NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—Last weekend, my entire family kicked off the Christmas season with a trip to Cheekwood, an old mansion in Nashville that’s been turned into a beautiful botanical garden and art museum.
For my five-year-old granddaughter, Josephine, Cheekwood is one of the highlights of the Christmas season. But her favorite thing about Cheekwood is not the light-filled gardens, the real-life reindeer, or the hot chocolate (all of which she loves). Her favorite attraction to see at Cheekwood is the Christmas carolers—professional singers (probably aspiring country artists) dressed like characters out of a Charles Dickens’ novel singing “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night”(and at Josephine’s request, “Jingle Bells”).
For Josephine, as with most people, Christmas is inextricably linked with the music that has been written and sung over the centuries to commemorate and celebrate the birth of Jesus. When we hear Christmas carols, we sense a change in season—a change in the atmosphere.
The tradition of Christmas music and singing is rooted in the very first Christmas.
In Luke 2, when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, they broke into song: “Glory to God in the highest. . .” (Luke 2:14). And after the shepherds found the baby in the manger, they went away singing (Luke 2:20).
There is something about the message of Christmas—the good news of God sending his Son to earth to deliver us—that cannot be fully expressed with mere words. We can talk and write about Christmas all we want, but there are certain truths about the incarnation that can only be taught (and caught) through music.
When we sing Christ-centered Christmas carols, we are not only transported back to first-century Bethlehem and the historic event of the incarnation, we are also transported forward to the new heavens and new earth and the future consummation of God’s kingdom.
When we sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” we are pushing back against the utopian fantasies of the modern age and reminding ourselves that, as Christians, we “mourn in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”
When we sing “Silent Night,” we are pushing back against the busyness and consumerism of the season. We remind ourselves that Jesus was only noticed on that silent night by those who were waiting for the Messiah—those who paused long enough to see the “Holy infant, so tender and mild.”
When we sing “Joy to the World,” we are pushing back against the pessimism and anxiety of our day and reminding ourselves that we can be joyful because “He rules the world with truth and grace.”
So, as we enter into this Advent season, I would encourage you to be like Josephine.
Enjoy the lights, the reindeer, and the hot chocolate. But make space to allow the songs of the season to orient your soul toward the baby in the manger. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak through Christ-centered Christmas songs as we enter a season that is pregnant with meaning but too often full of distractions.
Whether you are in the mall or in your car or in your home, allow the gift of song to draw you closer to Jesus this Christmas.