Beloved pastor and bestselling author Max Lucado recently told me that Christmas is a great magnifier of emotions – wherever we are, good or bad, the holiday has a way of amplifying and intensifying our mental state.
That truism came to mind the other day when I heard Mannheim Steamroller’s "Carol of the Bells" – the galvanizing century-old Christmas song. But it didn’t bring me back to childhood on Long Island, but instead 30 years of Decembers in my car or running at lunch listening to the late, great Rush Limbaugh.
The conservative radio icon, who’s been gone for almost three years, signaled the beginning of the Yuletide season by playing Mannheim Steamroller Christmas selections in and out of breaks beginning the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and leading up to his last show before the holiday break.
Catchy and spirited bumper music was just one of Rush’s many distinctives. It was the old disc jockey in him, but there may have been no better partnering than between the rambunctious Rush and the bombastic flair of Mannheim Steamroller.
Rush said he first heard the group’s music back in the middle of the 1980s while watching NFL games at Christmas. Rush’s father had recently died, and knowing his dad loved classical music, the struggling (at the time) radio host said the tunes struck a special chord.
Leo Tolstoy once said, "Music is the shorthand of emotion. Emotions, which let themselves be described in words with such difficulty, are directly conveyed to man in music, and in that is its power and significance."
I met Rush Limbaugh just one time, but we were still good friends. That’s the charm of radio. He was my conservative companion through college, my first job, getting over getting dumped, and the illness and death of my parents. When I met dear Julie, my now wife of almost 23 years, I knew she was the one when I found out she listened to Rush.
Rush Limbaugh loved Christmas, and he shared that joy with us throughout the season. Even when the world sometimes seemed to be crumbling all around him, he rightly put the world’s woes in perspective each December. The festive flair he added somehow reminded you we’d get through whatever was being thrown at us.
A colleague recently told me he doesn’t listen to the radio at lunch anymore because while other hosts may have taken Rush’s time slot, nobody can take his place. I can appreciate the sentiment. Legends leave awfully big shoes and cast long shadows.
Chip Davis, Mannheim Steamroller’s founder and director of the neo-classical music group best known for its reimagined compositions, once said audiences were caught off guard when the group amped up traditional Christmas music. That’s exactly what Rush did for conservative talk radio. He knew the secret to great broadcasting – and that was, there is no secret. Rush wasn’t playing a part – he was being himself. And we loved him for the courage he had – and the creativity he exhibited on a daily basis.
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music makes me miss Rush even more than I already do, but it also reminds me of how blessed we were to enjoy such a talent for as long we did.
One more thing: Rush’s boldness and Chip Davis’ vigorous music should also remind us of the true meaning behind Christmas. The world may want to frame the holiday in commercial and sentimental softness, but Jesus’ birth was a daunting and earth-shattering event that changed the world. Sending God to earth in the form of a helpless baby, who would then grow up and be crucified as a sacrifice for our sins, is as bold as it gets.
Rush’s voice may have been silenced, but the music of Manheim Steamroller plays on – a fitting extension and reminder to celebrate the season fearlessly and happily with gratefulness and gusto.