I suppose it’s the music of the carols the capture our attention. Even as I write this I hear in my mind sweet strains of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and “What Child Is This?”
But let us not miss the texts. Let us not miss that many Christmas carols are nothing less than a profession of faith in God’s revelation in Christ. Yes, the carols sing of the babe in the manger; but even more they sing of the Word-Made-Flesh and the Savior of the World. In the Christmas carols we sing the full truth of the Incarnation, the depth of human sinfulness and the glory of its redemption by God.
Consider the second stanza of “O Come”: God from God, Light from Light eternal, lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb; only begotten Son of the Father. This is the truth of the Nicene Creed in verse. This is poetry worthy of Athanasius.
Then there is Charles Wesley, who could be considered a father of the Church, but for the fact that he was an eighteenth-century Methodist Anglican. At his pen the herald angels sing of God and sinners reconciled. All this is the fullfilment of the prophets and the turning of the ages: Late in time, behold him come. When we hail the babe, we hail the incarnate Deity, and we the Godhead see. The paradox of divine abasement is sounded: Mild he lays his glory by. And this, not simply for a bit of spiritual inspiration, but eternal life: born that we no more may die.
In Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the Word, the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love are not just for my personal piety, but are something for the nations to prove.
Gentlemen may well rest merry – but it’s hardly the merriment of superficial social pleasantries. It’s the much deeper tidings of comfort and joy of those saved from the reign of evil: Remember Christ our savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
To be sure, not every Christmas carol taps into the depths of the mystery of the Incarnation. Some carols avoid the deeper message and settle for the sentimentality of the manger scene. (I suppose “Away in a Manger” is the low point in this.) But still, carols such as these witness to the earthyness and the material reality of the Christmas story.
And even the rather sweet “Silent Night,” which is 200 years old tonight, speaks of our redemption: Love’s pure light radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace…
Everyone loves Christmas carols. As we enjoy singing them, let’s not miss how deeply creedal and liturgical they are.
God has come to save us. We have much to sing about. Merry Christmas!