Because I spend part of my week in a Christian retail environment, I hear a lot from customers about their frustration trying to buy Christmas cards that contain anything even remotely resembling the Biblical Christmas story, and as I mentioned here a few days ago, the birth narrative from Matthew or Luke is just the beginning of what we, as Christ-followers, would want to convey. Fortunately, the Christian bookstores — and their online equivalents — are able to offer products that aren’t about Rudolph, or Frosty, or one-horse open sleighs.
So now that we’re into the final countdown to Christmas, I’m at a total loss to understand how it is that the customers who so decry the secularization of Christmas can handle what Christian radio is offering during the final weeks of December. Biblical narrative? Idea that Jesus came to save us? Concept of God incarnate? Some songs, yes; but in many others that are sucking up valuable Christian radio airtime, it’s just not there to be heard.
Now let me say at the outset there are two realities present here.
The first is that successful Christian music artists either feel compelled or are compelled contractually to make a Christmas album. This provides them with extra visibility, extra radio airplay and extra revenue. And I’m sure that these artists really do have deep personal memories of song of these songs from their own childhood years.
Secondly, I realize that for Christian radio stations, they are most likely to attract new listeners at this time of year with a playlist that is more recognizable to the average listener. Maybe some of those new listeners will stick around in January, and hear the Good News in a way they’ve never heard it before. One of my favorite radio ministries is 96five in Brisbane, Australia. They play a mix of Christian and secular family-friendly songs that has earned them top ratings in their market.
Despite both of these realities, I believe there is an expectancy on the part of regular listeners, who are also in many cases financial supporters that the station will take the opportunity to communicate the message of the Gospel at this time of year. Furthermore, I think the broader community feels that in many ways they own lyrics like “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” in a way that they don’t relate to “How great is our God,” and are therefore quite content to stop tuning across the radio spectrum and allow their car radios to stop at any station that’s playing the traditional carol.
I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning names of artists or song titles here, but the one which grates on me (and others) most this year is a recording of a new song called “Merry Christmas, Baby.” Sorry, but there are so many better uses for that three minutes. I realize the song goes into what we might call vertical ‘worship-inclined’ lyrics — lyrics that can be taken two ways — but that isn’t clear to listeners in the context — and title — of the larger song.
There is also an argument for the radio formula where only one song in three is a Christmas song, and listeners traveling to the mall or to family events get to hear the kind of Christian radio that is broadcast the rest of the year, instead of re-branded “Christmas” format that disappears on December 26th. That strategy, is something my Christmas card customers would support. Right now they’re just bewildered.
What’s your relationship to the whole Christian Christmas-album genre?