Yesterday I heard someone whistling “Someone to Watch Over Me” by George Gershwin. I’ve always liked that song, so when I got home, I looked up the lyrics. Here are some of them: There’s a saying old says that love is blind
Still we’re often told “seek and ye shall find”
So I’m going to seek a certain girl/lad I’ve had in mind
Looking everywhere, haven’t found her yet
She’s the big affair I cannot forget
Only girl/man I ever think of will regret
I’d like to add her/him initials to my monogram
Tell me where’s the shepherd for this lost lamb
There’s a somebody I’m longing to see
I hope that she/he turns out to be
Someone to watch over me
I’m a little lamb who’s lost in a wood
I know I could always be good
To one who’ll watch over me
If we’re honest, I suppose all of us have that longing deep down inside. That’s why we like traditions at Christmas—to transport us back to the time when we, if we were lucky, had parents who did watch over us and made Christmas a magical time. When we had neighbors and churches and a greater culture which made us feel taken care of.
But some of us weren’t so lucky. For many, the holidays were times of tension and shouting and fear and disappointment.
For Mary and Joseph, that first Christmas was a mixed bag. Angels singing, shepherds adoring, Magis giving gifts. But then there was trying to explain to the family how we got pregnant and the difficult trip to Bethlehem and no room in the inn and fleeing to Egypt to escape the swords of Herod’s soldiers.
There is comfort of sorts in the Christmas story—the one in the Bible, I mean—but it’s not the kind Gershwin was invoking. It’s not warm and fuzzy and everything will turn out fine, at least not in the short run. It’s the kind of comfort for the long haul, for the downs as well as the ups on the road of life. If you’ve read the whole gospel story you know that everything does turn out happily in the end, but getting there involves a journey which includes both joy and pain.
As we grow older, we discover that the Santa story is a fantasy for children which doesn’t carry the spiritual freight very far. The Christmas story in Matthew and Luke isn’t a fantasy. Its comfort isn’t a sugar high which doesn’t last. If what you want is spiritual nutrition for life’s journey, make sure you don’t let the Santa fantasy distract you from that which isn’t as sweet but is ultimately far more satisfying, and in the long run extremely comforting.