In this lesson we examine the universal phenomenon of the music of joy and celebration at Christmas.
One of the hallmarks of the Christmas season around the world is the playing and singing of holiday hymns and music. In light of that, have we ever stopped to ask ourselves why this is so? And even more important, where did this music of joy and celebration originate?
The answers to these questions—taken directly from the pages of Scripture—are sure to deepen their meaning.
I. There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because Old Testament Prophecies Were Fulfilled
II. There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Problem of Sin Has Been Resolved
III. There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Pain of the Lowly and Forgotten Has Been Remembered
IV. There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Possibility of Peace Is Renewed in Our Hearts
V. There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Purpose of Life Is Illustrated in the Songs of the Nativity
VI. There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Predictions of Christ’s Second Coming Are Secure
Christianity is a religion of song. Agnosticism has no carols. Confucianism and Brahminism have no anthems or alleluias. Dreary, weird dirges reveal no hope for the present or for the future. Christianity, however, is filled with music. Only the message of Christ puts a song in a person’s heart.
When you have Christ in your heart, when you know what Christmas is all about, something changes inside of you, and a melody starts to form that you can’t really control. It is unlike any other belief system.
As we read the stories of Christmas in the book of Luke, we find six different songs recorded almost back-to-back: the “Beatitude of Elizabeth,” when she was visited by Mary; the “Magnificat of Mary,” Mary’s song; the “Benedictus of Zacharias,” the father of John the Baptist; the “Song of Simeon,” when he was presented with the Christ Child at the temple; the “Evangel Song” of the angel of the Lord over the plains; and, finally, the “Gloria” of the angelic hosts. When Jesus came into the world, poetry expressed itself and music was reborn.
Why do we sing during the Christmas season? Everywhere we go, every time we turn on the radio or television, every time we go to a shopping center, someone is playing or singing Christmas music. If we didn’t know what it was all about, it could really be irritating! There’s nothing worse than knowing that somebody is truly filled with joy, but not understanding why—wishing you had it, but not understanding how to get it.
Why are we so filled with joy and music at this season of the year? What is it about Christmas that makes us want to sing?
Several reasons are illustrated by the songs in Luke 2.
There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because Old Testament Prophecies Were Fulfilled
When Christ was born, one of the reasons for great songs in the hearts of people was that the prophecies of the Old Testament had at last been fulfilled.
In Simeon’s song recorded in Luke chapter 2:25–32, we get some understanding of the Jews’ longing for the fulfillment of prophecy. “And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
Somehow, for some reason, Simeon had been given a word from the Lord that he would live until the Messiah was born. Every day he probably wondered, “Is this the day when prophecy will be fulfilled?” All of his life he had longed for the Messiah. Simeon was well-acquainted with Isaiah 40–55, which tells about the nature of the coming of the Messiah. The joy of seeing those prophecies fulfilled kept Simeon alive until at last, one day, in the temple, he had the joy of seeing the Messiah Himself. Simeon, then, is an illustration of all those who awaited the coming of Christ.
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies of the coming of Messiah in such a specific way that most Jewish people had a tendency to read right over it and miss the significance of what the prophets were saying. Micah, for instance, said that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Daniel actually gave a timetable of how this was going to happen. Isaiah said that Messiah would be born of a virgin, something that had never happened before. Jeremiah said Christ’s birth would be accompanied by the slaughter of many children. Hosea revealed that at a certain time they would have to go into Egypt to spare the life of the Child.
All of these prophecies were given 500 to 700 years before the birth of Christ; and there were devout Jews who every day would read the Scriptures, ponder these verses, and wonder, “Will that happen in my lifetime? Will I see the Messiah?”
So, when Christ was born, and it became apparent that this was indeed the Messiah, they were filled with joy, and they burst forth into song and excitement.
Consider the incredible nature of the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ. For example, in 700 b.c. Micah prophesied that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. What possibility is there of any man, by his own wisdom, predicting the birthplace of someone not yet born? There is no possibility at all. If we examine every piece of American literature down to the year 1830, we will not find one phrase even suggesting that a future president of the United States would some day be born in Harlan County, Kentucky. But Micah the prophet put his finger on one of the smallest countries in the world, Israel, designated one of the twelve provinces in which the Messiah was to be born—namely, Judah—and within that province, put his finger on one small village called Bethlehem, and said it was there that Messiah would be born. David is the only king of Judah who had ever been born in Bethlehem. All the other kings, generation after generation until Judah fell, were born in the royal city of Jerusalem. Most of them probably were born in the palace. So, if prophets of Micah’s day had guessed the birthplace of Jesus, they never would have guessed Bethlehem. They would have guessed Jerusalem, where kings would normally be born.
It was only due to a Roman edict concerning taxation that Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. It was a pagan edict that sent them to the very place where Micah said Jesus would be born.
When Christ was born and it became apparent to the few who gathered around the scene that this was indeed the Messiah, we can understand why they were filled with joy and became so excited they couldn’t do anything but burst into song.
We sing at Christmastime because the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled, and we are reminded of that truth.
There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Problem of Sin Has Been Resolved
Once and for all, the sin problem has been solved. If we look back to Bethlehem and back to the birth of Jesus, we have to look back through the empty tomb. We have to look back through the Cross. We have to look back through the Garden of Gethsemane. And as we look back, we come to the manger, and we know that Bethlehem was the answer to the question that plagued every heart: How can a man know God?
In the Old Testament, in faith believers brought sacrifices in order to know God in the Old Testament way. But there also was the promise of the Lamb of God who would come and be slain for everyone, thus sin could forever be put to rest for those who would trust in the Messiah.
I think that’s what Zacharias was talking about in Luke 1:68–79:
Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us … that we should be saved from our enemies … , to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant … , to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies … , to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God …
Zacharias understood that the coming of Jesus Christ was for a specific purpose, that He might ultimately be the Redeemer.
Why is there joy and singing at Christmas? For the same reason that there is joy and singing in heaven when one sinner repents. When salvation becomes a reality, when we understand what it truly means to be forgiven, to have the burden of sin lifted off us, to know that we never have to stand in judgment for our sin, that is a reason for song.
There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Pain of the Lowly and Forgotten Has Been Remembered
Listen to Mary’s song, beginning in Luke 1:46:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel …’
Every Christmas, God is saying to the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the exploited of mankind, “Be of good cheer. I am your friend, and I am your champion. I have sent My Son with good news for the poor, to proclaim and release captives, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
Why is there joy at Christmas? Because no matter who we are, no matter how poor we are, no matter how unimportant we may feel, every Christmas there is a renewal within us of this message: Christ has chosen to be among the common people. He came in a common way, not born in a palace but in a manger, not surrounded by kings but by shepherds, to make sure that none of us, no matter who we are, no matter how insignificant we may think ourselves to be, none of us are out of the sphere of the love of God at Christmas.
There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Possibility of Peace Is Renewed in Our Hearts
In more than a few past wars, the warring nations would call a cease-fire for Christmas Day. They would agree that on Christmas Day they wouldn’t shoot at each other, drop bombs on each other, or try to destroy one another. Then, of course, the day after Christmas they would start killing each other again.
As strange as that custom has been, in a wonderful way it is a mute testimony to the purpose for which Christ came—to bring peace. Wasn’t that the message that the angels proclaimed in Luke 2:8–14?
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
We sing at Christmas because within our hearts there is hope of peace. Today, there are many places in our world where peace is not a word in anyone’s vocabulary. Yet every Christian knows that there is coming a time when peace will reign on this earth. Each Christmas season, a kind of new hope is born in our hearts—that though the outlook may be dark, and the only darkness we may see is out there, we may not feel it here. The Prince of Peace has come, and with Him the faith that someday men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and we shall be at peace.
There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because the Purpose of Life Is Illustrated in the Songs of the Nativity
Throughout all of the songs we find this note of glory and praise to the Father. Mary’s song begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
Elizabeth was so full of joy and praise for her God that when she met Mary, the baby jumped in her womb for the joy of being in the presence of the Messiah.
Zacharias, in his “Benedictus,” said, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel.”
And the message of the angels was “Glory to God in the highest!”
What is the real purpose of life for all of us? According to the Westminster Catechism, it is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. And in the message of Christmas we find that wonderful story. Everywhere we read the songs of Christmas in the Book of Luke, they are extolling the glory of God, praising God, and blessing God.
There Is Joy and Music at Christmas Because Predictions of Christ’s Second Coming Are Secure
As we read the prophecies of Micah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Daniel, and Isaiah, and we follow them through 600 or 700 years, all the way up to when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, we are amazed at the accuracy of prophecies that could reveal exactly where Messiah would be born. Or that Isaiah could say, “Born of a virgin.” Or that Jeremiah could foretell a slaughter of children connected with that birth. Or that Hosea could reveal a flight into Egypt to avoid danger. Yet all of those same prophets have told us that Messiah who came the first time is coming again.
How accurately will those prophecies be fulfilled? Just as accurately as the first prophecies were fulfilled. Many things mentioned in the songs of Luke weren’t fulfilled at Bethlehem—because they are yet to be fulfilled when Christ comes again.
Why is there joy at Christmas? Because the same Jesus who came the first time is coming again.
1. Make a list of all the Bible-based Christmas hymns you can think of, then answer the following:
a. Which songs mention the Divine nature of Jesus Christ at His birth?
Which specific phrases?
b. Which songs refer to the fulfillment of prophecy at His birth?
Which specific phrases?
c. Which songs refer to His eventual reign as King and Messiah on earth?
Which specific phrases?
d. Which songs refer to His love and care for all mankind?
Which specific phrases?
e. Which songs refer to the songs found in the Bible?
Which specific phrases?
2. In Mary’s song (Luke 1:46–55):
a. What is Mary’s emotional response to the message she is given?
b. Upon whom is her focus?
How do you know?
c. What future personal circumstances does she not mention?
d. What is the significance of her statement in verse 55?
3. In the song of Zacharias (Luke 1:68–79):
a. How many future deeds or activities of the Messiah does he mention?
b. What are those, in which verses?
c. Why is God doing these things, according to the words of Zacharias (vv. 72–73)?
d. What office will his son (John the Baptizer) fill, according to vv. 76–77?
e. How does this relate to the last Old Testament book (see Malachi 3:1; 4:5–6)?
4. In the song of the angelic host (Luke 2:14):
a. Who ultimately is glorified by the birth of Messiah?
b. What do you think the phrase “on earth peace” refers to specifically?
c. To what does “goodwill toward men” refer?
5. Which of the events or circumstances displayed in these three songs do you think have already taken place?
6. Which events or circumstances do you think are yet to occur?
7. If biblical “hope” is the present assurance of a future certainty, how would you describe the “hope” of the Christmas season?
Did You Know?
Some of the traditional Christmas hymns are tremendous repositories of Christian theology. For example, if one reads all the verses of Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” there can be found such doctrines as the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the incarnation, the depravity of mankind, the kenosis (humbling) of Christ, His sinlessness, and His Second Coming, to name a few. Perhaps the next time we celebrate Christmas, it would serve us well to acquire and read all the words to some of the historical hymns of the season.
Gingerbread Cookie Ornaments
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 teas. baking soda
1 teas. salt
4 tbls. sugar
1 cup molasses
1 teas. cinnamon
½ teas. ginger
¼ teas. nutmeg
¼ teas. cloves
3 cups flour
Cream together butter and sugars. Add molasses and blend well. Add remaining ingredients to mixture and stir well. (If dough is too soft, add a little flour; if too crumbly, add a few drops of milk or water.)
Divide dough into fourths and wrap each section in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least two hours.
On a well-floured surface, roll out dough, one fourth at a time, to ¼ inch thickness. Cut with flour-dusted cookie cutters and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Punch a hole for hanging on top of each cookie with a drinking straw or wooden skewer.
Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until set.
Cool completely on wire rack, then decorate the cookies using icing, candies, and colored sugars. Let the children express their creativity.
It is fun to make a custom cookie ornament by writing a name in icing and tying it to a package for a teacher or special friend. Remember: Don’t worry about making mistakes; you can eat them!
 Jeremiah, D. (1999). Celebrate his love: Study guide (pp. 13–27). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.