I know that many people complain about the incessant overplaying of Christmas carols at this time of year, but I must admit that I love them. I actually look forward to visiting the shops at this time of the year and more than once I have found people looking at me strangely as I unconsciously start singing along to the Little Drummer Boy while walking around Hurstville Westfield. Of course many of the Carols have very little to do with the real meaning of Christmas but I must admit that I still enjoy them all. In fact, so much so that I’ve scoured the Scriptures for a reference to that little drummer boy just so that I’d feel better singing it in church, but sadly he is just not there.
However, the ones I really love are those that drive to the heart of why Jesus entered the world. Besides singing along, I also have moments where I ironically (and somewhat sadly) chuckle to myself as other people sing about the birth of “the King of Israel” and especially when they sing praises to the one “who brought forth heaven and earth from nought, and with his blood mankind has brought.” (The First Noel) It leads me to pray that people would stop and consider the words of these wonderful hymns.
With that in mind I thought that I would take the chance to point out what I think is the greatest carol of them all. The great Hymn writer Charles Wesley wrote “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” with the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 in mind. In the 1st verse, he wants us to picture that wonderful scene where the angels appeared to the shepherds in the field announcing to them the birth of God’s Saviour King in Bethlehem. He invites us to join with the angelic host and proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem”.
However, what makes the hymn even more wonderful is the way he then expands on the meaning of that event in the 2nd verse. The hymn invites us to marvel in the fact that the one who is everlasting and who created the heavens and the earth has decided to enter our world in the most humble of circumstances – as “offspring of a virgin’s womb”. How incredible it is that the king of the universe is “pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel”. Immanuel of course means “God with us”.
Finally, the 3rd verse takes us beyond Christmas. Wesley understood that the significance of Christmas is only properly understood in the light of what the baby Jesus would grow up to do. Ultimately it is not Jesus’ birth that brings us our true hope and meaning but his re-birth, his resurrection from the dead. With that in mind, Wesley encourages us to sing:
“Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”
Wesley captures so wonderfully the true essence of Jesus and what he came to do. He gave up his glory for our sake so that we might find eternal life in him.
So, can I encourage you this Christmas to not just sing along with these wonderful songs, but also dwell on their meaning? What a joy it is to sing the praises of “the heaven-born Prince of Peace!”.