Friday night, I attended the Singing Christmas Tree spectacular event at First Baptist Orlando on Friday night, as part of a Christmas outing for work. The sheer size of First Baptist always overwhelms me whenever I walk inside its doors. I’d gone there for various events and concerts over the years, the most recent being the Hillsong Conference a year ago when they came to Orlando.
The title of the program (Singing Christmas Tree? Really?) already had me skeptical of this presentation. But when the Ryan Seacrest lookalike who doubled for the emcee took the stage and start belting out the “Imagination” song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I felt my cynical bone already starting to throb. Then came the two dozen full-grown Raggedy Anns barreling down the balcony steps, spilling onto the church floor in a sort of garish, manic parade. That didn’t help any. They were quickly joined by an army of dancing bears, ballerinas, cowboys (think Woody from Toy Story) and toy soldiers that marched stiffly (but in tempo).
Did I mention the breakdancing elves?
Okay, so they weren’t break-dancing. But they definitely recalled late ’90s boy band moves. (Actually, that part was pretty entertaining I will admit).
I think the whole event was meant to elicit a sense of wonder and imagination, and it did.
I wondered who had imagined this fiasco up.
When I heard Ryan Seacrest-Look-Alike croon a melancholy tune that wrestled with the question, “If Christmas never came,” that was the last straw. Mostly because the answer was “There’d be no candy canes to lick.” And I am not even joking.
Inevitably, a blog entry began to form in my mind. Full of ranting and raving.
But since I’ve had a week to process and moderate, I realized that I could poke fun at something I personally found disconcerting, but there was a separate issue at work.
First, I can’t fault the technical excellence and execution. Especially from a musician’s standpoint. The choreography was good, the 40-piece orchestra was top notch, the solo violinist was stellar, the singing was incredible. Also, the second half turned more traditional with interesting choral and orchestral arrangements of well-worn but beloved Christmas tunes. THAT lifted the evening off the ground for me. And by the end, the presentation really seemed to have found its soul. The final numbers were actually quite moving in its portrayal of a more global acknowledgment of Christ’s birth, rather than the American version of the holiday.
But I think the reason I reacted so strongly against the program (or at least the first half of it… and it really DID improve with the second half) was how it so readily appropriate Western assumptions about Christmas. This extremely seeker-sensitive program assumed that the audience assumes that the holiday is primarily about presents and candy and decorations.
It’s as if they’re using American Christmas culture to “sell” Jesus, using fluff and candy canes as the selling point. I get frustrated when churches use programs and spinning wheels and pizzazz to market Jesus, as if He needed an extra push. As if His very existence and presence on earth weren’t compelling enough.
The gravity of Christmas is sometimes lost on us. And I certainly put myself first in line among the apathetic. The One who spins universes in His hand and breathes star fire confined Himself to the weak, helpless frail frame of mortal humanity.
And we get excited about hanging garlands.
The story of Jesus and Joseph and Mary has been retold so many times onstage and onscreen, that the weight of the moment sometimes so harmless and serene. It all seems so innocuous, doesn’t it? The cooing doves, the cows standing over the baby Jesus like silent sentinels, the star above the stable. A silent night.
But as the Nativity scene played out onstage Friday night, for some reason, a radically different image began to form in my mind and imagination. I remembered Revelation 11, in which a dragon chases a woman bearing a child across the wilderness, relentlessly hunting him down, while an angelic army, led by Michael battles it out for the souls of the earth. Although there are differing interpretations on what Revelation 11 actually means, one theory is that THIS is the true Christmas story playing out in the supernatural realm. An epic battle for the destiny of mankind was being fought that night.
I know this blog entry makes me seem like the Grinch–and I tend not to get caught up in the “holiday spirit” until a couple weeks into December (unlike my sister who starts busting out Christmas music in September). So I’m about due to start getting into the swing of things. I probably should start decorating;)
Seriously though, if anything, the evening made me appreciate even more the extreme depth and gravity that the meaning of Christmas encompasses.
So I guess I can thank the breakdancing elves for that;)