By TOM MAY
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part in a multicolumn series.
From a choir of heavenly angelic voices to Christmas albums released by today’s hottest stars, music has always played a significant role in the celebration of the holiday season. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of shopping, dinners and parties, allow the music of Christmas to take you back to the real meaning of Christmas.
It will be five years ago this May that musical business manager Jim Houser penned these words on a blog. “Just hours before, this close-knit family was celebrating the engagement of the oldest daughter Emily, and were just hours away from a graduation party marking Caleb’s completion of high school. Now, they are preparing to bury a child who blew out five candles on a birthday cake less than 10 days ago.” Houser completed the blog by stating, “These words are unthinkable to type.”
The unthinkable words described an unthinkable tragedy for Christian musician and Kentucky native Steven Curtis Chapman and his family. Maria Sue Chunxi Chapman, their youngest daughter, adopted from China, died from her injuries and blood loss in a driveway accident on May 21, 2008. Chapman’s youngest son, Will, was pulling into the driveway at their home outside of Nashville after he had auditioned for a musical at school. Maria was running out to meet him. They didn’t see each other in time and Will accidentally ran over the young child.
The aftermath of this event was catastrophic. Media spotlight kept pressure and stress on the family. Chapman almost quit his singing career due to the death. His wife struggled with depression and guilt. He finally released an album titled “Beauty Will Rise” focusing on the event and the hope for life and restoration. He slowly began to play again on stage, with his sons providing background instrumentals. Some of the first songs he performed outside of that album was Christmas music; music which gives perspective, glistens with love, points to hope.
Chapman has released three CDs of Christmas music, each peppered with original compositions among traditional hymns and favorites. Chapman’s selections reflect the role that the music of Christmas has played in the lives of many. From school musicals as both a child and a parent, to songs sung off-pitch in the living room, to hymns echoed across the pews in church, Christmas music has both shaped and observed life. In many homes, it isn’t officially the Christmas season until Burl Ives sings “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” and Bing Crosby croons “White Christmas.”
One of the songs on Chapman’s first Christmas album is titled, “The Music of Christmas.” The song, written a decade before his personal tragedy, contains this poignant second verse”
And there’s a lady who sits all alone with her thoughts,
And the memories of all that she’s lost,
When she hears a sound at her door,
And a song comes to find her, as a gentle reminder:
Love is here, it’s the music of Christmas.
Perhaps you can relate to Chapman’s words and to his life. Perhaps Christmas is not only filled with joy, but also painful events, hollow promises, or empty dreams. Perhaps Christmas leaves you with as many question marks as exclamation points. Perhaps you can be the one who sits alone with your thoughts during the Christmas season.
Listen — listen with your heart — to the sound at the door. Be reminded.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.