Editor’s note: We’re spending the month of December taking a deep dive into some of our favorite Christmas songs. Watch as The King’s University’s Dr. Daniel Davis explains the history and the significance of these songs, which are performed by students in TKU’s Worship Leadership program.
Christmas time is here, and that means that along with rich foods and happy decorations are songs, new and old. If your experience was like mine, you probably grew up singing a lot of Christmas songs. To be honest, I pride myself on winning contests on who can name the most Christmas songs. Some of those were silly like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” Some of them are serious like “Silent Night” or “Angels, We Have Heard on High.” Nearly all of them have some sort of joy shining through appropriate to the season. One thing is for sure: you cannot help but sing at Christmas time.
When we look at the history of the people of God, we find that songs burst out when there was a move of God. At the Exodus, the Israelites sang of God’s victory. The psalms reflect moments of rejoicing at God’s work. The New Testament contains examples of hymns already picked up by the early church. Revivals throughout the history of the church always seem to be accompanied by new songs that reflect the prayers and joys of God’s people. Music has a way of blending feeling and thought, math and poetry, and drawing out the human soul. We sing for joy when we are glad. We sing the blues when we are sad. We sing love songs when we are in love. It is no surprise, then, that Christmas, so full of a range of emotions, would be so full of music.
In the English-speaking tradition, we have come to call these Christmas songs, carols. Now musicologists will remind us that not all the Christmas songs we sing in church are technically carols. Some of them are hymns and some are chants. A carol is a popular and sometimes unpolished song of joy meant for informal occasions. It comes from the Italian word carola, which is a “ring dance.” These are homey songs that express our cheer and prayers at Christmas time. In common usage, we just call them all carols. Apparently, the musicologists don’t mind, and tell us that we can fudge a little for Christmas songs … just like diets.
Sometimes I wonder if the magical atmosphere of Christmas is a result of the songs as much as the songs are a result of the season. At this time of year, the good news of God’s triumph in Jesus is on the hearts and lips sinners and saints and fills the airwaves all around. Surely this constant lyrical repetition of the Gospel has some kind of effect on the atmosphere. The good story is told over and over again and is woven with the stories of our own every day lives.
This year, as we move into the Christmas season, The King’s University would like to encourage you as you sing. Each week, we will reflect on a different Christmas carol to hear again the good old story. We pray that as we move through Advent, together we might prepare our hearts and make room for the coming of the King once again. May you have a blessed Advent and a good song.