Timeless Carols

December 22, 2022

By Peter Amsterdam

Audio length: 16:32
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Something I’ve always loved about Christmas is listening to and singing the beautiful Christmas carols that have been written over the centuries. Many are masterpieces of music and move me deeply with the beauty of their poetry as well as the power of their purpose.

What struck me was how in the midst of the rhyme and repetition, they deliver such powerful and nuanced messages. They speak deep truths about Jesus, His incarnation, mission, purpose, and power, along with His love and sacrifice for humanity. They are not only a strong witness to the message of the Savior and salvation, but are also a reminder to those of us who follow Him of the deep truths that we believe.

As I read these wonderful songs, I thought about the masterful way the songwriters crafted the words and rhymes to explain the meaning of Christ and Christmas. For hundreds of years these carols have told the story of the birth of the one who left heaven to bring salvation to generation after generation. They remind us, as they did our spiritual ancestors, of the importance of this day we celebrate, the birth of Christ—Jesus, God’s Son, who lived among us and laid down His life for us that we may live forever. Embedded within the beautiful Christmas carols is the truth of what God has done to bring salvation to humanity.

I’ve selected a few lines or stanzas that particularly impressed me from Christmas carols that present various aspects of the message of who Jesus is, His being born of a virgin, of salvation, grace, redemption, new birth, resurrection, and other foundations of our faith. I hope they will touch you as I was touched by the power of their message and the love that our Savior, Jesus, has for each of us.

O Come All Ye Faithful

O Come All Ye Faithful, written in the mid-1700s, speaks about the Word of God coming to live as a man on earth, understanding and sympathizing with our human weaknesses, with the well-crafted line, “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7–8).

This beautiful carol also reinforces the truths expressed in the Nicene Creed, one of the major declarations of belief within Christianity, by including lines which express that Jesus is not a creation of God, but rather is equal to the Father.

God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, begotten, not created:
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Silent Night

Silent Night, originally written in German by Joseph Mohr in 1818, contains a stanza which conveys Jesus, the light of the world, bringing God’s redemption to humanity.

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

The line, “Son of God, love’s pure light” reflects what Jesus said about Himself, as well as what the apostle John reports in the fourth Gospel, that Jesus is the light of the world. “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. I am the light of the world” (John 12:46; 8:12).

The words “dawn of redeeming grace” speak of the gift of God’s grace, which redeems us from our sins. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (Ephesians 1:7–8).

What Child Is This?

Written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix, What Child Is This? speaks of Jesus as God Incarnate, as the King of kings, yet born in a poor and humble situation. It beautifully portrays the Word of God pleading for sinners, and the gruesome death He was willing to experience for each of us.

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
Come, peasant, king, to own Him,
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him!

He calls everyone, peasant or king, rich or poor, to own or possess Him within their lives by coming to Him for salvation. “Let loving hearts enthrone Him” brings to mind a picture of how Jesus is enthroned in us when we open our hearts to Him.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, brother of the famous preacher and evangelist John Wesley. The original music was solemn; it was revised a hundred years later by Felix Mendelssohn into the joyous and beautiful carol it is today. The message of reconciliation with God, the peace brought by the Prince of Peace, the rejoicing that Jesus is the Messiah, the King, make this a deeply meaningful Christmas carol.

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

As this carol proclaims, God and sinners are reconciled. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:19–22).

Hail, the Heaven-born Prince of Peace, hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.
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.
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Jesus is proclaimed in this carol as the Prince of Peace. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

O Holy Night

O Holy Night is so powerful in both melody and word, and drives home the overall message of hope available to all who believe in Jesus and the effect His life has on the lives of those who come to know Him. Today generally only two verses of the song are sung, which contain powerful messages, such as:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
’Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Besides the two verses and the chorus which are normally sung, there is another verse which is seldom sung that contains a touching word picture about comfort in difficult times.

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need; to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!

Jesus is always there for us. Through the journey of our lives, through our tests and trials, He is there. As the carol says, He’s born to be our Friend. He’s no stranger to our weaknesses and frailties. He knows all about us: the good, the bad, and the ugly. He loves us in spite of how we are. He loves us because He is love. He wants to be part of our lives, to share not just in our difficulties when we cry out to Him in need, but also in our times of joy and happiness, when we count our blessings and celebrate our achievements and those of our family and friends.

Christmas is a time when we are reminded about His birth, and it’s a wonderful time of year to think about Him and all that He has done for us. But what He has done for us goes way beyond the Christmas season; it affects our lives every day. He is an integral part of our lives; we have a personal relationship with Him. He wants to be part of all we do—and He can be—every day, as much as we’ll let Him.

As we sing the Christmas carols this year, it’s a great time to reflect on what they mean, what Jesus has done, the love He’s given, and how deeply He loves each one of us and each one of our fellow human beings, and to carry those thoughts and that love throughout the new year ahead. Love Him, love His creations, be grateful for all He’s done. He loves you deeply. Have a wonderful Christmas in Christ.

Originally published December 2013. Adapted and republished December 2022.
Reading and carol recordings by Jerry Paladino.

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