“Songs are powerful. God knows this. This is why He gave us so many in His Word. And when His Word is set to music, it can be an incredibly powerful experience.”
On Tuesday mornings, before school begins, many of the teachers gather together to encourage each other through time in God’s Word. These staff-led devotions are a sweet way to start our day, giving us an opportunity to pause to reflect on the majesty of His Word and to spend time in prayer. At the beginning of each year, we get to choose which day we will lead these devotions. This year, I chose December 10, because it was near Christmas and, I thought it would be fun to write about my favorite Christmas carol.
Last week, with the day for my devotion rapidly approaching, I tried to choose one favorite carol. It was then that I realized the impossibility of the task I had set before myself.
Just one? I just couldn’t do it. So, I decided okay, three. Surely I could narrow it down to three? Nope. Still not enough. I realized I needed to add a couple more. So, my favorite five carols. Good. Five Favorites. Perfect. There’s even a nice alliteration in the title. But…where could I possibly stop? Which ones could I leave out? I realized that, at the heart of my dilemma, is the unabashed love I have for Christmas carols. Their words resonate with me in a way that not much else does, except His actual Word. As a lover of language, these word pictures take me to where it all begin. The humbleness. The majesty. The fulfillment of promises made so long ago.
Oh Holy Night. I picture the scene. The stars are brightly shining. It is the night… Not just any night, but The Night.
Silent night, Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. This is a word picture of the finest kind. Simple words. Repetition. Soothing, and yet at the same time, piercing, because I know the ultimate ending to this calm night.
For me, these carols and hymns are the best part of Christmas. Okay. Honestly, Christmas cookies and presents aren’t bad, either, but for me, the music is still the best part. It lifts my spirit and focuses my heart on what we are celebrating. And, in the midst of Christmas insanity, it really can help calm the savage beast in me when I am on overload. All is Calm. All is Bright.
Since Christmas carols are such a special thing for me – something I savor and look forward to – I have a rule. No Christmas music before Christmas. In our house, this means the first official Christmas songs happen with Thanksgiving dessert. I have to say “official” because, when my children were little, this rule was severely tested and badly bent when piano lessons began in our home. No one told me that piano lessons meant Christmas songs begin in early fall.
That first year I was able to negotiate a late start – October 1. But that was as late as our teacher would go. I knew it needed to happen… but October??? I remember each of them learning Jolly Old Saint Nicolas, and it reverberating through my brain while it was still 75 (or sometimes even 80) degrees outside. It just felt wrong. It still does. I mean, honestly, when I hear a Christmas song before Christmas, I just want to cover my ears and go “La la la la.” Not tra la la la, but more of an inward scream. And when the song is, Jolly Old Saint Nicolas? Wow. Those of you who had beginning piano students understand. The rest of you – just consider yourselves blessed to have missed this fun.
When I was little, Christmas carols were marvelous ear-candy. The melody of Jingle Bells or Sleigh Ride just made my heart happy. I loved the rhythms and fun words. Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling, too. Snow, jingle-bells and horses. What’s not to love? I loved learning Silver Bells in my fourth grade choir class. The picture of city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style was such a marvelous image to this California girl who had never even seen snow. And the chorus was so much fun to sing. It still is.
I also loved the sweet words and music of Away in a Manger. I had an antique book of Christmas carols that had been my grandmother’s when she was little. It was beautifully illustrated. The words and music of the carols were paired with absolutely dreamy illustrations. Even today, as I sing the words about the cattle a-lowing and the baby awake, I can picture the glorious colors of the accompanying image of Baby Jesus in His manger surrounded by sweet-faced, barn animals.
Then, in my junior year of high school, I became a Christian. That was the year I heard the true meaning behind the words I had simply savored for their musicality and images. I realized these songs had words written for me, and about me. As I sang, O Come, All Ye Faithful, I realized it was me that was being called joyful and triumphant. I was the one being called to come and behold Him, born the King of Angels. In Hark the Herald Angels, I was one of the sinners reconciled. For me, it really was The First Noel. And for me, the angels really did sing, born is the King of Israel.
This year, I have worked on ancient history with the fifth graders. As I taught them about Sumeria and Babylon, and about the way these ancient peoples mapped the heavens. I thought of the three kings following yonder star. I pictured them going over field and fountain, moor and mountain – all because of a star they saw in the east. While there may be debate over how many, how far and how long they travelled, there is no debate that these men – kings or not – came to worship the One True King.
Songs are powerful. God knows this. This is why He gave us so many in His Word. And when His Word is set to music, it can be an incredibly powerful experience. Each year, thousands of believers stand shoulder-to-shoulder with non-believers – all gathered together in symphony halls throughout the world to sing the words, Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace! It is some of the most majestic music ever written for the most majestic prophesy ever given.
And, I always wonder, as I consider the words these people are singing so beautifully – do you know what it means? Do you hear what I hear? Do you hear the truth, the salvation? Do you hear the redemption revealed in these words? Each year, as I hear the myriad of renditions of Christmas carols sung by famous musicians, I pray. I pray for the words they are singing to pierce their hearts sharper than any two-edged sword. I truly pray that every heart will prepare Him room.
This Christmas, as you and your family are singing the songs of the season, I hope you will be encouraged by the words of His story set to music in these glorious songs of old. And, as I listen to the words of these songs, I will be prayerfully awaiting the time, the new heaven and earth shall own the Prince of Peace, their King. And the whole world send back the song, which now the angels sing.
Written by Julie A. Churchill, one of our 5th grade teachers & our Director of Development