The Christmas season is filled with many traditions: lights, trees, gifts, snow—if you’re lucky—and songs, loads of songs. You could probably come up with five Christmas-themed songs off the top of your head. “Have a Holy Jolly Christmas”, “Jingle Bells”, “White Christmas”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, “Santa Baby”— all of these are fun, familiar tunes that have little to no Christian significance. They don’t typically move our hearts beyond a feeling of nostalgia.
But what about songs like “Joy to the World”, “O Holy Night”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “Angels We Have Heard On High”, “O Come O Come Emmanuel”? Like the mainstream Christmas songs, it’s easy to sing these hymns of praise with little to no thought about what the words actually mean. But, unlike the others, these songs do have great significance. And so, inspired and encouraged by my church’s children’s ministry director, I’d like to make this Christmas season less about singing and more about worship.
The children’s ministry at our church pulls all of the kids together each Sunday to worship. As I was serving recently, I watched our ministry director come in to help lead worship. She was preparing the kids for an upcoming Christmas performance in front of the church and, as she was doing so, had the kids sing through the song once. The second time, she stopped at each line and asked the kids what it meant. Essentially, she was teaching the song. She was helping the kids go from thinking about a performance at church to thinking about what they were singing.
My heart was filled with thankfulness during her lesson as I watched my two kids sing, “Gloria, in excelsis Deo,” and attach the meaning to it. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “we can sing these songs with gladness, thanksgiving and praise! These words aren’t simply to be sung in jest or in the name of tradition—they are to help us worship God Most High.”
When I was on a worship team, we’d frequently stop and think about the words we were singing as we practiced. It was a wonderful way to prepare our hearts and also to take our eyes off ourselves and turn them toward the Lord. Now that I’ve been away from that team, I realized, as I saw my friend lead those little hearts in worship, that I’ve gotten out of the practice of thinking of the meaning of the words I sing in worship. Am I even worshiping at all during those moments when I’m just repeating lyrics and not thinking about what I’m singing? Thankfully, the Lord was kind to challenge me in a most peculiar way as my friend taught three- to 11-year-olds! Oh, that we never cease from learning and growing.
So as we hear the familiar words of significant songs this holiday season, let’s do more than sing—although singing is wonderful—let’s worship. And as we think of the rich words in these memorable songs, let’s ask God to reveal their meaning to our minds and hearts. I’m praying for fresh grace and joy for us this holiday season—that we might praise and exalt our Savior.
Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
(Psalm 33:1-3 ESV)