For Western Christians, and quite possibly for all believers everywhere, music is inseparable from Christmas. I’m aware that some folks delight in reminding us that the angelic choir that appeared to the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth didn’t sing. “And the angel said to them…” (Luke 2:10). Then it says there was a multitude “praising God and saying.” (2:13)
That’s all well and good, but I still think they sang. For one thing, he/they might have spoken and then sung those or other words. Also, Job 38:7 tells us the “sons of God sang for joy” at creation, and I’m thinking those were angels, not humans since presumably no humans were present at creation.
No matter. Much of Christianity down through the centuries has inseparably linked the celebration of the nativity with singing.
From the 5th century “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” a piece so hauntingly beautiful that pastor Rob Morgan considers it one of his favorites, to Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley and their powerful all-time hymns “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” to “Mary, Did You Know,” we all have our favorites, and I haven’t even scratched the surface.
Every year some song or songs resonate with me. Maybe something new, previously unknown. Maybe an old favorite. This year there are several:
1. The afore-mentioned “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”. I’ve listened to it several times and mediated on the poignant lyrics. The story of Christ retold in the 5th century. The Incarnation described in beautiful, ancient poetry. The recurring “evermore and evermore.” By the way, if memory serves this was the lead-off song for the Welch choir project from several years ago, “Alpha and Omega.”
2. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Written by Charles Wesley. Wesley is one of my all-time favorite songwriters, and this hymn has become a favorite Christmas song of mine. It’s the kind of song the ancients would have sung, had they known their Messiah’s name. We do know and celebrate accordingly.
3. The country gospel classic “O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” We sang it at our church a couple of weeks ago and the excitement was palpable, as “amens” were heard at the conclusion. Watching the Gaither video years ago as Ben Spear chokes with emotion as he sings the line “for Jesus is now that star divine, brighter and brighter He will shine,” touches me, as does the whole song.
Just for good measure, I’m going to throw in a few more. They aren’t really Christmas songs but are so fitting for the season. “I Call Him Lord,” by Dottie Rambo, reminds us “but the angel called Him Jesus, born of a virgin, Mary called Him Jesus, but I Call Him Lord. That lyric enables me to celebrate just a little more worshipfully this Christmas.
And there’s the old Fanny Crosby hymn “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” The first stanza has a powerful incarnation lyric “…Tell how the angels in chorus sang as they welcomed his birth, glory to God in the highest, peace and good tidings to earth.. ”
Finally, an older song by Bill and Gloria Gaither, not so well-known. I’ve enjoyed hearing it again, as it tenderly breathes out its Christmas message: “love went on reaching, and love went on longing, right past the shackles of my mind, and the longing and the reaching became Mary’s little son, and his love reached all the way to where I was.”
Christmas and music. Christmas carols. The birthday of our King. Still, a few days to go. I hope we all make the time and find the way, or ways, to worship the Newborn King this Christmas season. Going through the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Reading and studying Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2. Singing the old songs joyfully, and adding in some newer ones. Going to a Christmas concert or candlelight service. “Let every heart prepare him room, and Heaven and nature sing.”
Now I need to listen to “Handel’s “Messiah,” and Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God.”