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5 Christmas songs with lyrics that are theological masterpieces

The songs of Christmas are quite literally in the air this time of year, serenading us on radio, in our homes or in restaurants and stores. Like it or not, many may even be trapped in your head.

Music means many things to many people, and especially at Christmas. It’s a refuge for some and a respite for others. For me, Christmas music tends to elicit memories of moments long ago. When I hear Mitch Miller, Bing Crosby, Perry Como or Andy Williams singing of the season, I’m a boy again – listening to scratchy records on my parent’s brown cabinet “hi-fi” in our Long Island home living room.

Festive and melodic tunes grab us, but I’m especially captured by the lyrics of certain Christmas songs that preach an entire sermon in a single sentence or phrase. The theological depth of hymns is often overlooked today. They can provide sound doctrine in the form of easy-to-sing songs. As believers we must hold onto them tightly.

As many of us gather to celebrate Jesus’ birthday this week, here are five lyrics you’ll likely sing that pack a meaningful and significant theological punch:

“Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!”

Originally composed in Latin and titled, “Adeste Fidelis,” “O Come, All Ye Faithfull,” is a beloved and triumphant carol.

In the fourth verse, the miraculous doctrine of the incarnation – God coming to earth in the form of a helpless baby – is defined with just eight words. While Luke’s telling of the Christmas story goes into the details surrounding Jesus’ birth, John’s description is more fundamental:

“In the beginning was the Word … The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).

Believers of many years may have grown accustomed to the facts of Christmas, but stop and think about it: God knows what we feel and fear because He was one of us.

“He rules the world with truth and grace– And makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love”

Written by Isaac Watts in 1719, this is referencing Psalm 98:8-9, as well as John’s Gospel:

First from the Psalms: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.”

Also from John 1:14, we read: “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Are you frustrated by those who mock and malign our Lord and who seem to get away with it? Hold on and hold tight. God’s authority is absolute. His timing and methods may not be ours, but He always keeps His promises.

“Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise sons of earth, born to give us second birth.”

The Englishman Charles Wesley is known for writing nearly 9,000 hymns, but “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” must be in the very top tier of them all. Interestingly enough, Wesley’s original title was, “Hymn for Christmas Day” and included this opening couplet:

“Hark! How all the welkin rings, glory to the King of Kings.” (“Welkin rings” means “Vault of Heaven makes a loud noise.”)

READ: Is this the greatest hymn ever written?

Wesley apparently expressed a loud noise of objection over George Whitefield changing “welkin rings” to “angels sing,” arguing Scripture doesn’t say the angels were singing but instead speaking.

Nevertheless, this third and powerful verse neatly condenses why Christ came and died for you and for me – and doing so with unprecedented humility.

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

The Episcopal pastor Phillips Brooks of Boston was inspired to write “O Little Town of Bethlehem” after visiting the Holy Land on Christmas Eve in 1865.

Over two thousand years since that first Christmas night, the “hopes and fears” of a weary world continue to rage against the other. It’s only in Christ’s coming that we find peace and contentment.

Even as a pandemic rolls on, nations war and our government continues to refuse to protect every innocent life under the rule of law, we can bring those fears and frustrations to Christ at Christmas – and He will meet us and take those burdens.

“Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask You to stay. Close by me forever, and love me I pray.”

Although a favorite of many, the origins of “Away in a Manger” appear lost to history. While originally attributed to Martin Luther, new evidence suggests otherwise – linking the hymn instead to American German Lutherans in the late 1800s.

The childlike simplicity and profoundness of this particular line is what gets me. Deep down, it’s what we all desperately want and need. To live a full and truly meaningful life, we must walk with Jesus Christ at our side. We need His love and pray for our relationship to deepen with the passing years.

So let us sing the songs of Christmas with full voice wherever we may be – and let the words of those songs move us beyond mere nostalgia, lifting us to a renewed appreciation for God sending His only Son to earth to live and die for us.

–By Paul Batura

Reprinted with permission from the Daily Citizen.

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