Exegeting Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

The other day our family was driving down the road in the car listening to Christmas music.  Thanks to Paula, we are that family that starts listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.  (Truth be known, I love Christmas music too so I don’t mind…)  While we were  headed home, the song “Do they know it’s Christmas?” came on the radio for the 5th time that day.

I had finally had enough…

I started screaming at the radio.  Really?? Have you listened to the words of this song?

“At Christmastime
It’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears”

Really?  It’s hard, but while you are having fun and stuffing your face with Christmas goodies, just take a moment to think about someone other than yourself.  I know that will be difficult.  Really?  Paula, can you believe the words to this song.  I mean, the whole tone of this song is so USA centered.  It’s the most horrible way to do charity.  Really,” It’s hard, but when you’re having fun?”  Really?

By this point my family thinks I have lost it.  And then came the most awful line of all…

“Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”

Now I am worked up into a good self-righteous lather.  

Can you believe this stuff?  This is what happens when Rock and Rollers try to do charity.  I really, really hope this line is sarcastic Paula.  If it’s not sarcasm this is one of the worst lines in a song of ALL TIME!  And it’s Bono!  One of my heroes.  It surely has to be sarcastic.

At this point I think my family has gone from being amazed at my rant to tuning me out.  This is just one more example of dad over-thinking things…

But then the other day it dawned on me how much the world has changed in the last 30 years.  When the original song was written, our world was much smaller than it is now.  There was no public internet.  Not many people carried around cell phones.  (The people who did were called doctors)  Cable television was not a necessity.  News channels like CNN and Fox news were just becoming a thing and weren’t staples of everyday life.  There was no DVR.  No twitter feeds or Facebook posts.  No bloggers everywhere writing about current events.

In 1984, the main way people knew about the events of the world was through the newspaper or the national news media at 6PM.  Most of us 80’s children never wanted to read a newspaper, we were too busy playing Atari.  The 6 O’clock world news always seemed pretty boring as well, because it was about a lot of places we’d never heard of, seen, or visited.

The truth is, in 1984 it wasn’t easy to see the “world outside your window” that the song talks about.  You had to make an effort.  The lyric had it right, It was hard.  Maybe the Band Aid song was the only way that young people in America were going to be informed that people in Africa were starving.

I think all this has a lot to do with our problem with scripture.  The Band Aid song is 30 years old.  Scripture is thousands.  We read it as Americans living in a technology driven age and sometimes, like the Band Aid song, it leaves us scratching our heads.  We see the violence in the Old Testament and fail to recognize the violence in the world of the writers.  Maybe people writing in violent times write more violent stories?  At times we miss the nuances of the genres in scripture.  We treat proverbs like promises when maybe they are more like fortune cookies.  We miss the sarcasm in the text, and it hits us like the lyric “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you…”

One of the things we preachers are taught to do is exegesis.  Exegesis is an uncovering.  It is like peeling back the layers of an onion.  Have you ever noticed that the more you look into scripture, the more layers you find.  Maybe my problem with the Band Aid song was that I wasn’t doing proper exegesis.  I took the “text” and separated it from the culture in which it was written.

If I were to look at the song in light of the prevailing 1980’s culture, it stings a little more.  Because the truth is that the church in the 80s seemed to be more concerned about souls than bodies.  We wanted to save everyones souls and weren’t as worried about feeding people.  And here is the secular music industry raising money for people to eat.

Reminds me of a story Jesus tell about sheep and goats.  At the end of all things, the master is going to divide people up as sheep and goats.  The sheep are the good guys, the goats not so much.  He will welcome the sheep into his kingdom because they fed him, clothed him, visited him when he was sick and in prison, etc… They did stuff.  The goats didn’t feed him, clothe him, visit him, etc…

Both groups ask the master, When did we see you hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, etc… The master replies, Whatever you did (or did not do) for the least of these you did for me. 

After taking the song in context, I am a little embarrassed by my self-righteous rant.  The truth is, while we were singing hymns in church, the rock and roll world was feeding Jesus.

Excuse me while I take this plank out of my eye…