Christmas is coming! Many churches around the globe are singing new and old Christmas songs and hymns this time of year. Some sing more than others, some scrooges toss out the melodies of Christmas altogether (just kidding…kinda). Is this all just based on the preferences of a leader or coming from theological conviction? I seem to get questions or advice regarding the songs we sing more at this time of the year than any other so I decided to write this article to address it.
I’m prone to enjoy the applause of man rather than rest in the approval of Christ so it’s important for me to sort out why I make the decisions I do so that I can be driven by conviction rather than just a feeling. At the end of the day, I’m not attempting to strike some impossible balance between the preferences of those who enjoy the melodies of Christmas while still respecting those who don’t so much. I aim to choose songs that I believe the church needs to sing, not songs that I think the church wants to hear. That might make me sound harsh, but I only have a small window of time with God’s people each week and I want to make it count for eternity. This is a guiding principle for me year-round, not just at Christmas.
So what is a “Christmas song” per se? For the sake of this article, I’ll define Christmas songs as songs that center around the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the implications of His incarnation. It’s really that simple.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, left the comforts of heaven’s throne and clothed himself in human flesh. Christ is fully man and fully God simultaneously. This is what theologians call the hypostatic union.
You’re probably thinking, “This all sounds fancy and neat, but why does it really matter?” If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, some would argue, at least He was a good teacher and an example to be emulated. This argument falls flat as soon as the Scriptures are opened. Jesus Himself claimed to be God. If the incarnation is a farce, then Jesus wouldn’t be a good teacher. He would be, as CS Lewis would conclude, a liar or a lunatic. To put it plainly, if Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, Christianity is a load of garbage. The incarnation is central to our faith as disciples of Jesus.
Not only is the incarnation of Jesus central to our faith, but it should also be central to our wonder and worship. Theologian JI Packer said that the incarnation might be more of a miraculous claim than the atonement or the resurrection. He said, “The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man..and that he took humanity without loss of deity so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as he was human.”
So why would we sing Christmas songs? A better question would be, how could we not sing Christmas songs? How could we not marvel at the news of our Savior’s birth? Even the angels (who were in no need of rescue I might add) burst out in song in front of a few dirty shepherds in a field.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14).
So whether our churches are singing great old Christmas Hymns or newly written ones, we had better sing about the incarnation. Without it, we have nothing, but with it, we have everything.
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).