Rediscovering the Beauty of the Gospel in Christmas Carols
John Stemberger, President of the Florida Family Policy Council | December 24, 2014
Many Christians don't celebrate Halloween. I totally get that. But I just have a much harder time understanding why some Christians are so against celebrating Christmas. I would join in many of the criticisms over how Christmas is celebrated. But not that we celebrate it.
Each family creates its own culture and traditions. Your "family culture" and its traditions are imbued with whatever meaning you assign to them. Holidays are no different.
In my family, the days leading up to the end of October are a celebration of all things fun and unique about the fall season. Colored leaves, bright orange pumpkins, crisp candy apples and cool weather. On the evening of October 31st we celebrate Reformation Day by watching the movie Luther, reading aloud some of the history of the Protestant Reformation, and eating at a local German restaurant. So the meaning we assign to this holiday is much different that the meaning that other people assign to "Halloween." We don't allow the pagan origin or bad history which occurred on a certain day (which God has created), to prevent us from redeeming and celebrating that same day by developing family traditions that honor and give glory to God.
Christmas is no different. What meaning do you assign to this holiday in your family? What "culture" do you create around the days leading up to December 25th? What's your Baby Jesus to Santa Claus ratio? Is your focus more on the manger or on Macy's? Christ or candy canes? These are questions every Christian family should wrestle with regularly.
Each of the 365 days God gives in every calendar year have no inherent or intrinsic meaning in and of themselves. The meaning we assign to them creates tradition and meaning, regardless of events which may have occurred in the past.
One of the ways we can ensure that Christmas remains Christ-centered is to refocus on the words and meanings of the truly great Christmas carols. Take Joy to the World for instance. The words to this song, written by Isaac Watts in the early 1700s, have powerful meaning and deep Christian theology. Consider the third verse: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,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
In other words, as much as the effect of sin entering the world is evident, Jesus came to make His blessings flow so those sins, sadness, and even the thorns of the earth will be no more. Reversing the effects of the fall of man? Redeeming the earth? Wow! But an appreciation for this verse only comes from digging into the words, not from casually singing them with little meaning.
Increasingly the modern world passes up carols like these and chooses only the "yippy-skippy" Christmas songs. Others who do sing Christ-centered carols often leave out the verses that have more expressly Christian meaning. Veggie Tales and the Disney sing-along versions of Joy to the World leave out this third verse. God forbid we talk about the "S" word at Christmas - the very thing the baby Jesus came to save us from.
One creative way we do family devotions is to use an older hymn or a song with meaningful words. We sing it through once, then have a group discussion about each word in the lyrics, unpacking its meaning and the history behind it (if known). After the discussion we sing through it again, robustly and louder, allowing the richness of each word to explode in our hearts and minds with new and deeper meaning.
When we sing powerful Christmas songs that declare "God and sinners reconciled," the "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing," and the "dawn of redeeming grace," the focus of our hearts should not just be emotional sentiment and fond memories from our childhood. The focus should be on the majesty and power of these words which point us to the Baby who was born to die. These Christmas carols scream the heart of the gospel - "I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior." This Christmas, lead your family in rediscovering the beauty of the gospel by meditating on the powerful words of the truly great Christmas carols that speak of extending God's grace and blessing far as the curse is found.
From our family to yours, on behalf of the Board of Directors and the staff of the Florida Family Policy Council, we want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and thank you again for your support of our work and mission.
P.S. This website, teachingmom.com, is a great resource that catalogues the history and stories behind many of the great Christ-centered Christmas carols as well as some of the more modern ones.