One of the most beloved Christmas songs started out as an advertising gimmick. In 1939, Montgomery Ward tapped advertising executive Robert May to write a poem for their store Santa Claus to give to children who came to visit him. The result was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the first time it appeared was in a little booklet published by the department store chain. More than 2.5 million copies were handed out and by 1946 more than 6 million copies of the poem had been distributed.
Rudolph’s story came to musical life in 1949 when May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the music. After it was turned down by Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded it. Today “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the highest-selling Christmas song of all time, at more than 25 million units.
What makes this little song so popular? Some people might say that it’s the pluckiness and courage of Rudolph, the alleged hero of the story. But the real beauty of May’s tale focuses on something all people cherish: grace. Think of it: through grace, Santa chooses Rudolph, despite the fact that he’s a clear outsider and a “reject.” He has a defect: his big, annoyingly shiny red nose, which has disqualified him from being chosen for other reindeer games. But despite all the other available candidates, who did Santa choose when the fog rolled in? That’s right, the one with the weird shiny red nose! The “weakness” that was considered a liability by Rudolph and his fellow reindeer became the “strength” that Santa used to accomplish his mission.
In my book, this is not a true Christmas “carol” because it doesn’t mention Jesus. However, whether Robert May intended or not, the song proclaims a Biblical principle: Our gracious God prefers to work through weakness in order to display His strength. The things our world deems liabilities, are just opportunities for God to work.
This is something we learned last year as we went through The Story. Do you remember the list we compiled of the unlikely people God used? It’s full of “Rudolphs.” To name a few: Abraham was old. Isaac was insecure. Jacob was a con-man. Leah was unattractive. Joseph was a slave. Moses stuttered. Gideon had anxiety attacks. Samson was proud. Rahab was immoral. David had an affair. Elijah was suicidal. Jeremiah was depressed. Jonah was disobedient. Naomi was a widow. Mary was a poor teenager. John the Baptist was eccentric—to say the least. Peter was impulsive. Martha was a worry wart. The Samaritan woman had several failed marriages. Thomas had his doubts. Paul executed Christians for a living. Timothy was timid. The list goes on and on, a list of the unlikely people that God has used in powerful ways to tell His story. It’s not what you would expect. It’s not who we would choose. But it’s the way God works.
Paul proclaims this grace-filled truth in 1 Corinthians 1:27ff: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”
So be ready: “one foggy Christmas Eve,” God may call on an unlikely person like you!
Keep the SON in your eyes!