At the risk of falling into the current debate over whether Christians should tone down the violent language and imagery when it comes to their faith, the Bible presents the Incarnation as an act of War. In fact, the Bible presents the Incarnation as the central chapter in the larger story of the conflict between good and evil; one never fully lost by God but captured in Christ Jesus. That’s something missing from the 24-hour holiday music stations, most Christmas plays and pageants, and many Christmas Eve sermons.
Still, there is a source that continues to confront our culture with the whole story, with some of the finest Christian teaching ever produced by redeemed Image Bearers. Christmas offers us the amazing opportunity to not only immerse ourselves with deep Christian truth, but also present it to others.
Of course I’m talking about Christmas carols. Carols provide us a level of incredible clarity and depth, that is so rare. As an example, consider the “Wexford Carol.”
Good people all, this Christmas time, Consider well and bear in mind What our good God for us has done In sending his beloved son With Mary holy we should pray, To God with love this Christmas Day In Bethlehem upon that morn, There was a blessed Messiah born
You get a sense of the rescue mission that was the Incarnation in the traditional English carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
God rest ye merry gentlemen Let nothing you dismay Remember Christ our Savior Was born on Christmas Day To save us all from Satan’s pow’r When we were gone astray Oh tidings of comfort and joy Comfort and joy Oh tidings of comfort and joy
And in the haunting beauty of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the coming of Christ is presented in the context of God’s Old Testament promises.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might, Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height, In ancient times didst give the law, In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave.
And few hymns offer a Christology as rich as “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is the brainchild not only of the great hymn-writer Charles Wesley but also, in part, the great revivalist, George Whitefield.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel
Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace, hail the sun of Righteousness Light life to all he brings, ris’n healing in his wings Christ the highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord Come desire of nations come, fix in us thy humble home Come desire of nations come, fix in us thy humble home
We could go on, but finally in “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” we are offered hope in how this cosmic battle will eventually turn out.
And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep, The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men”peace on earth, good will to men”
Till, ringing singing, on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, Of peace on earth, good will to men!
In these songs, sung by my friend Josh Bales, we have the fullness of the Christian story: a world that belongs to God, our lost plight due to sin, our captivity to Satan’s schemes, the working of God through the ages, His promises revealed in the long path of redemption that God worked through the Patriarchs, through prophets and kings, and through promises given so long ago; the wonders of the Incarnation, the fear and hope of Mary and Joseph, and the realization and glory of angelic hosts proclaiming their king, and ours.
Each year in these hymns, and others, we are reminded that God did not leave us in our sins but came down and lived among us that He might die for us. We have in these songs the whole gospel of God.
As comforting and instructive as they are to our own hearts, at what other time of the year do our disinterested friends, neighbors, and family members find themselves humming along with theology? What greater opportunity will we have to share the Faith than when our listeners are already hearing its truths every day?
As a colleague once observed to me, this is our moment to echo the work of Philip with the Ethiopian. The world around us knows their need. They hide it well, under vain pleasures and false narratives, but they also know that things are not quite right. What they need is someone to explain to them how things might be made right in Christ Jesus.
Let’s take this opportunity, singing our way through Christmas, to share the joy that has been given to us that this joy may spread to others.