Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sufjan Stevens, Christmas Music, and the Apocalypse of God

A couple of years ago, I received a gift of Christmas music from a friend whose friend knows someone who knows Sufjan Stevens. This Christmas collection was released last year in a box set of 5 EP's.

It was only this year that I've actually read the liner notes for the album about why Sufjan decided to go ahead with this project.

Sufjan's ability to cut through the sentimentality of the season and get to the theological heart of what it is we 'celebrate' at this time of year is rare to find in the church, let alone in a musician. But Sufjan is unrelenting:

"What did the angels renounce in the wake of the shepherd's trepidation? 'Have no fear,' they petitioned with trumpet blasts and a garish display of constellations. But that's like waving a gun in a bank lobby and demanding: 'Everybody stay calm!'"

What Sufjan gets is that Christmas is an apocalyptic event; it's about the terrifying coming of God. Further along he confesses that "Christmas music poses a cosmological conundrum in requiring us to sing so sweetly and sentimentally about something so terrifying and tragic." That's Christmas; that's the demand made of the church: sing about the unsingable!

I'm reminded about Karl Barth's observation about theological speech: "We ought to speak of God.... We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance by comparison" (The Word of God and the Word of Man, 186).

This is Sufjan's way of recognizing both his obligation and his inability; his own attempt, while waving his gun around, to tell us to stay calm. So, steady yourself, await the coming of God, and STAY CALM!

1 comment:

Chris TerryNelson said...

I love this album, and Sufjan certain gets apocalyptic. In the midst of it, he's also having a lot of fun with his friends, and so the family-get-together sing-along quality is what sets this album apart from the rest of Christmas schlock.