Revisiting Christmas: John Lennon was right
December 24, 2010
By Chuck Currie
This year, more than most, it isn't "Joy to the World" ringing in my
ears but John Lennon's "Happy X-mas (War is Over)."
"So this is Christmas, and what have we done?" asked the one-time
Beatle in his prophetic tune.
Christmas has become so commercialized that its true meaning, as
Charlie Brown would one day lament to Linus van Pelt, is obscured.
Christmas isn't about shopping and parties. You'd never know that,
however, from the hours of television and radio advertising that
drown out the real meaning of this remarkable day.
In Charlie Brown's Christmas special, that classic TV program (best
watched commercial free), Charlie Brown yells out in frustration:
"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" "Sure,"
replies Linus. "I can tell you."
Linus then relates the story of the birth of Jesus as told in the
Gospel of Luke. The birth of Mary's child is announced by an angel
who tells shepherds living in the field:
"'Do not be afraid; for see -- I am bringing you good news of great
joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David
a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands
of cloth and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the
angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace ..."
My contention has been and still is that even in the midst of war,
deep global poverty and environmental chaos caused by humanity, the
message of the Prince of Peace is as relevant today as it was over
2,000 years ago.
What happened on the day Jesus was born? God broke through into the
world again -- but this time not with the force of the Big Bang or
some other cosmic event -- no, this time it was with something even
more powerful: the miracle of the birth of a child filled with
promise and hope.
Both that miracle and the message that this child, born homeless and
poor, brings again and again is what Christmas is about.
And yet, I wonder, like Lennon, what have we done in response to such
a gift? The gift itself is one of grace and thus no response is
required. The gift is freely given. Yet, at the same time, the gift
is also a summons -- a call to action.
When Jesus was asked why he was here he replied (echoing the Hebrew
prophets): "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has
anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to
proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Jesus taught his disciples and all who would listen that we are
tasked with ushering in the Kingdom of God, a time where justice and
But what have we done? Some 2,000 years later, the world is in pretty
lousy shape. We even have the power to destroy God's creation through
war or as the result of terrible environmental stewardship.
People are allowed to live homeless and poor, children starve, many
go without even basic health care, and our world is fraught with
divisions over race, religion, sexual orientation and, of course,
"Do not be afraid," says the angel. Those born in the time of Jesus
also knew about war and hunger and social divisions. Jesus offered a
vision of a time when all that would end, a time when "the wolf shall
live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf
and the lion and the fatling together," a time when all humanity
would live in divine harmony with all creation, as it was meant to be
in the beginning.
"War is over, if you want it," goes the refrain to Lennon's holiday
offering. The singer was right. And poverty, hunger and division are
over, too, if we can accept the gift given to us on the first
Christmas, and abide by the message it imparted of extravagant love
and radical justice.
We no longer have to be afraid. The answer has been here all along.
There is cause to pick up a hymnal and sing "Joy to the World," after all.
Reexamining John Lennon's "So This Is Christmas (War Is Over)"
By Matthew Rothschild,
December 25, 2010
I love John Lennon, and I miss his musical and political presence
even after 30 years.
I can't help but thinking the world would be a better place were he still here.
We get to listen to Lennon on commercial radio a lot this time of
year, especially "So This Is Christmas (War Is Over)."
It's a song I've long been ambivalent about.
I admire his affirmation of equality, as he expresses good wishes for
"the old and the young…for weak and for strong, for rich and the poor
ones…for black and for white, for yellow and red ones."
I admire his plea for reconciliation: "Let's stop all the fight."
I admire his echo of FDR, as Lennon asks for a year "without any fear."
And I admire his starkness: "The world is so wrong."
But I've always been troubled, oddly, by the "war is over" chorus,
not because I disagree with his peaceful sentiments but because I
distrust the simplistic conclusion that war can be over "if we want it."
This is not an idle question as the United States has 100,000 troops
fighting in Afghanistan in a war that's dragged on more than nine years now.
Already, a majority of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan.
In a Washington Post/ABC News poll earlier this month, Americans by a
whopping 60%-34% margin said the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting.
So wanting a war to be over is not enough, not nearly enough, to end a war.
Because "the war party," as Fighting Bob La Follette named it, calls the shots.
And the war party consists of: the President, who fears looking weak;
members of Congress, who too often follow the President blindly into
war with bromides about "partisanship stopping at the water's edge";
the jingoistic media that peddles the pornography of war; the
armament companies that profit from war (which La Follette, in his
time, said should be nationalized); and the multinational corporate
sector that uses the Pentagon and our troops as its global advance team.
La Follette noted that the war party "is not the party of democracy.
It is the party of autocracy. It seeks to dominate absolutely. It is
commercial, imperialistic, ruthless. It tolerates no opposition."
This war party and the powerful forces behind it render the mere
expression of democratic opposition toothless.
It's simply not true that "war is over if you want it."
But Lennon was no fool. He understood power.
And so I reexamine the song.
Perhaps he means more than just merely expressing opposition to war.
Perhaps his song should be understood more as a call to action than
as a wishing well.
After all, he asks, "What have we done?"
That connotes both the horrible things we've done to the world, and
the implicit accusation that we haven't done enough to right the
wrongs, with war being among the most glaring.
And after all, the last word of the song could not be more urgent.
That last word is "now."
John Lennon surely knew that war wouldn't be over by merely wanting
it (or singing about it) but by wanting it badly enough to go do
something about it. And to do that now.
It's a message sadly as relevant today as it was when he wrote the
song forty years ago.
Lennon Christmas song is inspirational
Holiday ballad gives inspiration for fulfilling the promise of peace
on Earth, good will to men
December 25. 2010
Christmas morning breaks with the words of John Lennon bouncing about
in our heads: "So this is Christmas/I hope you have fun/The near and
the dear ones/The old and the young."
The former Beatle, murdered 30 years ago this month, recorded "Happy
Christmas (War is Over)" in 1971 as the Vietnam War was winding down
and the hope for a more peaceful era was building.
The ballad seeks to tap the Christmas promise of "peace on Earth,
good will to men" as a call for both individual and collective
serenity. It ends with the lyrics, "War is over/If you want it/War is
over/Now … "All of us wish America's wars over this Christmas. The
lingering operations in Iraq and the fighting in Afghanistan keep us
from fully rejoicing in the joy of the season, and remind us that
"peace on Earth" remains a too elusive state.
But we strive for it still. We must. We have to continue to seek a
world without war, even though in the more than 2,000 years since the
Prince of Peace was born in Bethlehem, war has been far more common
than tranquility. We can't give up, and we won't.
The secret to peace, of course, is love, and that's what this holiday
season is all about. We dedicate a few weeks at the end of the year
to reuniting with friends and family, to sharing precious memories,
to giving to others. Christmas is often called a magical season, and
it is the loving and the sharing and the giving that make it so.
Hopefully, that affection and generosity extend beyond our own homes
and families and into the greater community. Lennon sings about that,
too: "And so happy Christmas/For black and for white/For yellow and
red ones/Let's stop all the fight."
What a fine message that is for the community where we live. Imagine
what we can accomplish between now and next Christmas if we stop our
squabbling and work together?
We find harmony easier during the holidays. But if we can manage it
for a few weeks in December, why not year round?
That's a worthwhile Christmas commitment.
What brought the Wise Men to the manger was the promise of peace and joy.
The joy of the season makes all things seem possible. Let's never
forget the joy.
There's often a bittersweet element to Christmas because it is also
the time when we are most acutely aware of our losses.
But hard on the heels of Christmas is the New Year and the
opportunity for new beginnings. Surely that's where we can find hope
That said, we'll let John Lennon have the last words: "A very merry
Christmas/And a happy New Year/Let's hope it's a good one/Without any fear."