- The Reason Mistletoe was Invented: “2000 Miles.” Is there anything more sad or wistful than the long distance relationship? Or for that matter the distance between family and friends. I never go 2000 miles, but as I grip the wheel in the frozen dead of night making my way down route 30 en route to Ohio, I always think of this song. This is particularly the case when I have to make the interchange at Fort Wayne that marks the halfway point of my trips home. It is there I think of all the beautiful stories of life with those I miss. This song goes from longing to expectation. I think that is something that everyone who travels relates to especially when they get to that point of no return, when the expectation is so overpowering and wonderful that even the longing is beautiful. (Listen to Chrissie Hine and The Pretenders version to hear about “him” going 2000 miles then listen to Coldplay about “her” doing the same.)
- Mistletoe and the Meaning of the Season: “Darlin’ Christmas is Coming.” No one can blend the spiritual and a modest sensuality like Over The Rhine. Hidden in the message of human love in this song is the reason for the season. The best line: “snow is falling like forgiveness.” In the midst of this holy blanket of white is a couple’s longing to be with one another and the message that the world needs the recognition of a spiritual healing that began long ago and can continue with their love. It is a song for every two people who love both masses and mistletoe.
- So You Like Sufjan Stevens and Mumford and Sons: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I am not alone in liking both Sufjan and Mumford and this seems to describe the majority of my friends. Interestingly they have both covered this tune of Calvinist piety. Though it is not a Christmas song, it was on a Sufjan Steven’s Christmas album and it deserves a listen and more importantly, our reflection.
- Caustic Christmas: “Peace on Earth.” You can replace Protestant and Catholic with Sunni and Shi’a or Irish and British with Israeli and Palestinian or you can replace these with more than a thousand other examples of two peoples who care more for their identities at the expense of peace than God’s shalom. The truth is individual lives and the love we share are worth more than the “big ideas” of religion and politics. There is not an unnecessary line in the entire song, but the most touching is when U2 personalizes the Omagh bombing, “they’re reading names out on the radio, all the folks the rest of us will never get to know….Sean and Julia, Gareth, Anne, and Breda, their lives are bigger than any big idea.” I think a close second would be “no one cries like a mother cries for peace on earth.” Paul Hewson, the son of a Catholic father and Protestant mother could not help but be affected by the slaughter at Omagh which took the lives of 31 people; including two who did not yet have names. Listen carefully and think of Jesus and his will, then pray for the day our shared humanity means more than our differences.
- A Personal Favorite: “Life in a Northern Town” To end on a softer note, I include a song by Dream Academy and covered by Sugarland. Here there is only the wistful sound of hearing the Salvation Army band play in a northern English city in the sixties. I appreciate that, but for me it will always mean standing in the cold of the Marion Ohio winter during the mid eighties as a teenager with a girl who loved Bach while raising money to help children in need of gifts.