I’m not saying that every Christmas carol needs to be a gospel presentation. But if in singing our Christmas carols, the deity, humanity, mission, and accomplishments of Christ are assumed, ignored, downplayed or revised, then our view of Christmas will be no better than that of a secular greeting card.
Someone once said, “Show me your songs and I’ll show you your theology”. Some carols are excellent in weaving together:
- Who Jesus is – the fulfilment of long-awaited prophecies, literally Emmanuel / God with us (Matt 1:22-23)
- Why Jesus came – “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).
- What Jesus did – “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8)
- How we ought to respond – “If you declare with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9-10)
On the other hand, I think there are carols out there that don’t give a clear picture of the above. Yes, they may be very uplifting to sing and have a great tune to go with them.
But if you tune out the melody and just read the words for what they are, would they be able to teach the word of Christ clearly (Col 3:16)? Or would they paint a sentimental, sanitised view that starts and ends in the surprisingly clean manger scene?
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Did the birth of the Son of God happen in a library? Was the Incarnation a serene event or an earth-shattering one?
It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth, To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the angels sing.
Believe it or not, but in the rest of this carol there is no mention of Jesus. Is it helpful to be unclear about the source of our peace on earth?
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Even here, what is the gospel of peace? How does Christ cause all oppression to cease?
A question I often ask when choosing songs for gathered worship is: could a [insert different world religion] sing this song without being confronted with a Biblical view of things? Could a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness sing through all the songs in our carol service and have nothing they disagree with?
If a non-Christian can sing through a whole service full of carols and leave without seeing a clear, complete, unvarnished picture of Jesus, I think we’ve missed an opportunity to proclaim Christ in our Christmas carols.
It’s not be enough to sing something that everyone can assent to at Christmas. Whether in church services or in our communities (e.g. door-to-door carolling) we ought to be clear that Jesus was:
True God of true God, Light from Light eternal
Humbly, He enters the virgin’s womb
Son of the Father, begotten, not created (1)
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth. (2)
His mission was clear:
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary. (3)
Our response should be:
Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with his blood mankind hath bought (4)
And we should invite everyone to:
Come then to Him Who lies within the manger,
With joyful shepherds, proclaim Him as Lord.
Let not the Promised Son remain a stranger;
In reverent worship, make Christ your Adored.
Eternal life is theirs who would receive Him;
With grace and peace, their lives He will adorn.
Fall on your knees! Receive the Gift of heaven!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine! (5)
Don’t just tuck Jesus away in the manger in your carol singing this year. Let’s be sure to sing clearly about who this Child is, why He came, what He did, and how we should respond.
- O Come All Ye Faithful, final verse
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing, verse 3
- What Child Is This, verse 2
- The First Noel, final verse
- O Holy Night (alternate words by Kevin Hartnett), verse 3