Soon (This Sunday) it will be the season of Advent, and it will be time for the church to prepare for Christmas. One of my favorite things about the Advent season (and, let’s be honest, some other seasons as well) is listening to Christmas carols. I am not entirely sure why I love Christmas music so much (especially since I can be picky about the Christian music that I listen to), but one reason might be that it is usually apocalyptic.
When I say “apocalyptic,” I don’t mean that it has to do with the end of the world (although the Incarnation does inaugurate the “last days” – see especially Heb. 1:1-2, but also Acts 2:17; 2 Peter 3:3; 1 John 2:18). Instead, I’m talking about “apocalypse” in its original sense of “unveiling something hidden.”
There are a lot of songs that we sing in church that talk about God’s attributes of power and love and holiness, and some songs that talk about the action of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and some songs that talk about God’s action in Jesus’ earthly ministry, but relatively few (that I can think of right now) talk about God breaking into earthly time and space in the way that Christmas carols do. When I hear them or sing them, I think about God invading this wayward planet, with the night sky full of angels to celebrate. I think about the relatively few humans alive at that time (Mary, Joseph, the wise men, the shepherds) who truly knew the importance of what was going on, and how the rest of the world went on about its business. I think about God’s kingdom breaking out into the earth. Here are a few lines from my favorite Christmas songs (see if you can tell which ones they are from):
1. The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
2. Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.
3. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
4. Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!
5. Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
And finally, perhaps the most apocalyptic of them all:
6. Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!