Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas Carols

by   |   kallweil@bju.edu   |  

It’s everywhere you go: the grocery store, church, the mall, your car. Some people love it. Others tolerate it. But everyone knows it. It’s Christmas music.

Almost everyone knows the words to most of the traditional Christmas carols. Yet they often miss the theological message within those words.

Consider, for instance, the song “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Here’s the first verse:

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King:

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With the angelic host proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Now go back and read it without singing it in your head. Reading the lines as prose instead of poetry may help:

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King: Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations, rise, join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Most people will say—and did say in a small survey I conducted on campus—that this song is about angels singing to the shepherds and telling them that Jesus was born. They’re right. But they’re also missing deeper theological principles.

For instance, this verse doesn’t refer only to Christ’s first coming. It alludes to His Second Coming, as well. It calls Christ “King” and tells “all ye nations” to praise Him. Christ’s Kingdom on earth was begun with His birth, but it will be fulfilled with His Second Coming. And not every nation praised Jesus as King when he was born in a manger. That will happen when He comes again.

The verse also touches on the wonder of salvation: “God and sinners reconciled!” This song is packed with theology.

But singing Christmas carols has become habit. We learn the songs as children then sing them every year. We know the words by heart and don’t have to think about them anymore—that’s a habit according to Psychology Today.

But these old Christmas songs contain so much doctrine. Unfortunately, that deep theology is lost on many because of the songs’ familiarity. As Matthew Weathers (BJU’s student leadership coordinator) said, “We don’t meditate on the weightiness” of these songs.

So how do we break the habit?

Read the song as if it were someone speaking instead of singing.

Anytime I see a song written, I automatically sing it in my head as I read it, and I know I’m not the only one!

Try taking the time to write the song out without breaking it into lines.

You’ll noticed the meaning becomes much clearer.

Don’t sing mindlessly.

Think through and meditate on the words you’re singing.

Look for the theology in Christmas songs.

I think you’ll be amazed at what you find.

If you want some great Christmas music to get started with (though not all sacred Christmas songs), check out the video of BJU’s Christmas Lighting Ceremony. And have a very merry Christmas!

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Krystal Allweil

Krystal Allweil is the content marketing specialist for BJU’s Marketing Communications and is the managing editor for BJUtoday.