Why We Sing at Christmas
More than any other time of year, Christmas is a season when the public arena, our homes, and our hearts are filled with song. I know that in our cars and at our house we play more music in December than during any other month. Even nonreligious people can be found singing Christmas songs, religious hymns included. Christmas songs evoke memories of years gone by and fuel our excitement for the season. Music pulls people together in an unusual way.
Christmas songs evoke memories of years gone by and fuel our excitement for the season. Music pulls people together in an unusual way.
Angels vs. Saints
One holiday favorite resounds, “Hark, the herald angels sing.” Here’s a spoiler. The Bible does not actually say that the angels sang. The text reads, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying (not singing), ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13–14). In fact, we do not have a biblical record of angels singing, although I suppose they could. I remember reading a piece by J. Vernon McGee who concluded that angels do not sing because they have not been redeemed.[i]
Either way, the good news is that we HAVE been redeemed and we were saved to sing. Revelation 5:9-10 tells of the redeemed holding harps and singing:
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”
(Interesting that even in the scenes of Revelation where the redeemed sing, the angels are “saying,” not singing.)
The good news is that we HAVE been redeemed and we were saved to sing.
The Priority of Song
In any case, music is important to us because it is important to God. The Father sings over His people (Zephaniah 3:17). Jesus sang (Matthew 26:30; Luke 4:16; also Hebrews 2:12). One result of being filled with the Spirit of God is singing (Ephesians 5:19).
Throughout biblical history God’s people wrote songs and sang to Him. The Psalms are packed with encouragements to sing and were actually the lyrics of songs that were utilized by God’s people. A number of New Testament passages indicate the place of song in the early church (Acts 16:25; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13). There is, and will be, music and singing in heaven (Revelation 5: 8-11, 14:2-3).
Music is powerful. The Scottish poet Carlyle is purported to have once said, “Let me make a nation’s music, and I care not who makes her laws. I will control that nation.”[ii] Serge Denisoff, a sociologist at Bowling Green University, said, “If you want to reach young people in this country, write a song, don’t buy an ad.”[iii] Many studies have been conducted in education, medicine, and other fields to show the power of music in effective learning, physical health, and emotional well-being.
When used in Christian experience, music has power to shape our understanding and recollection of truth (or error) and therefore must be carefully selected and used as a means by which the Holy Spirit achieves His purpose: to glorify Christ.
Powerful Motivation to Sing
As we see throughout Revelation, the saints sing specifically in adoration of the glorious, redemptive work of the Lamb of God. For Christians, this is especially important to remember at Christmas. While we may enjoy tunes about Frosty, Rudolph, Santa, a white Christmas, jingle bells, and grandma who got run over by a reindeer, we must sing about the real “reason for the season.” To do so honors Christ, is good for our soul, encourages other believers, and is great practice for eternity.
While we may enjoy tunes about Frosty, Rudolph, Santa, a white Christmas, jingle bells, and grandma who got run over by a reindeer, we must sing about the real “reason for the season.”
Recently, Rosemary and I were recaptured by the words of the great hymn, “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” written by Charles Wesley. In fact, I downloaded a version on iTunes and have been deeply inspired by these rich lyrics:
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 forever,
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 that line, “By Thine own eternal Spirit, rule in all our hearts alone.” Christians sing when the Spirit of God rules their hearts. The familiar passage is so important: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery (a vital command for this Christmas season), but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18–19).
When we are controlled by the Holy Spirit we must sing. We sing words of encouragement and exhortation to one another and we make melody in our hearts to God. So, this Christmas, don’t just dial up some playlist that is a mix of the sublime, the ridiculous, and the more ridiculous. Rather, ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and let your music be the overflow of His Christ-honoring purposes for your singing.
Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and let your music be the overflow of His Christ-honoring purposes for your singing.
Colossians 3:16 provides another motivation for our singing: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The word of Christ is ultimately the good news of the gospel. Our mouths are open, our melodies are joyful, and our hearts overflow with gratitude for the incarnation, sinless life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This is the compulsion for our songs of the season.
Our mouths are open, our melodies are joyful, and our hearts overflow with gratitude for the incarnation, sinless life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This is the compulsion for our songs of the season.
So, my redeemed friend, sing this Christmas season. Sing of our Savior. Be filled with the Spirit and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly – and you won’t be able to keep it in.
Copyright © 2021 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved. [i] http://www.ttb.org/docs/default-source/Booklets/why-angels-do-not-sing.pdf?sfvrsn=2a [ii] Ron Owens, Return to Worship: A God–Centered Approach ( Nashville: Broadman and Holman publishers, 1999) 139. [iii] Newsweek, 30 December 1985, p. 54.