With Christmas approaching, it seems like everyday I have another Christmas song playing in my head. In about a week there will be numerous Christmas Carol events playing on the TV, with thousands in the audience singing along. But how much do they know about the songs and their meanings?
It’s a sad state of affairs that most of the people in the audience probably aren’t even Christian, so I wanted to look at what they can learn about the religion from these songs, if they only opened their hearts and truly listened.
The first song I’m dissecting is O Little Town of Bethlehem. Have a listen, read my thoughts, and leave a comment.
Here we go…
O little town of Bethlehem,
As with pretty much every Christmas carol, this song is about the event of the birth of Jesus, who is both God, and the fulfilment of the promise made by God to save humanity from eternal death.
The Old Testament book of Micah, Chapter 5, verse 2, states:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
This clearly points to Bethlehem – in the district of Ephrathah – as being the place where Jesus would be born. From Genesis 3:14-15, the first book in the Bible, we read about God telling Satan that Jesus would be born and they will battle, but Jesus will win. This all happened shortly after creation, and is definitely from ‘ancient times’.
Although Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, were from Nazareth, they had travelled to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that every male of age needed to be recorded in a census (counting how many people there are). As Joseph’s line traced back to King David, he needed to go to David’s birth place – Bethlehem.
In Romans times, Bethlehem also wasn’t exactly a bustling metropolis, so his birth here is indicative of Jesus’ desire to not be seen as royalty by Earth standards.
How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
With the census bringing many people to the area, it is often assumed that places such as inns (ancient-time hotels) would have been very busy.
Luke 2:7 states: “She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”
I don’t know how quiet and still it would have been with so many people there, but it is showing that, despite the human birth of God right there with them, it was not heralded like royalty should be (especially God royalty).
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The Star of Bethlehem was prophesied long before this night. When the Israelites were leaving Egypt where they had been held as slaves for generations, God led them by a cloud during the day, and a cloud with fire during the night. As the creator, God has the power to change what he created. He did this with the Star of Bethlehem.
It was the Magi (not Kings, and there are no records of it being only three), that saw the star in the sky, and followed it, knowing it would lead to Jesus. These Magi, or Wise Men, were most likely Jewish scholars, who had studied the ancient texts very carefully, and recognised the sign from God that many others didn’t.
“The everlasting Light” is also another way of referring to Jesus, as John recorded in John 8:12: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.
Since Adam and Eve first disobeyed God and caused humanity to be separated from everlasting life with God, there was obviously a lot to fear. But there was also a lot to hope for. As I said above, all the way back then, God promised that Jesus would come and we would get another chance to spend eternity with him.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim thy holy birth
And praises sing to God, the King,
And peace to men on earth.
While it is beautiful imagery to think of stars singing praises to their creator, it’s unlikely it actually happened. However, Jesus was – and is – someone to loudly and proudly proclaim our love for.
Again, when Adam and Eve committed the first sin, they caused the fall of EVERYTHING. Humans weren’t the only ones to suffer. Animals – who were all created to be vegetarians – began to fight and eat each other; the land became hard to work; and with God taking the step back we requested, the lack of perfection caused all of Earth (natural phenomenon) to ‘fall’ into chaos. With the redemption promised through Jesus, all of these would one day be restored to perfection.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
This first line is a VERY important one. Note it does not say: ‘Mary and Joseph‘. It just says ‘Mary’. And why? Because Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. Even a cursory look at ancient texts from the time, you can see that families were recorded by the male lineage, not the female. God chose to divert from that because he was showing yet again that the Earth-way of doing things wasn’t the right and holy way.
Again looking at Genesis 3:14-15, God spoke to Satan, saying:
“Because you have done this, you are cursed
more than all animals, domestic and wild.
You will crawl on your belly,
groveling in the dust as long as you live.
And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Over and over again in the Bible, there are prophecies that not only talk about an approaching event, but an event at a far away time. The bold and underlined identifiers were added by me to show that God was talking about Mary and Jesus. Jesus would be the foe of Satan, and Jesus was the offspring of Mary (not a man).
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
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.
This ‘Gift’ is Jesus and his promise of everlasting life with God in Heaven. Being meek isn’t something humans often praise, but God glorifies those who do not boast or ‘play a part’ in the sinful nature of this world.
For those that receive Jesus and proclaim him as their saviour, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will enter us and work in us, and we will get our promised – though not deserved – reward.
Where children pure and happy,
Pray to the blessed child.
Where misery cries out to thee,
Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stand watching,
And faith holds hope wide the door,
The dark night wakes,
The glory breaks,
And christmas once more.
During his ministry, Jesus often spoke of the pureness of children: their love and faith. When children come to God and pray to him, it is the sweetest thing in the world.
Jesus came FOR us. He didn’t come to be served, he came to serve. “The dark night wakes”, the darkness leaves when the light (Jesus = Light) arrives.
This is a beautiful song that has a very important message. I hope you liked my ‘review’, and might listen a bit more closely to these songs and praise the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Don’t forget to check out the next in the series: ‘Away in a Manger’ HERE.