No one sent me this question, but I was talking with a friend about this the other day, and I thought I’d answer my own question…
As I’ve led congregational worship through the years, I’ve realized that all Christmas carols were not created equal. Some are more sentimental than substantive (Away in a Manager, I Saw Three Ships, Do You Hear What I Hear?), some allude to but don’t say much about what the coming of Christ actually meant (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, O Little Town of Bethlehem), while others help us treasure the true significance of God becoming man.
This season provides us a wonderful opportunity to remind the world why Jesus came: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5 ESV) Songs can either obscure or celebrate that truth.
These carols top my list for treasuring the truths of the incarnation and our redemption:
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (this song has some biblical phrases worth explaining to the unbelievers who might be present)
Joy to the World (He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found)
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (By Thine all-sufifcient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne)
Angels From the Realms of Glory (God with man is now residing)
A newer carol that’s working its way into our repertoire is From the Squalor, by Stuart Townend. The song begins:
From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
Here are a few more carols that I don’t think are quite as comprehensive, but at some point remind us why we have a song to sing:
Angels We Have Heard on High (Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king)
The First Noel (Who made the heavens and earth of nought and with His blood our salvation has bought)
O Come All Ye Faithful (Word of the Father now in flesh appearing)
What Child is This (Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you)
Take a fresh look at the lyrics of the carols you sing this year, and make sure that what moves us is not the beautiful or sentimental sounds, but the beautiful Savior, sent to save us from our sins.
By the way, a while back I ran across this series of sermons on different Christmas Carols. It’s from the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS website. Good stuff.