11 December 2011

Christmas Carols Are for Mourners

“White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” These are the songs that echo throughout the malls as people prepare for what we know as the most wonderful time of the year. But these songs and the sentimentalism they inspire only serve to mock and injure many. The purpose of this post, however, is not to denigrate such songs or bemoan the commercialization of Christmas. My goal is to offer comfort by refocusing on truth and specifically truth in song.

Grief is painful at any time of the year, but at Christmas, when everyone is “supposed” to be filled with holiday cheer, the hurt can be intensified a thousand times. The sources of grief are many, ranging from the death of a loved one, a broken heart, family feuding, the lack of any family, physical distance from family and friends, to as many more as there are people on earth. The nostalgia and the frivolity that we celebrate during the holidays can only serve to drive a dagger into the heart of the already broken-hearted. Nostalgia whispers “remember the way things used to be and can never be again,” or “remember that you have never known what was meant to be.” Frivolity shouts “life is all about fun and games, never-mind that death is all around.” And they leave the grievers feeling like miserable, lonely outsiders while everyone else is enjoying life and love.

The birth of Jesus tears all of that away, and Christmas is precisely for the mourners. Abraham waited twenty-five years for the birth of Isaac from the time that God promised him a son. But from the time that God promised Israel a Messiah until the birth of Christ, the nation waited hundreds of years. In that time span, the nation had gone through war after war after war, famine, hundreds of years of exile and deportation. Israel had split into two nations almost a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. And at the time Jesus was born, although the people had returned to the land, they were subjected to Roman authority. Truly they were a people beaten down.

In Luke 2, there are two people who greet us in their sorrow and leave revived in their hope at the presentation of Jesus. At the time Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, Simeon came in faith by the Spirit to the temple to see Jesus. We do not know much about Simeon other than the fact that he was likely quite old, for he had been told that “he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Lk 2:26).” He was focused on waiting for “the consolation of Israel (Lk 2:25).” His was a life of waiting, and it was not until he saw the baby Jesus, the salvation of Israel and a light and glory for the people of the world, that he could say, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace.” Then there is Anna, a prophetess. She had been a widow for many decades, in a society where widows were completely dependent upon charity, and she spent her days in prayer and fasting. Fasting is not for the happy people, the fulfilled people. It is for the waiting ones, the needy ones, the sorrowing ones who are still looking for God to answer prayer. And this is how Anna spent her years. But at the moment Jesus was brought into the temple, her words changed to thanks to God for the redemption of Jerusalem had come. Her status as an aging widow did not cease to matter but was overwhelmed in the greater glory of the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Christmas proclaims that God keeps his promises and his salvation is the comfort of his people. This is what the best Christmas songs reinforce. They break into the real pain and sorrow of this life and call us to remember that what God has promised he will do. For when he promised a Messiah and a Savior, he sent Jesus to free his people, sent him into an Israel under Roman oppression, to a poor step-father and a mother bearing the shame of unwed pregnancy, birthed in a stable. This is the One who caused Simeon to sing and Anna to proclaim. Though we may weep now, we know that as certainly as Christ did come, he will come again. As Rich Mullins sang, “He will never break his promise, though the stars should break faith with the sky.”

My intention is to post a different Christmas carol every day from now until Christmas in the prayer that the reader may find hope and comfort in the truth of Christmas, and perhaps find that they can sing, even in sorrow.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, Who orderest all things mightily;

To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, O come, great Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height

In ancient times once gave the law In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree, An ensign of Thy people be;

Before Thee rulers silent fall; All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


All Scriptures quotations are from the ESV.

1 comment:

Eowyn's Heir said...

great idea, Ash! And... when can you come over this week?