In Awe: 3 Challenges Presented By Christmas Music
Here are three reasons why Christmas Music is challenging to me:
1. Christmas music is based on tradition.
I didn’t grow up in a traditional church. My parents took me to church when I was kid; the majority of that time was spent in a small Pentecostal church. For the most part, I grew up singing praise & worship choruses off of an overhead projector. This is a dramatically different ecclesial perspective than those of you that grew up singing traditional songs out of a hymnal.
There are lots of people like me out there. A couple of years ago the Barna group reported that only 48% of the adult population in America attends church on a regular basis (some studies reporting substantially lower values than that). That means that out of the 245 million adults in America there about 150 million adults who do not regularly attend church.
The discomfort that I feel when it comes to tackling a traditional song must be exponentially amplified for these folks when they decide to attend a worship service. To effectively communicate the hope that we have in Jesus, we can’t lock ourselves into outdated methods (songs or worship styles) but must maintain integrity in our message.
2. Christmas carols rarely make great worship songs.
Philippians Chapter 2 is the cliff notes version of the Christmas message:
“Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus:
Who being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to grasped,
But made himself nothing,
Taking the very nature of a servant,
Being made into human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death –
Even death on a cross.” (Verses 5-8)
While the absence of this message is obviously true with some modern Christmas songs, we really need to examine the lyrics of some of our more traditional Christmas songs. For traditional Christmas Carols, you can divide them into several categories: Jesus-centered, narrative-based, & social-tradition.
Jesus-Centered Christmas Carols:
- O’ Come All Ye Faithful
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Narrative-Based Christmas Carols:
- Silent Night
- We Three Kings
Social-tradition Christmas Carols:
- We Wish You A Merry Christmas
- Jingle Bells
While narrative-based Christmas carols can have a place in worship services, only those carols that are explicitly Jesus-centered can function as congregational worship songs. Worship is always for Jesus, not just about Jesus.
3. Familiarity does not always inspire awe.
Worship should begin with awe. One of my dictionaries defines awe as “a mixed emotion of reverence, respect, dread, and wonder inspired by authority, genius, great beauty, sublimity, or might”.
I am in awe that Jesus was born. I am in awe that He chose to forsake the glory of heaven to take on the form of a man. I am in awe of the humility shown when Jesus was born in a barn. I am in awe of the fact that Jesus chose this so that he could live perfectly, only to be killed on a cross because of all of our screw-ups. I am in awe of this Christmas message.
All of us have to fight to keep our “awe”. Familiarity does not promote awe. When we think we’ve gotten familiar with this beautiful gift of Christmas, we need to go back to the source text and experience it again.
Over and over the scriptures show us that familiarity erodes meaning. The Psalms tell us over and over again to sing a “new song” (Psalm 33:3/40:3/96:1:98:1/144:9/144:1 and in case you want to check, the scriptures never tell us to sing an “old song”).
Some Christmases I try to write new songs. Some Christmases I try to take old songs and make them new. Either way, I’m trying to let this message remain as awe-inspiring as it should be.
So, friends, let this Christmas produce awe in you for the gift of Jesus: the Son of God who was born to this world to give His life as a ransom for all of us. That never gets old.
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