Monday, December 16, 2013

Thoughts on Christmas Carols

Not my typical devotional today but some thoughts brought on by this weekend of singing Christmas Carols here in the UK.  Just when you think that you know what you are doing, or you know the words to the songs, you stumble upon a few verses you’ve never heard before, and a few carols you never knew existed.

From the “I didn’t know they existed” category, “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.”  Good thing I was handed the words to this song, and it does tell an interesting story:

1. The tree of life my soul hath seen,

Laden with fruit and always green:

The trees of nature fruitless be

Compared with Christ the apple tree.
2. His beauty doth all things excel: 

By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
.
The glory which I now can see

In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
3. For happiness I long have sought,

And pleasure dearly I have bought:

I missed of all; but now I see

'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
4. I'm weary with my former toil,

Here I will sit and rest awhile:

Under the shadow I will be,

Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
5. This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,

It keeps my dying faith alive;

Which makes my soul in haste to be

With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

From Divine Hymns or Spiritual Songs,
compiled by Joshua Smith, New Hampshire, 1784


While I’d never heard of it before it does tell a wonderful story about what Jesus brings to humanity.  While we don’t know what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden, there are many who have depicted them eating an apple.  Could it be that this song is trying to tell us that Jesus has come to redeem the Apple Tree — becoming the new Apple Tree, the one from whom we are able to receive everything that was lost by eating the fruit of the original tree?

At this time of year we are privileged to celebrate the coming of Jesus who came in human flesh to set everything right again.  We are invited to come and partake of his fruit which will feed and sustain us, providing us with eternal life.

While I had never heard of that carol before, there is another I have sung for years, “O Come Let Us Adore Him.”  Little did I know that in the US we have omitted the second verse.  Therefore I was a bit surprised when I came upon this verse:

God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb;
Very God, begotten, not created:
O come, let us adore Him, (3x)
Christ the Lord.

Now, for Church History fans you ought to recognize that these lines come to us straight from the Nicene Creed.  The message of this carol that is often lost is one that ties us to an historical creed which has helped to define Christianity for over 1600 years.  We are invited to join in a celebration which has been ongoing for centuries.  This is who we are; this is our tradition!  We are not only celebrating this year, but we are celebrating with all Christians who have gone before us and those who will come after.  I think that’s why it leads us to the next verse:

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of Heaven above!
Glory to God, glory in the highest:
O come, let us adore Him, (3x)
Christ the Lord.

It’s all of heaven and earth that joins in this celebration.  We are all called to come and give glory to God as we worship the Son.  All the voices of heaven and earth combine in a timeless praise of our Lord.

This brings me to the final carol from my weekend and It’s one I have heard before but have barely sung, “Once in Royal David’s City.”  The third verse is really powerful when we look at what it means for Christ to have come and sanctified human flesh.  He shows us what it means to be a sanctified baby, child and adult.

For He is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

Because of all that Christ has done, because of the life he lived, he provides a pathway for our transformation into his image.  This is the incredible story of Christmas and the realization of everything that Christ’s incarnation has provided for us.

Sometimes it’s good to run into the un-ordinary for it makes us stop and listen.  Maybe too much of Christmas has become ordinary to us and we run through the tunes without ever thinking about what we are singing.  The message of Christmas is one that should never grow old, but one that should stun us year after year.  God incarnate came in the form of a little baby to save you and me.  It’s an incredible message of love and of our Creator God reaching out to lost humanity providing a way home for each and every single one of us.

So, pick up a song sheet -- enjoy the carols, but spend a few moments soaking in the words of what you are singing. 


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this reminder, Carla! The music is worshipful and pretty, but the words carry the message we need to take into our hearts--and offer to others as we sing.

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    1. Thank you, Janet. Trying to keep this in mind every day of the Christmas season. May you have a very Merry Christmas!

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