There are a lot of cushy Christmas carols. And for good reason. Who doesn’t want to hear about cute baby Jesus asleep and cooing in his manger? The perfect soundtrack for opening presents on a snowy morning. And what about Joy to the World? Fantastic. It’s a happy day, let’s be happy and sing happy songs.
Although Christmas is the season of light, I think sometimes in the midst of the cuteness of Christmas we lose sight of the real reason Jesus came – because we’re crappy people living in a pretty crappy world. Can you name the carols that these lyrics come from?
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
Dawn in our darkness, and lend us thine aid.
To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
O come, thou Rod of Jesse free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny.
That’s straight up theology right there. Sometimes Christmas carols like to fudge things a little bit – pretty sure Jesus cried like most human babies, and we all know the three wise men didn’t actually visit him at his birth. (Also, it probably wasn’t a cold night, but Christmas! Snow!)
But these lyrics don’t pull any punches. They use real Scripture to drive home the “real meaning” of Christmas – and believe me, you’re not gonna find the “real meaning of Christmas” in a Hallmark movie (Love, Hope, Joy – cushy words that we don’t always know the exact meaning of.)
You’re going to find it in darkness. Because that’s where we all were before the birth of the Christ.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
Christians don’t like to talk about Satan that much anymore. That’s kind of a polarizing name. “Oh really? You guys believe there’s this reddish-looking guy with hooves and horns sitting on your shoulder?” Satan has taken a backseat in most modern theology – why would we want to tell people they’re going to Hell to hang out with this horrible guy?
The truth is, Satan looks good to us. Why else would we sin all the time? He shows us ways that look like they lead to truth and light, but before we know it, we’re on a path of darkness. In Hebrew, a rough translation of satan is “accuser.” Satan may seem like our friend, but once Judgment day comes, he’ll make sure all of our sins are laid bare before God so we can go with him. I’m just being straight up with you. Satan does not have your best interests at heart.
Enter the Rod of Jesse. Before the birth of Christ, there was no mediator between God and His people. God was strict judgment – follow these rules and then you’ll be set free. But because He loves us and is jealous for our love, He sent us a sacrificial lamb that would put dark shadows to flight. That would stomp on the head of Satan.
Although Satan has no power, he’s still very real. And if we choose to, we can follow him willingly, whether we realize it or not. By leaving out the darkness of a pre-Christ world, we sanitize the message of Christmas. Jesus came because we are crappy. Jesus came because we deserve Hell.
But that doesn’t have to frighten us. These carols also remind us that Satan does not hold claim on our souls any longer. A tiny baby changed that entire narrative. See, the theologically intense carols can live harmoniously with the cushy ones. We can rejoice because of that deep truth. Let’s balance both instead of one or the other.
We have just entered the season of Advent. Wait patiently on the Lord; He has not forgotten you. He has done what no god has ever done and sacrificed His own blood so that we can live with Him forever.
Bid all our sad divisions cease, and be Yourself our King of Peace.