Why Good Christmas Songs Matter

In my last post, When Christmas Loses Its Cheer, I tried to remind us that the message and meaning of Christmas offer a deeper joy than the magic Christmas. For those walking through trials and hardship, the Christmas season doesn’t have to be a letdown if it causes us see the beauty of Christ more clearly. In this post, I want to simply point to a few Christian hymns that echo how Christ’s glory and grace shines brighter in the midst of darkness and sorrow.

Several of my favorite songs convey the sadness, pain, and weariness of our world that Jesus enters into to give light, hope, and healing. The tone and the lyrics are honest about the ache we feel and how God enters into that darkness through Jesus entering the darkness of the world.

If you are perfectly happy in the holidays, and if the magic of the season truly satisfies your soul, then none of this will make sense. In fact, Jesus will seem somewhat unnecessary and a bit of a bore alongside all the other fun things of Christmas. But, if you’re still a sinner needing grace, if you’re still weak and weary but long for strength, and if you still feel sorrows and encounter struggles like I do, then these songs might speak to you.

As I said, the tone or sound to many of these songs is just as important as the lyrics. So while not wanting to sound even more like Eeyore than I already do, avoid the peppy, overly positive remakes of some of these hymns which lack the tenor of brokenness. Here are just a few examples.

“O Holy Night”

This might be my favorite Christmas hymn (the David Phelps version is great). This song echoes with honest desperation as it moves from weariness to hope. It speaks to a world and people who have long lay under sin and error, looking for a new and glorious morning to break into their darkness. It’s only the coming of Jesus to be our King (verse 2), to break our chains (verse 3), to be our friend in trials (verse 2), and to be a faithful high-priest who knows our need (verse 2) that causes a thrill of hope and rejoicing.

“O Come O Come Emmanuel”

Nearly every line of this Christmas hymn speaks to God’s coming to us in misery, sorrow, or chains. As the songwriter considers our circumstances there’s not much to celebrate. But Jesus changes everything and he gives cause to rejoice. Notice the contrast between life apart from Jesus and life with Jesus.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel; And ransom captive Israel; That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”
“O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free, Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory o’er the grave.”
“O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer, Our spirits by Thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
“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”

“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”

Here again we have a somber song, but sobriety about our hardships is outdone by hope in the incarnate savior.

Verse two describes the world in it weariness and sadness. Then verse three speaks to the ongoing suffering and woes of men and women. It mentions the many years of wrongdoing, the strife and wars between us, and the hush of noise we live in. “With the woes of sin and strife; The world has suffered long.”

Verse four speaks to the individual carrying the burdens of this life. Maybe this is you or maybe it will be you at some point this season. “And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow.” The next part of the verse then calls us to pause and rest our weary souls so we might hear the angels singing about the one who gives rest, salvation, healing, hope, and peace.

“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”

Another great song. If you read the lyrics it repeats how Jesus tastes us our sorrow as a fellow-sufferer, but Jesus also brings gladness to us as our deliverer.

“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.”

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