebration. And our Christmas practice is rooted in history because Christianity isn't a religion comprised mainly of abstract concepts, but it is an historical religion. History is key to understanding God's working in the world. Of course, I doubt the average nominal Christian or pagan running a radio station could articulate that. Nonetheless, the change in music is a welcome change, and it sure beats the garbage that secular radio plays most of the time.

Perhaps the biggest contrast, however, is in the lyrics. I like Christmas time, in part, because secular stations by default find themselves proclaiming the Gospel. The rest of the year, however, they proclaim a delight in those things that stand opposed to the Law of God, most specifically in their promotion of adultery and sexual immorality. They don't seem to notice the contradiction, no doubt because they are holding to an American religion that contains elements of Christianity, but believes that God doesn't really take His own Law that seriously. Whatever way the Church goes, so goes the broader culture, and that includes the cheesiest of radio stations. So long as the churches in our community preach a watered down "gospel", so long will the Gospel be misinterpreted by those outside the Church.

And so we continue to have reason for concern. Nonetheless, the Gospel is being preached, however imperfectly. So often we complain, and rightly so, about the state of our nation or communities. But at this time of year, I find myself encouraged. We are in a bad way. But we still live in a place and time when the Gospel can be proclaimed publicly. In fact, we still have a national celebration in honor of the Saviour of the world taking on flesh and blood, no matter how many people celebrate for the wrong reason. With Paul, we can rejoice that, no matter the motivation, Christ is still proclaimed (Philippians 1:18).


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