Mark D. Roberts

Part 1 of series: Christmas Carol Inspiration
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For several years I have wanted do a series on Christmas carols, one that would include some interesting bits of history as well as a theological examination of the lyrics. And for several years I have found myself distracted by other blogging priorities. This year has been no exception. So my carol series remains a figment of my hopeful imagination. In 2004 I did write a short series called Christmas Carol Surprises, which did cover a piece of the ground I hope to survey in a new series. But most of what I have had in mind remains there, in my mind. (Photo: The Chancel Choir and Bell Choir of Irvine Presbyterian Church presenting a Christmas carol.)
It dawned on me recently that my hope of doing an extended series on carols during one Christmas/Advent season may be unrealistic. Perhaps, I thought, I should just start by doing one or two carols this year. Then I can add to the series in future years. So that’s the plan. Today I’m going to introduce the series. Then, in the next couple of days, I’ll focus on one carol. At least that will get me out of the starting blocks. Next year, Lord willing, I’ll add to this beginning.
What I Plan to Do
My game plan is simple. I will pick several Christmas carols, beginning with some of the most popular. If appropriate, I will share some relevant tidbits about the song’s composer and/or composition, and perhaps about its music as well. Then I will focus on the lyrics of the carol, especially its theological affirmations.
Why Am I Doing This?
I’m doing this series on Christmas carols for several reasons. First, I love carols. With a few exceptions, I love to hear them and to sing them. I love the warm, nostalgic feeling they stir up within me. And, most of all, I love the message they proclaim with poetic profundity.
I’m not alone in my love for Christmas carols. But I have found that most people have never stopped to consider their meaning, especially beyond the first, common verse. If I were to ask you for the themes of “Silent Night,” for example. You’d probably say something about the quiet of the night when Jesus was born. That would be right, to a point. But you may not remember that the third verse of the standard English version of the carol celebrates the shining of God’s love and grace from the face of the infant Jesus. And you may not realize that the original German had the baby laughing with God’s love.
This series on carols, will, I hope, help you understand more of the poetic theology of several beloved Christmas songs. Yet my point isn’t merely academic. I believe that the more we understand the message of the carols, the more we will be inspired as we hear and sing them. And this inspiration will lead us more deeply into the meaning of Christmas, even as it will encourage our worship of the God who came to dwell with us in the first Christmas.
In the Meanwhile
Tomorrow I’ll begin by examining the background of one of our favorite carols. We’ll have to wait until next year for more. In the meanwhile, however, I would encourage you to begin to think about what you’re singing at Christmastime. You may even want to grab your favorite book of carols and use it as fodder for your Christmas devotions.
If you’re looking for some guidance in your study of Christmas carols, let me encourage you to check out a fabulous website: The Hymns and Carols of Christmas. It contains a huge collection of carols in many versions, as well as discussions of their composition. I will, at times, borrow from this site. As far as I can tell, however, The Hymns and Carols of Christmas contains relatively little theological analysis of the carols. So that leaves me something to do.
As we work through the carols, in this year and in future years, may God grant us the joy of his coming. In the timeless words penned by Isaac Watts, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her king!”

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