Disheveled Theologian: The music of the season

O'Donnell Gretchen

I am one of those people — I’m not ashamed to admit it — who starts listening to Christmas music in October. I can’t help myself. I adore Christmas carols, and I want to start listening as soon as I can!

I am, however, snobbish about my Christmas music. I like snowmen and red-nosed reindeer just fine, but they’re not the heart of Christmas. They’re not what I get excited about, come October, when the nights get cold and the dark settles down earlier each night and Christmas beckons with all its warmth and grace.

Lest you think I’m a total Grinch, I do enjoy "Jingle Bells" or "Deck the Halls" just as much as the next person. And "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is a great song, especially the verse about the figgy pudding and the demanding carolers who “won’t go until we get some." Every year at the school Christmas program when I was a kid, that was always the last song we sang. As soon as that song was done, Santa himself would arrive. The final notes still hung in the air, and you could feel the excitement. Santa was coming!

The jolly elf would enter the gym, huge red bag flung over his shoulder, loud “ho, ho, ho’s” ringing out across the room. He had something for everyone. What would it be?!

It was always the same thing. Year after year after year. And as exciting as it was to receive a gift from Santa, I wised up pretty quickly and almost hoped he’d miss me in the crowd. But no, every year he found me, and every year he handed me a plastic sandwich bag filled with ribbon candy, two or three chocolate-covered cherries, and an orange, sticky with chocolate and sugar.


To this day I loathe chocolate covered cherries and ribbon candy, and I’m not too hot on peeling oranges, either.

Do I sound ungrateful? Perhaps I was. I think, worse than the sticky orange and questionable candy, was the fact that the orderly concert slipped in chaos so quickly that it overwhelmed me. I couldn’t find my parents. Kids were rushing around. I was squashed and squeezed and skeptical about this red-clad man who sounded suspiciously like someone I knew, though I could never figure it out. I had to ride home in the back seat of our old station wagon, holding the bag of things I didn’t want and even if I didn’t reach into it, somehow I always got sticky.

Much better was when we went Christmas caroling with my parents and a few of their friends. We sang the carols that we sang at church. Those are the songs I love. We’d bundle up and drive all around the island to serenade a few families as the evening progressed. We’d park a little way away from their homes, sneak up, and burst into song at their front door. Sometimes they’d offer us cocoa. Sometimes they’d have tears in their eyes. Sometimes they’d join our merry gang and go with us to the next home. And always, always, they’d smile and sing along and the light from their open front doors and the joy on their faces would envelop us like sunshine. Like the light of God’s love.

Like Jesus had come down, found home in our hearts, and settled in for the long haul. He didn’t offer sticky oranges. He offered forgiveness. He offered acceptance. He offered love. In this dark world we live in, there is no better gift to receive.

“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n! / So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n. / No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, / where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.” O Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 3

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is .

Related Topics: FAITH
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