I’m just starting to get involved with helping lead a youth group. It’s a pretty cool thing, one I’m excited about for a number of reasons. But more about that will have to wait for another post. Maybe. We’ll see.
But anyway…the youth leader of this group just recently began a teaching series called “Christmas words.” Now, what he means by this is taking words we hear at church around Christmastime that are not exactly in widespread circulation through the average high school hallways. Last week’s word, for example, was incarnation, and as part of pointing out where this word shows up he had us sing a couple verses of Hark the Harold Angels Sing, focusing in on the line “Hail the Incarnate Deity!”
This struck a chord with me, because I am passionate about making sure we understand what it is we’re saying when we’re singing. If we’re worshiping then we’re offering up words to God, and I just think we should make sure we, a) believe them, and b) mean them, neither of which can be accomplished if we don’t understand them. (And this happens fairly often – for example, as I was playing The First Noel the other day after I had been thinking about these things, I realized I had no idea what noel meant! I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, as it’s kind of a crucial word in the song; and as it turns out it’s just an old fashioned word for Christmas, so it wasn’t too hard to figure out.)
So, as I was thinking about the idea of understanding Christmas words and Christmas songs, and as I started listening to my Christmas music collection (after Thanksgiving, of course), I was so quickly struck by the vast breadth and depth of amazing messages contained within the words of Christmas songs. Of course there are powerful messages in all kinds of songs; and I don’t know if it’s because this season and what it represents is so incredibly foundational and life-giving, or because we sing these songs for such a short period of time each year, or probably a bit of both; but Christmas songs seem to be especially packed with thought-provoking and faith-encouraging nuggets of truth. And far too often, it seems, we pass over them, the words of these songs so embedded in the roots of our memory that we have almost ceased to hear them.
So I thought I’d do my own Christmas words series: use this time and these songs to intentionally reflect on what it all means. And I have to start with what I think is one of the most amazing single lines in any Christmas song. I’ve talked about it before, but every year seem to be struck anew by all that is contained in just these few words. Because the essence of Christmas, really, is not just the baby in the manger. If the story ends with the baby in the manger, it never becomes a story at all. The essence of Christmas is that the baby in the manger came with the sole purpose of going to the cross. The essence of Christmas is the grace of God that brings salvation appearing to all men (Titus 2). Or, as O Holy Night phrases it,
He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
amen! And oh how that leads me into rejoicing and thankfulness…