Gospel Theology in our Christmas Carols

We love singing all the Christmas carols this time of year.  It’s because we are so mindful of Christ birth. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  this will be a sign to you; You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Most of the time (because we’re in a hurry) we only sing the first and maybe the last verses of these great carols!  Shame on us!  And shame on you, worship leaders!  We are leaving out some really important theology and as a result robbing our congregations of knowing more about the Christ, the promised One.

We sang some carols today during a monthly lunch gathering of senior adults and a retired pastor leaned over to me – after we sang all four verses of “Joy to the World” –  and he commented on how we seldom sing all the verses.  He was right.  Patience is a virtue and the fruit of the spirit.  We miss out on so much when our impatience leads us to skip verses such as;

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.

You won’t hear this verse sung in arrangements on any Disney Christmas albums.  So if yours is a Disney Christianity, you can stop right here. You need not read any more of this article.  However, if the Christ you worship at Christmas is more than just a baby born in a manger, if to you, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Emmanuel, and the One Peter confesses “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God,” then lets take a look at the oft excluded verse 3 of Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World.”

We start this verse with “No more let sins and sorrows grow or thorns infest the ground” and we recognize the fall of man.  This is the story we know from the opening chapters of the Bible when Adam and Eve – of their own free will, and tempted by the serpent – disobeyed God and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  When they confessed that they had ignored the one instruction God had given them, He cursed the serpent, then He cursed the woman and the man and he cursed the ground.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field” Genesis 3:17

“He comes to make his blessings flow.” What kind of blessings?  We often think of blessings as ‘stuff’ that is not the case here.  Jesus is the blessing from God – the One who brings salvation from this curse.  Watts appropriately uses the verb “flow” because Jesus is the Living Water.  He is the curse lifter, the Redeemer of the earth.  He is the Promised One that the prophets spoke of.  He clothed Himself in our injured flesh and entered a world that had been cursed – a result of a fallen humanity.  He died a sinners death, was buried and rose again bringing us eternal life and returning to us the fellowship between God and mankind that we haven’t been able to know since the garden of Eden.  And He will come again and the curse will be completely lifted and we will once again enjoy the fullness of His presence.

Far as the curse is found.” The blessing of Jesus is also relief from the curse.  He will return again to gather his children and resurrect the dead in Christ.  The curse will be lifted and he will make all things new again.

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street.  On either side was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it. and His bond-servents will serve Him;” Revelation 22:1-3

“And behold, I am coming quickly.  Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” Revelation 22:7

Christ has not yet returned.  Verse three is sung in anticipation of His second coming.  In this one carol, sung at Christmas time, we celebrate His first coming and we also, with our spiritual eyes, look forward to His return.

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5 responses to “Gospel Theology in our Christmas Carols

  • Susan

    Alden, this is an absolutely beautiful display of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! This post is uplifting – because you exalt Jesus and put Him where He bleongs, on His Throne, and because you encourage Christians, like me, to look up, and to LISTEN! There is so much more to the story and when we take the precious time to absorb it, the Gospel gets spread. I am going to get out my old Cokesbury Hymnal and READ it. ( I may hum the tunes as I do). Thank you! God bless you.

  • Dr. Terry Dorsett

    I grew up in a church that only sang the first and last verses of any hymn. Occassionally we might sing the 3rd verse, but rarely, and never all the verses. When I moved to Vermont I learned that it was custom here to sing ALL the verses of the hymns. The way it was told to me was "a sermon would make little sense if the preacher only preached the first and last points of his sermon, and the same is true for Christian songs." Though at first I struggled through some of those "new" verses, I have since some to appreciate them. They often have the best points.

  • Alden Schoeneberg

    Thanks for the comments. We learn so much theology when we sing the hymns. It doesn't mean that we always understand it right away but we are learning as we sing. "It is with the mouth that you confess."I remember a quote from Billy Graham when he told someone that he was always ready 3 books. 1. The Bible. 2. The Hymnal and 3. A Biography of a great Christian.

  • Anonymous

    I love the valuable info you supply in your posts. I like your writing style.

  • O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing « The Schoeneblog

    […] I even had a previous blog in December in which I reflected on some lyrics within a Christmas hymn. You can read it here.  Anyway, I think my explanation has gone on long enough.  If you like were this is going or have […]

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