The music of Christmas is a major part of the appeal of the Christmas season. Who cannot help being filled with childhood memories when hearing holiday classics like “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
Except, I grew up in a home that barely tolerated such frivolous music – the real emphasis was on the great body of Christmas church music: Christmas carols, Christmas hymns, Christmas anthems, and Christmas oratorios. I look back now and am thankful for a memory bank filled with Christmas music that still shapes my faith and theology.
The music of Christmas begins where the Gospels begin, with the birth of Jesus. The beautiful lullaby, “Away in a Manger,” the haunting, “What Child is This?” and the exultant, “Joy to the World!” celebrate the Good News the angels announced to the shepherds in the hills above Bethlehem… Jesus is born!
The humble circumstances of his birth underscore the humanity of Jesus, one of the basics of Christian theology. And so, we sing, “Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?” But, we also sing of Jesus’ divinity that makes him the unique God-Man. So, the song goes on, “Good Christians, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading . . . hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.”
What makes Christmas music so meaningful is it does not separate the birth of Jesus from the work of Jesus. This is important because it redeems the celebration of Christmas from mere sentimentality.
When we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” we also sing, “No more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground,” and we celebrate the whole work of Jesus on the cross to destroy sin and death and redeem all things.
Christmas always carries a dual focus. We look back at Jesus’ birth and we look forward to Jesus’ coming again. The two foci come together as we celebrate the reign of Jesus as Lord and King. No Christmas music thrills the soul like the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s Christmas oratorio, “The Messiah”…
“King of kings forever and ever hallelujah, hallelujah
And lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah, hallelujah
King of kings and lord of lords
And he shall reign forever and ever
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, Hallelujah!”
Don’t get me wrong, I find myself humming “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” about this time of year but if you want Christmas music with a message, then “Sing, Sing a Song of Christmas.”