Monday, December 28, 2015

The Theology of the Third Verse :: Thoughts on Christmas Carols (from the archives)

This was something I wrote last year, but I wanted to share it again :)  

It's the twelfth day of Christmas!  Are you still singing carols?  You can, you know!  I am.

There's no rule that says the carol-singing has to stop when the sun sets on Christmas day.  In fact, if you're a practicing Christian who's paying attention, you probably already know that "Christmas" is often considered atwelve-day ordeal - a dozen days of Christmas!  If you're a really attentive Catholic, you may know that the season doesn't officially end until the the Baptism of Jesus (celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany).  And some people who really really like to extend their celebrating, keep it all going until the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple (all the way out there on February 2)!  

But even these Feasts and dates don't "contain" Christmas.  

Christmas isn't merely about celebrating the birth of Jesus on one particular, finite day over 2,000 years ago.  That was one day.  We cannot "be" there.  We can imagine it - all that there was to see, hear, smell - the stable, the hay-filled manger, the baby's soft breathing and tiny cries, the mother rocking, the skies filled with angels and light, "Glory to God in the highest!!,"  the astounded shepherds, the bleating of their sheep, a blinding star.  Indeed, we know these sights and sounds well from Scripture and from Christmas carols.  

For the most part, not exclusively, but for the most part, the first and second verses of the well-known Christmas carols tell the story - the one with the angels and shepherds and kings.  

 Everybody knows the first verses.  Lots of people know the second verses.  But if you never make it to the third and fourth (and fifth!) verses, you're missing the whole of the Christmas message.  Because celebrating Christmas is not about one day, or twelve, or 39.  Just as the songs are not over after the second verse, Christmas is not over after the Christmas season.  To be sure, we should never stop celebrating, because Christmas celebrates much more than the one-time birth of a baby.  It is about God made man, the Savior of the world entering into that world to change it from within, and the holy anticipation, joyful expectation, and life-giving hope that He will come again.  "Christmas" doesn't end because Christmas is about our the Savior, our present-day King of Kings and the expectation of and preparation for Christ's coming to Earth... again.  

This is the message that is so often conveyed in the later verses of Christmas carols.  Sing them to the end.  Theentire message of Christmas is often contained in the entirety of the song, from the birth of the baby, to his Saving work, to his promised return.  Sing to the end!  The meaning of the Christmas "story" - the donkey, the shepherds, the star, the gifts - finds its fullness in the theology of the third verse!

  *   *   *   *   *   *

Here are some lesser known verses you might enjoy...

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

(3rd verse of Hark! the Herald Angels Sing)

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Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
That hath made heaven and earth of naught,
And with his blood mankind has bought.

(6th verse of The First Noel)

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O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

(4th verse of O Little town of Bethlehem)

*   *   *   *   *   *

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

(3rd verse of Joy to the World)

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Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long
Beneath the heavenly strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong

And man at war with man hears not
The tidings which they bring
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing

O ye, beneath life's crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow

Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing

For lo, the days are hastening on
By prophets seen of old
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold

When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing

(3rd, 4th, and 5th verse of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear)

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Merry Christmas, dear friends!  He Lives.  He Reigns.  He will come again.  Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

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