It is OK, I am not talking about those pop songs which have been playing on repeat in supermarkets and boutiques since October. Shop workers, you have my sympathy.
Nor am I going to pull the lyrics apart because they do not represent Palestine as it was then. I want to look at what is good about Christmas Hymns.
But first, to get the negativity out of the way, a dishonorable mention goes to way in a manger, which to me exhibits all that is wrong with the sentimentality that can replace devotion to God.
So onto the good stuff. Here’s the top 3, in reverse order.
3. God rest ye merry, Gentlemen.
One of the oldest lyrics we have, this is as traditional as tradition gets. But I don’t like it just because it is traditional
From verse 2 on it is a retelling of the Luke’s Gospel account of the nativity. But this is not a sentimental retelling. Which is one of the traps that is avoided, that of worshipping the baby. We all know babies are cute, my granddaughter, born this year is the most beautiful person ever. Maybe I am biased.
The chorus of another hymn does not say, “O come let us adore him, Christ the baby.” It says, “O come let us adore him Christ the Lord.” We worship the God who made all ime and space who became human.
The good thing about God rest ye merry. is that it sets out what it is about in the first verse:
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Who there, how did Satan set there, this is supposed to be a nice Christmas song. But that is the point. The reason for the incarnation is that God wants to save us. All of us. This is something that is very hard to describe, in the later parts of the Old Testament and in the New Testament there is a style used to describe the indescribable using picture language, known as apocalyptic. But more about that in …
2. In the bleak midwinter.
This one gets votes by choirs as the best Christmas carol, and it is no wonder. The lyrics, a posthumously published poem by Christina Rosetti fits wonderfully to Gustav Holst’s tune.
It also has it’s critics. The first verse with with its depiction of a northern European winter compete with frozen ground and snow does not fit the typical weather of Bethlehem, even if Jesus was born in midwinter, which we do not know.
But I love the second verse:
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
The contrast between the glory of Christ’s second coming and the humble surroundings is obvious. And the style is unmistakably apocalyptic, heaven and earth fleeing away. This is the reason why I don’t mind the norther European winter imagery. The whole hymn is unashamedly and gloriously apocalyptic. So don’t take it as being literal, take in the message it is saying. The Lord God Almighty, creator and sustainer of the universe has come to earth, not in power leading n army, but in humility, born in the stable.
It is clear here that what we are worshipping may be in the form of a helpless baby, but it is the Lord God almighty that heaven cannot hold.
1. For unto us a child is born.
This Aria from The Messiah by Handel has it all. Great music and lyrics straight from the book of Isaiah. All I have said above applies to this as well. So rather than more waffling on, here it is.
Happy Christmas to you all. God rest ye merry.