In every Christmas story. There has to be a Grinch. An Ebenezer Scrooge. A Heat Miser. A Daffy Duck. A Mr. Potter. A King Herod.
The character who steals the joy of others. The party ends when they walk in. They are transfixed in a state of dissatisfaction. Their grumpy dial is turned up to 11.
Christmas stories need these villains because it is through them that the power of redemption and the depths of grace are most greatly conveyed.
It is through grace that George Bailey discovers how desperately the town needs him to balance the evils presented by Mr. Potter. It is redemption that allows the Grinch's heart to grow three sizes - even after robbing the citizens of Whoville in the middle of the night. The ghosts of Christmas offer Scrooge redemption; in gratitude, Scrooge extends grace to those he has wronged.
For people like me, the pessimists, the melancholic, it is easy to be the miser in our own Christmas stories. We see joy in others and impulsively take it away. No, you can't be happy. Joy is not allowed. Bah humbug.
It's not that I intentionally want to be a joy thief. It's reactionary. It just happens. Like last Friday.
It snowed and the roads were slick and unplowed. After a full day of snow and roughly 3" - 6" accumulated, the city hadn't taken any deicing measures. Or at least they had not yet reached the north end of town. Rather than drive all the way home just to turn around and drive back up to church, we just stopped at church to hang out. Sure, we were an hour and a half early, but we could hang out and watch the worship band run through sound checks. My kids love music, and I enjoy being around the new friendships I've built with members of the worship band. It was a win-win scenario.
We sat down in the first few rows for a while as the band played. They were getting ready for the last weekend before Christmas, so many of the songs being played were carols. Christian was pretending to be asleep to annoy his sister, but the band started playing a song he knew. He shot upright and started singing along.
And off key.
Genetics is a cruel master. And when it comes to Christian's singing ability, he inherited it from me. In other words, he's tone deaf. But like me, he loves to sing and he emphasises the noise in make a joyful noise.
In that moment, I tried to hush him. I used the reasoning that the band was practicing and they needed to hear themselves so that they could get their parts right. Realistically, I was trying to protect him from the path I traveled. When I was younger, I was encouraged to sing. I had special musical numbers during Sunday evening services. I would sing in the Christmas pageants. I would enter talent competitions. But it wasn't until I was an adult before someone told me that I couldn't sing. Up until then, I thought I had a good voice. Aside from jokes and teasing from my peers, I had no reason to believe otherwise. If I had a bad singing voice, why would they let me sing in front of church? If I had a bad singing voice, why would people tell me I did a good job? If this, why that?
I harbor memories of feeling gross embarrassment over the realization that I was singing loudly and off key all the time. And that it annoyed people. That that it sounded horrible to everyone and anyone that complimented me were being polite.
So I robbed Christian of his joy. I tried to muffle his exuberance. I tried to silence his celebration. Dang. That might be one of the worst things I've ever done to him. To tell him that I don't care if he's happy or if he's enjoying himself. To tell him that it doesn't matter and he needs to stop.
This weekend, I had a couple of people point out the error of my ways.
The first voice of reason was a member of the worship team that was on stage singing when Christian decided to join in. She told me that she found the whole thing to be adorable. She said she loved it when he started singing. She didn't care that he was out of tune. All she noticed was the unashamed expression of joy.
"When he did that," she told me, "your son stole my heart."
Impressive. And enough for me to feel a little guilty for trying to hush him.
Then, Sunday afternoon, I was walking through the kids' area at church looking for music stands. Our children's pastor stopped me and told me that he loves having Christian in kids' church. Pastor told me that the best part was worship time. Doesn't matter if it was Christmas music or regular praise and worship, he said that Christian will sing along as loudly as possible. The pastor also said that he points out Christian to the volunteers and staff as an example of what it means to worship. He knows that Christian's voice isn't great. He knows that Christian will be off tune. But the other thing that the pastor knows is that Christian will pour his whole heart into it. And that's what worship is really about.
So I tried to pass those stories along to my son. I told him that I heard lots of good things about him and that I was pleased with who he is and what he does.
He stopped me before I could finish. "But Dad," he said, "I thought you told me that they didn't want to hear me sing."
"I was wrong." I said.
And I was wrong. Sure, his voice will never be his path to fame. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that he loves expressing his joy through singing. No shame. No reservations. Just singing.
And off key.
Yet filled with joy.
Because that's who he is. And thanks to the reason churches celebrate Christmas, he has great reason to be joyful. Shame on me for trying to take that away.