Christmas Meditations: Carols

As I’ve been thinking about Advent, I’ve also been thinking about Christmas songs with deeper meaning than those describing the circumstances of Christ’s birth–though the story certainly is important and many of those songs are beautiful–or the secular Christmas songs which are fun but completely miss the true meaning of Christmas. I know there are modern Christmas songs which have deep theological meaning and which explore the themes of Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and second coming, but I want to just look at some of the traditional Christmas carols.

First, four complete Christmas carols in which the gospel is especially clear.

My favorite Christmas carol, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”:

Come thou long-expected Jesus, 
Born to set Thy people free; 
From our fears and sins release us, 
Let us find our rest in Thee. 
Israel’s strength and consolation, 
Hope of all the earth Thou art; 
Dear Desire of every nation, 
Joy of every longing heart. 
Born Thy people to deliver, 
Born a Child and yet a King. 
Born to reign in us for ever, 
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. 
By Thine own eternal Spirit 
Rule in all our hearts alone; 
By Thine all-sufficient merit 
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

I love all of the names for Christ and the allusions to Scripture in “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear. 
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law, 
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save 
And give them victory o’er the grave.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, 
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, 
And close the path to misery.
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show, 
And cause us in her ways to go.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, 
And be Thyself our King of peace.

This Christmas carol advent shows all of the Scripture references alluded to in “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”:

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
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
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

“Angels from the Realms of Glory”:
Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er the earth.
Ye who sang creations story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth. 
Come and worship, come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ the newborn King. 
Shepherds in the fields abiding
Watching o’er your flocks by night.
God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the infant light 
Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear.
Suddenly the Lord descending
in His temple shall appear. 

Below are selections from some Christmas carols that emphasize the gospel and Christ’s return. I’ve included just the pertinent parts of the carols here and I’ve provided links to the complete lyrics.

From “O, Little Town of Bethlehem”:

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! 
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven. 
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, 
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

From “O Holy Night”:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining. 
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth. 
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, 
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
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.

From “Joy to the World”:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come. 

Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room, 
And heaven and nature sing.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing flow
far as the curse is found.

From “Silent Night”:

Christ the Savior, is born!

Christ the Savior, is born!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

From “Go, Tell It on the Mountain”:

Down in a lowly manger

Our humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation,
That blessed Christmas morn:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

From “What Child is this?”:

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,

The cross be borne for me, for you.


The King of kings, salvation brings, 
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb. 
 
Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies. 
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