It's that time of year. Turn on the radio, take a trip to the mall, or simply stroll down the aisles of the local grocery store, and you're likely to hear songs about Jesus' birth playing in the background.
We call them "Christmas carols," but they are really Christian hymns celebrating the incarnation of our Lord and Savior. For a few weeks each December, these profound songs of worship become a ubiquitous part of the holiday atmosphere. Our society's pervasive interest in them provides us with a unique opportunity to share the gospel. It is the perfect time to explain the meaning of these songs to those who don't know Christ.
Today's post is just one example of how the content of Christmas carols can be used to share the good news of the gospel. Whether you follow a format like this or not, be sure to make the most of this Christmas season—sharing the truth of God's grace with unbelieving friends and family.
The carols that we sing each year do such a magnificent job of underscoring who Jesus is and why He came. It makes me sad, really, when I hear secular musicians singing Christmas carols; the irony strikes me about how these musicians, who make no claim to believe in Jesus, sing these beautiful songs about His birth. Yet, the reality is that they have no idea what they are singing about.
Perhaps you are in a similar place, familiar with the tunes of the great Christmas carols because you’ve heard them every winter season. But you’ve never stopped to consider their lyrics. Let's consider some of these great songs and the profound truths they proclaim.
O Holy Night
In O Holy Night, we are reminded that the world was “in sin and error pining,” wasting away until our dear Savior “appeared and the soul felt [the] worth" of His salvation.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
In God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, tidings of comfort and joy come from knowing that “Jesus Christ our Savior” was born “to save us all from Satan’s power, when we were gone astray.”
Human beings, guilty of disobedience and rebellion against God, are enslaved to sin. They face God's wrath against them. The Bible says that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and that “the wages of sin is death” including eternal separation from God. But, “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
In Hark the Herald Angels Sing, we learn that only through “the newborn King” can “God and sinners [be] reconciled.” We are also reminded that Jesus, being God, took on human flesh. “Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ the everlasting Lord; . . . Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity.”
These words echo the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote that “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men,” the Lord Jesus Christ. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”—providing a way of salvation for those who deserve nothing more than God’s condemnation.
Away in a Manger | O Little Town of Bethlehem | Go Tell It on the Mountain
There are many Christmas carols, of course, that speak of Christ’s birth: Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and others emphasize the very heart of Christmas – the birth of the Messiah.
But Jesus did not stay a baby in the manger. The reason we celebrate His birth is (1) because of who He is – the Son of God – and (2) because of what He came to do – to save His people from their sins.
Because God is holy, He must punish sin. If sin is to be forgiven, it must be covered by an adequate sacrifice. The carols we sing at Christmas remind us that Jesus Christ was born to be that perfect sacrifice. In other words, He came to die.
What Child Is This?
The words of What Child Is This? underscore this truth beautifully. In the second verse, we find these lyrics: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne for me [and] for you.” When Christ died on the Cross, He paid the penalty for sin for all those who would believe in Him.
Quoting Paul again, in his letter to the Colossians, we read this about those who have trusted Jesus Christ. “When you were dead in your transgressions and [sins], [God] made you alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us . . . ; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
The First Noel
The last verse of The First Noel reiterates this point: “Then let us all with one accord, sing praises to our heavenly Lord, [who] hath made heaven and earth of nought, And with His blood mankind hath bought.”
The very God who created the world out of nothing, is the same God who makes salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life possible through Jesus Christ.
Of course, Jesus Christ did not stay in the tomb; He rose again on the third day, demonstrating that He had truly defeated sin and death. Forty days after His resurrection, He ascended to heaven where He now sits at His Father’s right hand. By paying sin’s penalty and defeating its power, Christ alone makes salvation available to all who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior.
The fact that sinful men and women can experience peace with God (and subsequently peace on earth) when they really deserve death is the essence of grace. That's why the author of Silent Night could pen these words, “Radiant beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace.”
Redeeming grace is why Jesus came. It is why He died; so that through Him, sinful men and women might be reconciled and restored to God. The message of Christmas brings sinners to a crossroads, where they must deal with the Person of Jesus Christ. Will you embrace Him as Lord and Savior? Or will you dismiss His claim on your life and reject the salvation He offers?
He is the only way of salvation. As the apostle Peter proclaimed about Jesus: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Joy to the World
The well-known carol Joy to the World exhorts its listeners with these words: “Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room,” meaning that each person is called to embrace Jesus Christ, as both Savior and King.
O Come Let Us Adore Him | Angels We Have Heard on High
The very title of O Come Let Us Adore Him underscores the worshipful attitude that characterizes all those who truly trust in Him. And Angels We Have Heard on High exhorts one and all to “come, adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the new-born King.” The Word of God calls every person to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ – believing in Him, trusting in His sacrifice, and submitting to His authority in life.
So what will you do with Jesus Christ this Christmas season? Will you ignore Him? Will you dismiss Him? Will you sing the songs of Christmas without thinking about the very words you are singing?
Or will you submit to Him for who He truly is—no longer a little baby born in a stable in Bethlehem—but the risen and exalted Son of God who died for sin and rose again and now sits at the right hand of His Father in heaven. He Himself said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
If you have not come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, having never been reconciled to God, let me extend to you the Bible’s invitation to embrace the true gift of Christmas. It is the gift God gave to the world — namely, His Son.
The Lord Jesus promises forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to all who will come to Him: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37). The gospel of John reiterates that promise, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36).
The Apostle Paul summed up the good news of salvation with these words: "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).
With these truths in mind, I love the words of the second verse of Angels from the Realms of Glory. They serve as a fitting conclusion:
Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.