There often seems to be a clash among people as to whether or not Christmas should be celebrated as a religious holiday. Many argue that Christmas ought to hold no special meaning. They argue the Catholic church essentially stole the holiday from Roman religion, made it about Jesus, and that we don’t even know when Jesus’ birthday actually is. Others argue that, while Jesus might not have been born on Christmas, December the 25th is a fine day to celebrate Jesus coming into this world and all that it meant for humankind. It’s been argued about for centuries, and I’m not writing today to rehash any of those arguments.
Whether you love Christmas or hate it, there’s something I think many of us miss, for whatever reason, that I would like to point out today. Christmas songs have incredibly deep theology.
Let me add a corollary to that: The Christmas songs that actually HAVE a religious message have incredibly deep theology. You won’t get much out of Jinglebell Rock. (What is a jinglehop anyway? What does that even mean???) I digress. Have you ever actually listened to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing?”
“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 angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
This song is celebrating some pretty amazing stuff. The salvation brought through Christ, fulfillment of prophecy, God being Lord over all, Christ coming to save not just Israel but all nations! This is a really amazing song. Perhaps my favorite verse is this:
“Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of Earth
Born to give us second birth”
This verse from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” reminds me of this Bible verse from Philippians:
“5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It’s for these reasons “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” has become one of my favorite songs. Whether Jesus was born in the Summer or on Christmas is irrelevant, what’s important is he came. He was born. That’s amazing, and this song expresses that amazement.
There are other songs that do this as well. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is full of references to Old Testament prophecy. “God Rest Ye Marry Gentleman” is basically Luke 2:1-21 in song form.
But, you know what the coolest part about all of this is? Because they’re old Christmas songs, many of them have been translated into Japanese! And the message is incredibly close to the English translations!
When I came to Japan the first time, one of my favorite LST classes to teach was with a woman who spoke almost no English. The first lesson we tried reading Luke, we got through maybe an 8th of the lesson. The second time, we tried a lesson a missionary there in Shizuoka had made based around the creation story. It was in very, very simple English. We made it through maybe a 4th of the lesson. I was very frustrated by all this. Then, I learned something. I learned she loved music. I remembered Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…” So, I pulled out a song book, I went and grabbed the preacher (who could speak English and Japanese) and I taught her how to sing some hymns. Then, I’d have the preacher explain the meaning to her in Japanese. That became one of my favorite classes.
Inspired by this idea, as Christmas approaches, I’ve started teaching “Christmas Carol Classes” here in Kojima. I pick out a couple carols with a deep meaning, I teach whoever comes to sing the songs, then I explain the meaning behind the songs and read some scripture that inspired that meaning. So far, we’ve only had one, but we’re having another this Thursday and every Thursday until Christmas. I am very excited about it!
Thank you all for your continued prayers and support!