Posted tagged ‘Christmas Carols’

Longing for a Silent Night

December 15, 2017

by Dr. Steven J. Callis

I love to sing the carol, though I am uncertain as to the accuracy of the title.  Nothing about the night itself was holy; except that God chose that time to enter the world with the ultimate solution to the sin and degradation that had disrupted the peace it was created to enjoy.  He brought holy to the ordinary.  The real questionable word in the title is that first word: Silent.

First, Scripture tells us that the town of Bethlehem was filled to overflowing with people.  It was toe-to-heal traffic walking through the marketplace.  There were no vacancies to be found in any of the hotels.  Crowds of people scurrying here and there will make noise!

Add to that the reason they were there in the first place.  As we might imagine, many people were disgruntled at the necessity of travel and a government-mandated enrollment.  Rome was the political center of the world at that time, and the ‘census’ was ordered, in part, to force universal allegiance to Emperor Augustus.  People traveled long distances to fulfill this decree; a pleasure trip it was not.

Mary and Joseph found a resting place in a dwelling meant for animals.  Animals are sometimes noisy, and often smelly.  This certainly was not the ideal atmosphere for bringing a baby into the world.  Further, most of our Christmas hymns highlight the role of the angels announcing the birth of the Christ; at one point, a multitude of angels, singing loud and strong in grand celebration.

No, God probably did not enter the world on a silent night.  In fact, it makes more sense that the One bringing peace to the world would do so at a time when peace was absent.  He came to a world in need of something it could not find or produce on its own.

People who are famous in the public eye have lived under the proverbial microscope for centuries, so it is nothing new.  With the significant and rapid development of our technological world, however, I cannot remember in my lifetime when nearly every action and every statement made by influential people – including those on both sides of the political aisle – is judged, criticized, and protested in a public, widespread forum.  Our society has become more selfish, spoiled, and vocal when they are not rewarded, which leads to a divided, restless, frustrated nation.  We are in a mess, and levels of tolerance are quickly diminishing.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow voiced our perplexity in the third stanza of his poem, 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.’ ”

But the next stanza rings out with hope, “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.”

No, our world is not silent.  It is still a dark place much of the time.  There is sadness, fear, pain, and loneliness.  Just as God’s pure love could shine brightly on that first Christmas night, so He continues to come into our darkness, bringing peace and joy for all people.  No matter who you are, or where you have been, or what you have done, God’s redeeming grace is available for you.  Jesus, our Savior, the Prince of Peace, is born.

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Joy to the World: a non-Christmas Christmas Carol

December 9, 2016

Dr. Steven J. Callis

 

                JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD IS COME; LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING!  This exuberant song of praise and celebration is arguably the best known and most loved of all the traditional Christmas carols.  It seems almost a travesty to exclude it from any Christian Christmas program, especially one which is musical in nature.

                Listen closely to the lyrics the next time you sing it or hear it.  Have you ever noticed that this great song mentions nothing of the baby Jesus?  There are no references to angels, shepherds, wise men, or the Bethlehem star.  I made a quick survey of the Christmas songs in our church hymnal, and this is the only one that says nothing specifically about the Christmas story!

                Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel, Away in a Manger, O Come all Ye Faithful, and even the less often sung, all declare the supporting characters and events of the birth of Christ.  However, in the festive Joy to the World, we sing only about Jesus the King and declare His victory over sin, bringing joy to those who heed His voice.

                The great hymn writer Isaac Watts composed the lyrics of this song in 1719.  The fact making it such a unique Christmas carol is that it was not written about Christmas at all!  It was a song, not about the first Advent of Christ, but about His second Advent; the Second Coming.  The original title was “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom,” Watts’ interpretation of Psalm 98. 

                In 1741 George Frederick Handel composed the music, and over a century later Lowell Mason wrote an arrangement that has stood the test of time.  Information on when and why the song became connected with Christmas is scarce.  However, the lyrics truly do ring out the message of the true meaning of Christmas.

                Advent is not only a time of anticipating the coming of Christ as Savior, but also a reminder that believers and followers of Christ live in hope and expectation of Jesus’ second – and final – coming to redeem His bride, the Church.  Just as people awaited the coming of the Messiah over 2000 years ago, so we wait with expectation today for His return.

                And so we will be presented with several opportunities this Christmas season to sing with magnificent jubilation this song of triumph as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior and declare our faith that He is coming again.  May you find true joy in Him this Christmas; a joy the world cannot take away.