It seems every department store starts pushing Christmas earlier every year. Radio stations start spinning their favorite holiday songs the moment Starbucks hangs its first holiday drink ad. It doesn’t matter that everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line is still wearing shorts—there’s money to be made from giving people the fuzzy feelings of Christmas in August.
So it’s not surprising that by the time December rolls around, the church is less than enthusiastic about singing Christmas carols. As a worship leader, I watch countless eyes glaze over the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
But this is hardly a time to check out. Advent offers an incredible opportunity to meditate on the person, work, wonder, and hope of Christ.
Person of Christ
As children, we’re immersed in the world of Christmas. It’s often so alloyed with visions of Santa and sleigh bells, presents and parties, jolliness and jingles, that it can be difficult to fight against the familiarity. We can turn the miracle of Christmas into a nostalgic ritual. But when we gather as a church to sing, we’re singing the gospel and renewing our minds with the story of Emmanuel. In these carols, we see some of the most beautiful, poetic descriptions of the character of Christ. Take these words from “Silent Night,” for example:
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
It’s difficult not to see Jesus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 9:2 in these words.
We’ve sung these lyrics so many times we don’t give them a second thought, but they put the person and work of Christ on full display.
Work of Christ
Certainly, the bloody cross and empty tomb is the focal point of history, the pinnacle of God’s glory. But imagine the humility it took for Christ, in all his perfection, to rise from heaven’s throne, wrap himself in flesh, and be born in a barn to a virgin he created. We spend much time singing of the cross—and rightly so—but we must go to the manger first.
It’s difficult to pick the verse in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” that most beautifully demonstrates the work of Christ. The entire song is packed with opportunity to see and stand amazed.
Mild, he lays his glory by
Born that men no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
It pleased Jesus to come and rescue us. When we sing these songs, it reminds us of his great love for us and his great power to save. Every lyric and note is an opportunity to inundate our souls with wonder and awe.
Wonder of Christ
Worship is the goal of Christmas—or any season for that matter. It is the chief reason we are breathing. When we intentionally take the season of Advent to fixate our hearts on the glory of all Jesus is and has done, it’s difficult not to be moved with awe. As you study the Scriptures, observe the response of the angels, shepherds, and wise men as they hear the news that the Messiah has come to dwell with them. They are brimming with amazement. We ought to have the same reaction—not one of apathy or irritation but of worship-filled shouts:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing!
We can sing these words with wonder because they are true. This is no shiny veneer trying to cover up a blemish or make something look better than it is. There is no better news in the world! And because it is true, we can have hope.
Hope of Christ
It’s no good to hope in something you know will disappoint. That’s like pretending Santa is real (sorry if you’re just now finding out) and then feeling bamboozled come Christmas morning. Our God makes promises, then follows through on them. He promised he would rescue us, and he did so. And his promise to return is as good as done. The words of “O Holy Night” capture this hope so well:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
We sing Christmas songs to remind ourselves that our promise-keeping God is trustworthy and that we can count on him.
Don’t Check Out
Throughout their captivity, Israel reminded themselves how God had delivered them from Pharoah’s hand with signs and wonders. They rehearsed the truth that just as he had rescued them before, he could do it again. It gave them hope and peace in the midst of darkness.
We have this same hope. Though the world lay in sin and error pining, he will appear—not as a baby in a manger but as a victorious King come to crush sin and death forever. The people around you on Sunday need to hear you singing that truth over them. You’re not just singing Christmas songs; you’re singing freedom songs.
So don’t check out. Sing with all you are until the light of Christ’s return breaks through the darkness one last time.