Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Caroling the Gospel I: What Child Is This?

[NOTE:  This is from a 12-part series I did on another blog.  Hence the tardiness.  I promise, it was timely when I first wrote it.  The rest of the series is available here.  Enjoy!]

I've been reading through an online devotional on Christmas carols, and while it's been sort of interesting, it's not terribly well done.  And as Stephen King says, sometimes inspiration comes not in good writing, but in bad.  The kind of writing that makes you think "hey, I can do better than that!"  So I decided to think/write about some Christmas carols.  Specifically, I want to focus on the Christmas carols that contain the gospel.  Which is not to say that the ones that don't contain the gospel are bad.  But sadly, there are a lot of Christmas songs that non-Christians could sing (and mean) without any understanding of or belief in the gospel.

I'll start with one of my favorites--What Child Is This?

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
I love that.  Sadly, the "chorus" part is often cut--lots of folks just sing the "This, this is Christ the King" part after each verse, which is such a shame.  The second verse is by far my favorite: "Good Christians, fear, for sinners here / the silent Word is pleading. / Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, / the cross be born for me, for you . . ."  That is just beautiful.

I get that Christmas is about a baby, and we don't like to juxtapose cuddly babies and bloody, violent death.  But the reason Christmas matters is not just that a baby came.  The baby came . . . to die.  (See Heb. 2:14) He wasn't just perfect--that's only half the story.  He was perfect . . . and He died for sinners. (See Rom. 5:8; I Pet. 2:22 (quoting Isaiah 53))  He brought us peace . . . by enduring violence.  (See Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:14; Col. 1:19-20) He reconciled us to God by being alienated from and rejected by God.  (See Matt. 27:46; Rom. 5:9-11; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:21-22) Christ the pure became sin. (See II Cor. 5:21)  There's an ugliness there that we would, I think, like to forget. 

Christmas cards fall into this same rut--they want to clean up Christmas.  Jesus is a gift, He is the reason for the season, He is our peace . . . all of those things are true.  But that is not the whole story.  It's not a cute story.  Beautiful, yes, but not cute.  Two of my favorite Christmas cards--relegated to the 'value pack' section of Dayspring's website--illustrate the reality of Christmas, in all its violence and majesty.

The contrast is striking.  But this is the true message of Christmas.  This is why Christ came.  The climax of the bible is not the cradle, but the cross.  

And the man we crucified on the cross was more innocent than any baby.  That is the life we took.  That is the depth of human depravity.  We all of us have that kind of evil living inside of us.  We all of us deserve hell.  And hell is precisely where we would be headed if it were not for God's incredible mercy in sending His son to live on this earth as a man and die a man's death on a cross in order to absorb the penalty we deserved.  The wrath I earned was poured out on Christ, and now when God looks at me, He does not see the wretched sinner I once was and still ought to be.  (See Isaiah 64:6; Rom. 7:24)  He sees the perfect sinless righteousness of His son. (See Isaiah 61:10; Zech. 3:3-4; Rom. 4:23-25; Phil 3:9)

That is the wonder of Christmas. 

To read the next entry in the series, 'Caroling the Gospel II: The Holly and the Ivy', click here.

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