By Tom Lambrecht –
One of the popular activities during the Christmas season is to sing Christmas carols. As a musician myself, I find that music moves me in a deeper way than many other forms of expression.
When it comes to Christmas carols, however, sometimes the familiarity of the songs allows us to gloss over the impact of the words they contain. We sing by rote through the music and miss the impact of the message. Here are a few significant lyrics that have the potential to take us deeper into the Christmas event.
“Now ye hear of endless bliss; Jesus Christ was born for this! / He hath opened heaven’s door, And man is blessed evermore. / Now ye need not fear the grave; Jesus Christ was born to save! / Calls you one and calls you all, To gain His everlasting hall.”
(“Good Christian Men, Rejoice”)
The point of Christmas was not to create a beautiful tableau that could be reproduced year after year in the Sunday school program. No, Jesus came to save us, to deliver us from the fear of death, to “fit us for heaven to live with [him] there” (“Away in a Manger”). Have you responded to his “call” on your life?
“Come, Desire of Nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home. / Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’Incarnate Deity, / Pleased as man with men to dwell; Jesus, our Immanuel!”
(“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”)
God himself came to earth “veiled in flesh.” He lived with us in human form. More importantly, though, he wants to live in us, to fix his home in our souls. Have we opened our lives to his indwelling presence?
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground. / He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found.”
(“Joy to the World”)
In Genesis 3 we read about the curse upon humanity and the earth itself because of sin: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:18-19).
Nearly every day we experience the results of the curse of sin. Our lives and world are broken. But God sent Jesus into the world to roll back the curse, wherever it manifests itself. Every act of healing, every moment of mercy and understanding, every sin or offense forgiven is a rolling back of the curse. Someday, we will rise from the dead in the ultimate victory over the curse of death. Finally, we look forward to the New Heaven and the New Earth, where “no longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:3).
“How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is given! / So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of His heaven. / No ear may hear His coming, But in this world of sin, /Where meek souls will receive Him, still The dear Christ enters in. / O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today…O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel.”
(“O Little Town of Bethlehem”)
The essential meaning and significance of Christmas is that Jesus came into the world for you and for me. He came for each individual who would ever be born. Until his birth is personal for us, it has not achieved its purpose. The songwriters plead with us to open our heart and soul meekly, submissively to Jesus, so that he may “cast out our sin” and live within us, now and for eternity.
“There’s a tumult of joy O’er the wonderful birth, For the Virgin’s sweet Boy is the Lord of the earth. / Ay! The star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King! / In the light of that star Lie the ages impearled; And that song from afar Has swept over the world. / Every hearth is aflame, and the beautiful sing In the homes of the nations that Jesus is King!”
(“There’s a Song in the Air”)
The supreme contradiction of Christmas is that this weak, vulnerable newborn is in fact “the Lord of the earth.” Hidden in the mystery of Christmas is the matchless power of God. It is a power so great that, through the life of this one baby, God transformed all of human history. We even date our calendars according to the year of his birth! Jesus is a world transformer. He is ruler of all the nations - or he will be one day, when the world is set right again.
“What child is this, who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?” / “Shepherds why this jubilee? Why these songs of happy cheer? / What great brightness did you see? What glad tidings did you hear?”
(“Angels We Have Heard on High”)
Christmas carols love to use questions to draw us in. We need to answer the questions for ourselves. It is the same question that Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Who is this child to us? How is our life different because we know him?
May you experience the joy and deep peace of Christ living in you this Christmas. May his blessings flow in ways that overcome sin’s curse in your life in the year to come. And may we together look forward to all that God has in store for us in heaven and on the new earth!
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.