December 10. The Christmas party begins innocently (and a few days before the arrival of the omicron variant puts an end to Christmas parties). Mulled wine simmers on the stove. Cinnamon sticks bob in the pot. One table is laid with gorgonzola and goat cheese, dishes of olives and smoked salmon spread. The other is for sweets: chocolate crinkles, raspberry-lemon linzers, and hastily iced gingerbread men. Nothing objectionable about any of it! Friends and acquaintances begin to arrive, wearing sweaters and sparkly earrings. All is festive. All is bright.
But then, something changes. Two guitars come out, and assorted percussion—a tambourine, an egg shaker, a stick of jingle bells. Guests grab homemade books of sheet music, smudging powdered sugar on the red-paper covers. Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. The lyrics are desperate. Suddenly, the party changes. Out of our mouths come not niceties, but declarations. Fall on your knees! Glory to the newborn King!
Everyone goes along with it, to varying degrees. Some sing loudly, barely glancing at the words. Others drink their hot wine and shuffle their feet. But nobody leaves in protest, in spite of the radical words we’re singing, their uncouth mentions of sin and salvation. One guest requests “Silent Night”—that is, if it isn’t too slow, she says. Jesus, Lord at thy birth! Someone else asks for “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Come adore on bended knee. A guest standing near her nods approvingly. “A classic,” he says.
We insult the Grinch, and wish each other “Feliz Navidad.” But we also say His law is love and His gospel is peace. We proclaim joy to the world, because the Lord has come. I wonder what our neighbors think. Probably not too much. This music is just in the air this time of year, flickering in the cold, like so many candles.