"O come, let us adore Him." "Come and worship; worship Christ the newborn King." "And heaven and nature sing." "Gloria, in excelsis Deo." "Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we." Words of praise from Christmas carols of worship. Some of them have been around for centuries. Most of them are familiar to our ears. And we've even managed to memorize a verse or two over the years.
There is a challenge for us in having these songs be so familiar. We can become unaware of what we are actually saying as we sing them, especially as we sing the later verses that aren't quite as familiar. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), carols and hymns tell a whole story; one stanza leads into the next, creating a unified theme.
Suppose we sang only the first verse of "At the Cross:" "Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?" I suspect we all might go away feeling uneasy not knowing if indeed the Savior would "devote that sacred head." Fortunately, the rest of the hymn gives us that assurance. And it is with that assurance we are then able to bring our worship to our promise-fulfilling God.
We of the Christian ilk are in the midst of a renewed celebration called Advent. We patiently await the arrival of the Christ-child amidst the hustle and bustle of a national census-taking long ago in a distant city called Bethlehem. It is the start of the new liturgical church year which will encompass the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Christ culminating in Christ the King Sunday.
So, with the fullness of the biblical story in mind, our acts of worship will include not only singing all of the verses (even when there are six or seven of them!) but also being deeply aware of what we are singing. We worship a God who has given us the entire story behind His plan for the world. That plan included a baby "away in a manger," and a Savior who, alas, did bleed and die. And it also included a Savior who "up from the grave arose," and who now "reigns where'er the sun does its successive journeys run."
Yes, I realize that I have given you the lyrics of some "old-fashioned" carols and hymns, and, indeed, there are a number of contemporary songs which effectively convey the gospel message. However, I do encourage you to spend some time in those old hymnals. In some of our churches, we still break them open on Sunday mornings, while in others the overhead projector has taken their place in the sanctuary. Nonetheless, the words and especially the message are timeless.
- Woods-Henderson is the pastor at Northway Presbyterian Church in Loyalsock Township.