One of the most loved Christmas songs started out as an advertising promotion. In 1939 Montgomery Ward commissioned advertising executive Robert May to write a poem that their store Santa Claus could give away to children who came to visit him. The result was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and it first appeared 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 were distributed.
Rudolph’s story was put to music in 1949 by Robert May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks. The song was first offered to Bing Crosby and then Dinah Shore. They both turned it down. Third choice was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, whose recording went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart the week of Christmas 1949. Autry’s recording sold 2.5 million copies the first year, and eventually sold about 25 million, and remained the second best-selling record of all time until the 1980s.
Today “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the highest-selling Christmas carol of all time. It’s a song that has resonated with people young and old for 65 years and is still going strong. Why has this little Christmas carol been so popular? Apart from its very catchy tune, I believe it’s because the story is something we can all identify with. It’s a story of grace. By grace, Santa chooses Rudolph despite the fact that he’s an outcast and reject because of his big, inconveniently shiny red nose: “All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names; They never let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games.” But then it all changed, when what was considered a defect, a weakness, and a liability became the very thing that Santa needed: “Then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa came to say: “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” The “weakness” that was considered a problem by Rudolph and his fellow reindeer became the “strength” that Santa used to accomplish his mission.
Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of God in human form. Jesus, the Son of God, was well acquainted with weakness and rejection. He had a dubious birth – born out of wedlock, born in poor conditions as an outcast. He knew rejection from many throughout his life – even his closest friends. The Prophet Isaiah said this of the coming Messiah: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
The fact that Jesus experienced these things is good news for us because we have a Saviour who “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”
This Christmas – and as we enter a New Year – remember that Jesus is the great redeemer. His grace is unending – it even reaches to the things that we’ve considered unredeemable. The things that we’ve considered as weaknesses, defects and liabilities he can turn around for your blessing and the benefit of others.