Today I’m going to hijack the most unlikely of songs to become a Christmas song. I mean, why not? Everyone else does it. Yesterday I was listening to one of my Christmas playlists and the song “Seasons of Love” (from the bleak musical, “Rent”, and which has nothing to do with Christmas) popped up, sung by Idina Menzel (who is Jewish). Although the “religious” side of me is troubled by the commercial aspect surrounding this “holy day” (the origination of the word “holiday”), I try not to be “that guy”. And also, throughout history, God has used the most unlikely of people–some of whom did not even know God was using them–to advance His Story (a convenient respelling of “history”). So if someone who does not believe in Jesus or celebrate his birth sings a non-Christmas song beautifully and puts it on her Christmas album, I need to remind myself not to judge that. Who am I to assume that God is not planning to use that to reach someone at just the point in their life when they need it? Even though neither the singer nor the songwriter may have intended it for that purpose, that is such a small obstacle for God. He can use that–or anything–to reach someone, to enable His Light to break into their darkness. In fact, it’s entirely possible that nothing else would reach that person at that moment in their life when they most need it. How many non-believers listen to Christian music? Or listen to Christmas songs with the birth of our Saviour in mind?
So with that background and context in mind, let me introduce you to the newest non-Christian Christmas carol: “One of Us“, written by Eric Bazilian and sung by Joan Osborne on her debut album in 1995. No, not the Abba version <here I deleted a rather funny editorial comment about Abba because probably not everybody would have thought it was as funny as I did, and my wife might have have thrown a shoe at me>.
In this version of the song, the singer and songwriter challenge us, the listener, with the question:
I have enjoyed this song since it came out (yes, I am that old…and then some!). Since that time, I have wondered about the background of the song. Was it intended to be religious? Was it an acknowledgment of God? A tip of the hat to the struggle we all must face, grappling with questions of truth, the meaning of our existence, etc.? It has some very compelling lyrics that have gotten my wheels spinning over the years:
Eric Bazilian, “One of Us”, Lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc., borrowed from Lyrics.com
If God has a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If God had a face, what would it look like?Eric Bazilian, “One of Us”, Lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc., borrowed from Lyrics.com
And would you want to see if seeing meant
That you would have to believe in things like heaven
And in Jesus and the saints, and all the prophets?
So, here’s the thing, and the reason why I’m declaring this an unlikely and unintentional Christmas song: Christmas is a time to celebrate the fact that God became one of us. God does have a name: Jesus. God does have a face: this baby in a manger. This baby, crying and pooping his pants, so utterly dependent on his human parents for survival. This baby, who grew up to be a slob like one of us. And yes, seeing the face of Jesus forces you to decide between Light and darkness, between Truth and deception, between accepting that Jesus was and is who he says he is or believing Satan’s lie that Jesus was just a great moral teacher.
Here’s God’s version of declaring that He is one of us, which ends up in some actual Christmas songs:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means God with us).Matthew 1:23, referring to the prophesy from Isaiah 7:14 (NIV), borrowed from YouVersion
As I was doing some background research into this song and the lyrics, in one place I found some reader comments about the analysis of the lyrics. As you would expect these days and in this culture, it didn’t take long for the exchange to turn ugly. One follower of Christ commented that the song somehow resonates with his faith, which of course led to a long string of responses full of vitriol and intellectual snobbery along the lines of, “How could you possibly make the connection between your (misplaced, foolish) faith and this song when the article clearly states that the songwriter is not religious and had no religious intent when he wrote the song?
I’ll point out again that God does not need for something to have been done for His glory in order for Him to hijack it and use it for His purposes. In the whole strange story of Moses and Pharaoh and the 10 plagues told in the book of Exodus, for example, God was working through Pharaoh to achieve His purposes–establishing a foundational faith in Himself throughout His chosen people–even though Pharoah did not know he was being used by God, nor would he have willingly done so if he had known.
So, even though neither Eric Bazillian nor Joan Osborne intended for “One of Us” to be a religious song (let alone now a Christmas song!), it is entirely possible that God moved in and through them to create a work of art that would challenge people to think about Him. What if God really was one of us? Wait, maybe he was…?
And now here we are, my friends. Christmas is almost here, a time the world has been eagerly anticipating. A time to gather with loved ones. A time to celebrate with gifts. A time in which many people allow the Light to break into their darkness, even if only for a day or two. A time of occasional glimpses into what the world could look like if everyone allowed love and peace and joy and hope to fill their hearts in place of hatred and judgment and bitterness and intellectual snobbery.
This is why so many people love Christmas, even if they don’t yet love Christ. And that’s OK. Even if they see all these other trappings as central to Christmas and miss the real point, the truth is that God is one of us, and that’s what matters. Through this baby, in the most unlikely invasion story in the history of human conflict, God has entered into our mess, the mess we have made, to show us how much he loves us. To help us clean it up, not shake his head in disappointment or wag his finger in admonishment.
God is here! He came to be one of us, to save us, and show us the way to usher in the new heaven and the new earth: to love Him, and to love others the way He has loved us. This is the Christmas story.