posted on December 11
I'm dreaming of a White Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the treetops glisten
And Children Listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Withev'ry Christmas card I write: "May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white."
Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" is the biggest-selling pop song of all-time, with over 125 million copies sold worldwide. A hit in the winter of 1942 thanks in part to Bing Crosby's movie Holiday Inn, it won the Oscar for Best Song. Bing's version is classic, though dozens have made it their own. "White Christmas" gave the United States, in the thralls of WWII, a comforting image of snowfall, an idealized New England, home and family. It became the national anthem for Christmas, those who pine for a simpler time, and GI's who wanted to be home. So ubiquitous a piece of Americana, it was used as the secret signal telling American soldiers to evacuate Saigon during the Vietnam War 30 years later.
Unlike most Christmas songs, "White Christmas" has an underlying melancholy. It dreams of Christmas past. Yet it fit its historical moment perfectly. A recent Jewish immigrant, Berlin's music exemplified some of the unique contributions of Jews in America: Pop music, Vaudeville, Broadway and "Tin Pan Alley" (Tin Pan Alley refers to West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Flower District of Manhattan; where many influential music publishers and songwriters lived in the early 20th century.). The need for, and allure of assimilation, striving for upward mobility, and acceptance are unspoken themes in "White Christmas" and much of Berlin's music.
In the background as well are other contexts. "White Christmas" was written pre-civil rights and pre-Stonewall. Before the Vietnam War exposed the government's willingness to lie for imperial and profit motives; and inspired a generation to protest for peace. Its plaintive cry for a white Christmas asks us to ignore income inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, and segregation in favor of a mythically homogenous and classless America.
In our Gospel reading, John the Baptist asks us instead to face reality (Luke 3:7-14, NRSV):
Luke 3:7 "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 3:8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 3:9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." 3:10 And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" 3:11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." 3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 3:13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." 3:14 Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
With these words, John preached "Good News", prepared the people for repentance and suggested one would come who would baptize not just with water but with Holy Spirit fire. Holy Spirit fire burns away the dross of injustice, inequality, division and isolation in favor of another way, another truth and another life. A life we are called to live not just at Christmas time, but to keep alive in our hearts all year long. May it be so for all who seek justice! Join your fellow justice seekers in making a gift to MFSA this advent season.
Rev. Joshua Steward
MFSA Northcentral Jurisdiction Rep
Board of Directors/Program Council
The information about "White Christmas" and the inspiration for this reflection can be found in the book White Christmas: The Story Of An American Song by Jody Rosen.