Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Music is undeniably powerful. It is a language of emotion that can give expression and represent different and otherwise incommunicable feelings. Music has a knack for being able to penetrate the hardest heart, the narrowest mind, and even to stir the most lifeless soul. When we find ourselves challenged to know what to say or how to say it, strings of poetry integrated into a structure of sounds – songs – are often that to which we turn.
The power of the marriage of lyrics and melodies to speak to both heart and head is evidenced in how it shapes lives and creates culture. The Greek philosopher, Plato, was convinced music had the power to shape the destinies of nations. Plato once famously said: “Give me the songs of the nations, and it matters not who writes its laws.”
As we continue through the season of Advent and edge ever closer to celebrating Christmas, we are recognizing the power of music through our meditation on some of the famous carols of the season. The full meaning and significance of what we celebrate at Christmas – the Incarnation – of God coming down to be with and for humanity as one of us in Jesus – can be challenging to comprehend, let alone express ourselves. The songs of Christmas give voice to all the thoughts and emotions the birth of Jesus stirs – or at least ought to stir – in each of us. The music and lyrics of these beloved carols also can teach us, in a very accessible way, the deeper truths of biblical revelation – of the Word becoming flesh.
Isaac Watts, often known as the father of English hymns, understood this well. This, in part, is why Watts spent much of his adult life penning scriptural truths into the lyrics of the songs he wrote. In his lifetime, Watts authored over 750 such hymns – an incredible number! The legacy of his efforts lives on today as his work continues to be printed in books, projected on screens, and sung by followers of Jesus worldwide.
This Sunday, we are going to reflect on one of his most famous hymns and explore the scripture that inspired it. The title alone of this carol is plastered on holiday t-shirts and sweaters, wrapping paper and ribbons, candy and cards. This song is so popular, it continues to be sung beyond the realm of church worship services. It’s a staple on the Christmas albums of countless secular recording artists. It was the inspiration for a Hoyt Axton-penned #1 hit recorded by Three Dog Night in 1971.
And yet, ironically, despite by some counts, being the most published Christmas song in North America, this hymn wasn’t written for the birth of Christ. Though we sing and treat it this way, the song actually has little explicitly to do with the event that transpired long along in Bethlehem. Curious to learn more?
Come join us as we consider one of the most beloved and exuberant carols we sing. Together we will explore why it’s so popular during the holiday season as well as why it should be our lips any time of year. The soaring melody of this hymn is weaved around the timeless biblical promises that form the basis for its lyrics. For many, this song fully and beautifully conveys what Christmas is really about.