Articles

Carols of Opportunity

12/20/19

Timothy D Padgett

Each December, we are treated to the wails of the War on Christmas. While these cries are often exaggerated, or even altogether fanciful, we’ve got to admit that there has been a watering-down of the Christ in Christmas. The Incarnation has been downgraded from Emmanuel come to die to an entirely inoffensive, culturally comfortable Christ-lite.

For every song mentioning the name of Christ, we hear 100 on the radio extolling the blandest version of sentimentalist love, and that’s just the non-heretical ones.

The fact that Hallmark’s sugar-coated love stories are today seen as bastions of traditional morality tells you all you need to know about how far we’ve drifted from anything resembling the reality of the Nativity. It’s almost enough to make you miss the days we feared the rise of a cold and clinical atheism.

That being said, I wonder if we’re missing something. Sure, hearing yet another vanilla rendition of “Last Christmas” is enough to make you pull out your hair, but what else are we hearing? Let’s flip the previous paragraph on its head for a moment.

For every 100 songs born of drivel and saccharine, there are still those tunes which sing the truth. All throughout December, people are confronted with some of the finest forms of Christian teaching ever produced. Christmas affords us an amazing opportunity to be surrounded by some amazingly beautiful presentations of profound Christian thought.


All throughout December, people are confronted with some of the finest forms of Christian teaching ever produced. Christmas affords us an amazing opportunity to be surrounded by some amazingly beautiful incarnations of most profound Christian thought.


Consider for a moment the wondrous riches of doctrine poured into the ears of millions of people all around the world from Thanksgiving to Christmas. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that an afternoon listening to your favorite Pandora Christmas station can inadvertently give you a stronger sermon than can be heard in some of America’s most culturally in-tune churches.

Muse on the sublime clarity and depth of the “Wexford Carol.

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born

Recall the traditional English carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

Ponder the haunting beauty of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law,
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.

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.

Then, there’s my personal favorite, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is the brainchild not only of the great hymn writer Charles Wesley but also in part of the revivalist, George Whitefield.

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel

Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace, hail the sun of Righteousness
Light and life to all he brings, ris’n healing in his wings
Christ the highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord
Come desire of nations come, fix in us thy humble home
Come desire of nations come, fix in us thy humble home

Finally, in what has become a treasure for me, not only during Advent, but at any time of the year when my hopes have been dashed, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!


In these songs, we hear the fullness of the Christian story. We hear of our plight in sin, of our lostness, our oppression, and our captivity to Satan’s schemes. We hear of the long path of redemption that God worked through the Patriarchs, through prophets and kings, and through promises given so long ago.


In these songs, we hear the fullness of the Christian story. We hear of our plight in sin, of our lostness, our oppression, and our captivity to Satan’s schemes. We hear of the long path of redemption that God worked through the Patriarchs, through prophets and kings, and through promises given so long ago. We hear of the wonders of the Incarnation, the fear and hope of Mary and Joseph, and the realization and glory of angelic hosts proclaiming their king, and ours.

We hear in these long-accustomed carols the entire tale of God’s redeeming work from start to finish. We are reminded each year that God did not leave us in our sins but came down and lived among us and died among us so that He might die for us. We have in these songs the whole gospel of God.

As comforting and instructive as they are to our own hearts, there’s another, perhaps greater opportunity that these songs provide.

At what other time of the year will our disinterested neighbors find themselves humming along with such amazing hymns? What greater opportunity do we have to share the Faith than when our listeners are already hearing its truths every day?

If only there were someone to tell them what they mean.

As my colleague Roberto Rivera observed to me, this is our moment to echo the work of Philip with the Ethiopian. The world around us knows their need. They hide it well, under vain pleasures and false narratives, but they also know that things are not quite right. What they need is someone to explain to them how things might be made right.

As with Philip, is to us that this opportunity has been given and to us that God has called.

 

Timothy D. Padgett, PhD, is the Managing  Editor of BreakPoint and the author of Swords and Plowshares: American Evangelicals on War, 1937-1973

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