byFaith | 12.12.16
By Alan Dowd
I love Christmastime for lots of reasons: It invites us to
stop and contemplate the breath-taking, mind-stretching notion of Emmanuel, God with us. It encourages us
to see the world with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, if only for a few
moments on Christmas morning. It calls us home, to a place where people love us
even when we’re not loveable. It brings family and friends together, and
because of that, it brings back old memories—Grandpa building a fire, Grandma telling
stories, Mom and Dad working extra-hard to make Christmas extra-special. And it
brings out the generosity and charity in (most) people. But there’s another
reason I love Christmastime: the music.
We start playing Christmas music at our house the day after
Thanksgiving, as we trim the tree, and keep playing it all the way through
December. From the sacred to the secular to the silly, there’s nothing quite
like Christmas music, and there’s really no other time of year to enjoy it.
Researchers at Timemagazine recently conducted a massive review of U.S. copyright
registrations for Christmas songs. They found that “Silent Night” is the most
popular Christmas song. No surprise there.
What is surprising is what Time discovered after it ranked each of the most-recorded Christmas
songs, which included “heavily religious songs about the birth of Christ” as
well as “highly commercial ones about Santa and snow.” The songs on the “More
Jesus”—Time’s term—side of the
spectrum outnumber the ones on the “More Santa” side.
In fact, by my count, 12 of the 18 most-recorded Christmas
songs in America, eight of the top 10, and all of the top six fall on the “More
Jesus” side of Time’s ledger.
There’s something encouraging, inspiring and comforting
about this—especially amid the so-called “war on Christmas.” Think about it:
These songs serve as the background music, the soundtrack, for December. They’re
playing in shopping centers and big-box retailers and restaurants all season
long. Consider the words of some of these most popular Christmas songs:
“Silent Night” (1st) declares that this baby is the “Son of
God, love's pure light,” and He brings with Him “the dawn of redeeming grace.”
He is “Christ the savior.” And here He is—in a stable of all places—in Paul’s
words, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
“Joy to the World” (2nd) declares, “The Lord is come. Let
earth receive her King!” The song urges “every heart” to “prepare Him room.” He
knocks on the door of each person’s heart and longs to take up residence there.
But it’s up to each of us to open the door and make room for the King of Kings.
Without nuance, “O Holy Night” (3rd) explains that “long lay
the earth in sin and error…till He appeared and the soul found its worth.” In
Jesus, the human soul, finally, found what it had craved, ever since the Garden.
The song’s writers understood, like so many others through time, that there’s a
God-shaped space in our hearts yearning to be filled by the Creator. He has
“set eternity in the human heart,” as the author of Ecclesiastes explained.
Paul observed that the imprint of God’s law is writtenon our hearts. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in
you.” Lewis matter-of-factly concluded, “If I find in myself a desire which no
experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I
was made for another world.”
“What Child Is This?” (4th) challenges the listener to
contemplate who—and what—Jesus is. Is He who He claims to be—the Son of God,
the savior of mankind, the Light of the world? How do you answer? The author of
the song offered his: “This is Christ the King…the King of Kings salvation
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” (10th) echoes the Gospel
story and the words of Paul. “A blessed angel came” to tell us “the Son of God
was born.” He came here to “save us all from Satan's power when we had gone
astray.” Put another way, He brought good news and offered salvation—even while
we were still sinners. What “comfort” and “joy” comes from this invitation.
My favorite Christmas songs are “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
(14th) and “Do You Hear What I Hear” (just outside the top 20).
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” spans past and future: Some
stanzas remind us that before Emmanuel,
before “God with us,” before the Son of God “appeared,” God’s people were “mourning”
in “lonely exile.” But after He came and ransomed us, there was rejoicing, for He
“cheered our spirits” and “closed the path to misery.” The song makes it clear
that it was Jesus who did this—not Wall Street or Wal-Mart or Washington. And
the song makes it emphatically clear that Jesus is all that matters, all that
is good, all that is right: He is “our Wisdom,” the “Lord of might,” the “rod
of Jesse,” the “key of David,” “our Dayspring,” the true “desire of nations.” Yet
the song, with its almost-haunting music, also points us toward tomorrow,
reminding those with ears to hear that the Son of God will return. “Rejoice!
Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee,
For me, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a metaphor for how God
allows the gospel to be spread. The windshares the Word with a lamb. The lamb passes it on to a shepherd. And the
shepherd tells a mighty king the Good News: “The Child sleeping in the night, He
will bring us goodness and light.”
It’s comforting to think that even the Scrooges among us,
even those who care little about the meaning of Christmas, even as all those super-sensitive
and super-secular retailers that replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy
Holidays,” even amidst the industrial-strength consumerism of Christmas in
America, people are singing and humming songs of praise to the savior of
It’s as if heaven is mounting a covert operation in the world,
behind enemy lines, using these songs to stealthily sow seeds in the hearts of
those who are lost. This is a reminder of what God promised Isaiah: “My word,”
He thundered, “will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for
which I sent it.” Someday, perhaps in the New Year, perhaps next Christmas,
perhaps many years to come, some of those seeds will take root and blossom into
faith—faith in a king born in a stable, faith in the real reason for the season.