I’ve always been a lover of music. The mixtape CDs that blared from my 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s custom speaker system in high school were filled with an assortment of songs from all different types of genres and artists. From Nate Dogg to Glen Campbell, or Blink 182 to George Strait, seemingly meaningless words live in the deep recesses of my brain, waiting for their retrieval when sparked by a random word or phrase.
And the same goes with Christmas music. Classic Christmas hymns like “Come All Ye Faithful” or “O Come O Come Emmanuel" received the same treatment as Boyz II Men. There was no deep reflection upon the substance of these songs’ deeply theological verses. I made no distinction in my mind between Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Jingle Bell Rock. I associated them with Christmas, but their lyrics were just words paired with a memorable tune. (Seriously, I once thought Hark and Herald were the names of some angels.)
That was the case until the Lord gripped my heart in 2014 at 26 years old. Thankfully, God used the faithful witness of my sister and several men from a church I began attending to draw me to Himself. I was given a new heart and the Spirit began renewing my mind. With this new heart and new mind, now illuminated by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, these Christmas hymns transformed from mindless mantras of the Christmas season to words with depth and sustenance for a hungry soul. “God and sinner reconciled,” which I had sung hundreds of times now stirred affection for my God in my heart. God, Creator of all things, veils His glory and becomes in the likeness of sinful men to reconcile sinful men to Himself.
Don’t Waste The Christmas Music
I doubt anyone is as dense as I was to assume Hark and Herald were the names of angels. However, I am fairly certain that we don’t appreciate the lyrics of the classic hymns of Christmas as we should. We have likely sung them for years and years. We can mindlessly recall their lyrics.
But have we seriously considered the theological depth of these lyrics? These words celebrating the incarnation of Jesus written by faithful Christians are more than just background music for baking Christmas cookies. These words powerfully recall the profound moment in human history when God assumed human flesh. Because of that, don’t let these Christmas hymns merely spur us on to wrapping gifts, but instead, let them spur us on to worship God in spirit and truth. As it was the truth of who God is that stirred Moses to worship Him in Exodus 34 (Ex 34:6-8), let it also be the truth that permeates the lyrics of these Christmas hymns that stir our hearts to worship a God who sent forth His Son, born of a woman and under the law, to redeem those who were under the law. (Gal 4:4-5)
Ponder the Words
One of my favorite hymns is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” written by Charles Wesley in 1739. Look at the richness and depth of the verses:
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
What a simple, yet marvelous truth. God and sinner reconciled. The incarnation reminds us of our own inability to make things right with God. Our sin created a chasm between ourselves and God that we do not have the ability to mediate. Jesus, God saves. The Son of God comes to mediate between God and man, reconciling us despite our hopeless state of depravity.
And Wesley doesn’t end there, he continues:
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Wesley hammers away at the importance of this miraculous birth. The birth of Jesus, as Wesley rightly portrays, signifies that the suffering king that Israel longed for has finally come. This baby was born for a purpose, a mission. Those cute, little baby hands with those cute, little baby rolls that wrapped around the fingers of Mary at the birth would one day press against the dirt as the weight of a Roman cross was too heavy for the tortured Jesus to carry up the hill of Golgotha. The birth of Jesus signifies that the death of Jesus is coming. But the death of Jesus signifies that the resurrection is coming. Death has no sting for those in Christ.
Or consider the classic Christmas hymn “O Holy Night.” For many Americans, this hymn falls right behind “All I Want for Christmas is You” on Mariah Carey’s famous Christmas album. Yet, do they realize the eternal offer of hope expressed in this 19th century hymn, though it is sung by one of America’s pop superstars? Read these lyrics:
O holy night! the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope- the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining. A world broken by its own fallenness. Hopeless, darkened, longing for a purpose in a life marred by sin, sickness and sorrow. Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. Our souls find purpose and life in the midst of this fallen world through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. Weariness turns to rejoicing. What sweet Gospel truth to our longing souls.
Don’t waste the Christmas hymns. Ponder the depth of their words. Sing them with hearts that have reflected upon their glorious hope. Don’t waste them.
Our family's favorite Christmas Album is Sovereign Grace's Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus in Song.