Singing the News of Christmas

by Jonathan Kraemer

Christmas, perhaps more than any other time of year, is when music fills the air. It is everywhere, in stores, on the radio, at children’s programs and choir concerts. Some of the songs are fun and fluffy, about sleigh rides and snow. Many of them, though, are very weighty, significant, and profound. For some, Christmas hymns might just be sentimental favourites, souvenirs of Christmases long past. But if we take a moment to stop and really think about the words we are singing, we will see how deep and wonderful they are. They speak to us the good news of what happened that first Christmas, who that newborn baby is, and what He came to do for us.

The hymns below include their reference hymn number from the Lutheran Service Book (LSB). Feel free to follow along with the lyrics as you reflect on the meaning of the words.

Silent Night (LSB 363)

“Silent Night,” now 200 years old this year, is a magical hymn because it is so often sung as the last hymn of the Christmas Eve service. By candle light we are transported by the words back to that first Christmas. We are a part of the peace of that holy night, gathered round yon virgin mother and child. This might be any birth scene, and this might be any child, except that the hymn bids us to call Him: holy infant—a baby set apart for a special purpose and completely righteous; Christ the Saviour—the Messiah, the anointed one, the King who has come to save us; Son of God, love’s pure light—God the Son in the flesh come to bring light and love to us who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. “Silent Night” paints such a simple scene of mother with sleeping child, but it becomes so profound in meaning because of who this new born babe is.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing (LSB 380)

While “Silent Night” is quiet and meditative, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is joyful and exuberant. With this hymn we are set down right in the midst of the heavenly hosts of angels as they burst out in praise for the birth of Jesus. We sing with the angels Glory to the newborn King. The birth of a king is special, but what is special about this birth is what this King came to bring: peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! In order to do such a wondrous thing, the Child himself is extraordinary. He is the everlasting Lord because He is God Himself: veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail th’incarnate Deity. This hymn loudly proclaims that God has come in the flesh to save us and to bring us home to heaven, giving us new life now and forever: 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.

What Child Is This (LSB 370)

While every Christmas hymn praises Jesus as the Christ, born to save us, there is one that strikes a more somber tone. “What Child is This” makes the connection between His humble birth and what is in store for this new born babe—what He will suffer in order that He might save us. It asks Why lies He in such mean estate Where ox and ass are feeding? The brutal answer comes: Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be born for me, for you. This newborn king, this son of God has come as a humble, suffering servant who will die for us, for our salvation. Our only response to this is to honor and glorify Him: So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh; Come peasant, king, to own Him. The King of kings, salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (LSB 366)

Many of the Christmas hymns transport us back to the birth of Jesus but “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” does not leave us there. It connects the first Christmas to our lives today. After painting the scene of the birth of Christ and the songs of the angels, it reminds us that Still through the cloven skies they come—still the angels sing the praises of Christ above its sad and lonely plains. But not everyone has that peace of which the angels sing: all you beneath you heavy load, By care and guilt bent low, who toil along the a dreary way With painful steps and slow. Especially to those who need it, the message of peace is declared again: The Prince was born to bring you peace; of Him the angels sing. The good news of Jesus’ birth, proclaimed by the angels, is a word of peace for all who will receive it, and all who take this gift will hear The song the angels sing.

Of the Father’s Love Begotten (LSB 384)

While it may not be as well-known as some, this Christmas hymn takes us back to the beginning. Not to the birth of Jesus, when the Son of God took on human flesh, but well before that. It sings praise to the pre-incarnate Christ: Of the Father’s love begotten, Ere the worlds began to be. And not only is He there at the beginning when all things where made through Him, but He will also be there at the end, for He is Alpha and Omega. Of all that is, has been and will be, He the source, the ending He. Having reminded us He is the both Alpha and Omega, the mystery of His birth by the virgin Mary is declared. This wonder of the incarnation is when the Son of God was born, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit, And the babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face. Since he took on human flesh, no longer do we need to be afraid of looking into the face of God. Instead we see a face like ours; He looks like us because He came to redeem us. For this we sing to Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving And unending praises be. Honor, glory, and dominion, And eternal victory Evermore and evermore.

Joy to the World (LSB 387)

Some hymns like “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” reach a crescendo of praise by the time they come to an end. Others, like “Joy to the World,” are full blast, pull-out-all-the-stops hymns from the very start. “Joy to the World” echoes the praise psalms that call all people and all of creation to praise God for the Lord has come! All creation responds to His birth: No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground for He has come to defeat sin and to make all things new.

These are just some of the wonderful Christmas hymns we sing at this time of the year that remind us why we are celebrating. What are your favorite Christmas hymns? As you sing them this Christmas season, look closely at the words and think about them. Take some time out of your devotions to read and ponder them. Look up the scripture references listed with the hymn in the Lutheran Service Book. Most of all, celebrate God’s gift of love for you born in Bethlehem, born so that we might join in singing with the angels now and evermore.

Rev. Jonathan Kraemer is pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Edmonton.

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Posted By: canluth
Posted On: December 18, 2018
Posted In: Feature Stories, Headline,

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