I like this time of year primarily because of the Christmas carols. A few years ago Sandy and I did a monthly service at a local nursing home, and in preparing for our first Christmas service I researched the history of many of the old songs. I found the stories behind them as inspiring as the songs themselves.
Take Silent Night for example. The words had been penned by an assistant pastor of a little church in the Austrian Alps as a poem. When their organ failed a couple days before their Christmas Eve service he asked the church organist to come up with a melody that could be sung with a guitar. Through a series of amazing events (see http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/silent.htm) the song made its way all around Europe and now is translated into more than 300 languages.
Beginning with the weekend after Thanksgiving, my pastor did a series of messages on the Songs of Christmas – each of the four messages focusing on a song taken directly from Holy Scripture.
The Benedictus was the song of thanksgiving uttered by Zechariah on the occasion of the birth of his son, John the Baptist, as recorded in Luke 1:68-79. Its name comes from its first words in Latin (Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”). It was first introduced into the Church’s “early morning prayers” back in the 6th century.
The Magnificat (which is Latin for: [My soul] magnifies) is also known as The Song of Mary, taken from Luke 1:46-55. After Mary greets Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the future John the Baptist, the child moves within Elizabeth’s womb. When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith: Mary speaks these words in response. It found its way into many Christian denominations as Evening Prayer.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Latin for glory to God in the Highest) are the words sung by the multitude of angels after Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds as described in Like 2:8-14. The praise of the angels with other words added to form a hymn is known as the Greater Doxology. The words have also been incorporated into many more recent Christmas songs, such as Angels we have heard on high. The words have also been made a part of main worship services.
The Nunc dimittis (which is Latin, meaning “Now you dismiss”) is also known as the Song of Simeon. The Gospel tells us that Simeon was a devout Jew who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Savior. When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for the ceremony of consecration of the firstborn son (about 40 days after the birth), Simeon was there, and he took Jesus into his arms and uttered the words recorded in Luke 2:29–32. These have been incorporated into Night Prayers and other services in many traditional churches.
Whatever song-of-the-season happens to be your favorite, use it to draw you and your family closer to God. What every good Christmas song should do is remind you that what people do to you is unimportant. The only thing that really matters is what Jesus did for each of us individually.
What Child is This? is one of my favorites. It was actually written by an insurance salesman, who at the age of 29 was bedridden for many months due to a near fatal illness. During this trying time William Chatterton Dix began to write hymns, including this one which is sung to the melody of the traditional English folk song Greensleeves.
What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap, is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing: haste, haste to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary!
Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear for sinners here, the silent Word is pleasing.
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh, come peasant king to own Him, the King of kings, salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the Virgin sings her lullaby: Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
What Child is This? That’s a very important question. Because this child grew up and became a man. And this man began a ministry that has spanned the globe. And as this man walked the highways and byways of Israel, He told us Who He was – and then He asked the people that He met – if they believed Him. “Who do you say I am?”
“What child is this?” “Who do you say I am?” Questions that every single person on this earth must answer. Each of our destinies depend on how we answer those questions. Some people called Jesus the son of Joseph. That was a mistake. The Bible clearly points this out.
The Bible calls Him the son of David, the son of Mary, the son of man and the Son of God. He was the son of David because He was the rightful king – the rejected king – the returning king promised to Israel. He was no doubt the son of Mary; but because of that, the people closest to Him questioned His authority. To them, He was an “average Joe.” His birth was seemingly impossible. And His birth was steadfastly investigated: by Joseph, by the shepherds, by the wise men, by Herod, by angels, even by the devil. He was the son of man Who shared our problems of the flesh (physical weariness; hunger and thirst; physical pain; and temptation, but He never sinned!) He submitted to the purpose of the Father and He became an example for us to follow: an example of obedience and patience and servanthood to others. And most definitely He is the Son of God. He is the only sinless man who ever lived – the only sacrifice that could take away sin – the only Savior who can take you to heaven.
But what did Jesus call Himself?
- To the 12 Apostles – He said: “I Am The Way, The Truth, And The Life, nobody comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
- To the chief priests and the Pharisees – He called Himself “the stone which the builders rejected and the chief cornerstone” of the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 21:42)
- To a woman that He met at a well in Samaria – Jesus called Himself a fountain of water which brings eternal life – the Christ, the Messiah and our Savior. (John 4)
- To the multitude of people that He taught outside the city of Capernaum – He referred to Himself as Bread from heaven, the Son of His Father, sent by God to bring eternal life. (John 6)
- To a religious leader named Nicodemus – He called Himself the light of the world and told him he must be born again to enter into His Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. (John 3)
- And to the Apostle Paul – Jesus revealed that every person must confess with their mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead, in order to be saved. (Romans 10:9, 10)
From a very young age, the first few verses of the Gospel of John have held a special place in my heart – probably because they summarize the real purpose of Christ’s coming.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
It is these words and claims of Jesus that are “the rest of the story” – and what we as Christians celebrate this Christmas time. If you haven’t already made a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ before, I challenge you to do so this week – before you celebrate His birthday.