In our house, when the Christmas music comes out, the Christmas season is officially here. It’s the prelude to the celebration, opening the door into a time of remembrance. There is something about music that stirs up our souls.
Angels we have heard on high,
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echo back their joyous strains.
God with us. Immanuel. God became flesh and dwelt among us. The epic story seems to crescendo with angels and shepherds, stars and wise men. The baby born in Bethlehem is the fulfillment of a long awaited promise.
One of the traditions around our table is to light candles every evening in December. While we light them, we sing the ancient words of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It’s such a simple addition to our dinner hour. But it has become a way for us to pause as a family and remember that we are both celebrating Christ and waiting for the fullness of all God’s promises.
Before you envision raptured faces lifted nightly to the heavens, let me pause for the young moms on this one. We are not talking about a perfectly-pitched, instagram-worthy moment. My children do not sound like a boys’ choir. My husband and I, for good reason, do not have a record label. On some nights it’s chaos. Generally speaking, we are still in the fake candle phase of life. We may or may not have to remove foam swords from the table at times. This year, I bought candle snuffers for my older boys to use to extinguish the flames after the song. With three boys 6-years-old and under, the addition of real fire to our dinner table was colossal. But, candle snuffers for personal use? You can well imagine.
Candle snuffers aside, the point is—we sing, and we sing loudly. They enter into the song with so much gusto. They hum the tune throughout the day. I hear my 6-year-old whisper it to himself as he falls asleep. The words of the refrain are translated from a Latin hymn that’s been sung by followers of Jesus since early in the seventeenth century.
When I was in college, I studied for a semester in the beautiful city of Salzburg, Austria. It was an “educational exchange.” Let’s be honest though, as a 19-year-old, I learned more about the filming of The Sound of Music and good chocolate than I advanced in my study of German. One Saturday that fall, a few of us rode our bikes to a quaint town in Austria called Oberndorf. There, nestled among the trees, is a chapel which marks the place where on a crisp Christmas Eve, Silent Night was first sung in German almost two hundred years ago. Composed by Joseph Mohr, the hymn has since been translated into well over one hundred languages. When you whisper those familiar words over your little ones this Christmas, your voice is echoing the lines of the saints of God all over the world.
In oral cultures, ballads are one of the ways that history is passed on. There are no books to tell the story of a tribe from one generation to another. The history is sung around fires and over babies in their mother’s arms under the night sky. One of the ways that we can teach Christmas theology to our children is through music. We are a part of a family. We have a history and we love to tell it. These are our stories. This is who we are.
Our children seem to know instinctively, that we were made to sing. It’s a shadow of the reality that we will be eternal worshippers. One of the certainties we have about the mysterious ethereal hope of heaven is that there, we will sing. Our voices will not fail us. We were made to lift them to the King. By faith, the saints of God have been singing the story and His praises for thousands of years.
Sing with your children this Christmas. Pull that dusty hymnal off the shelf and sing through all the verses of Joy to the World. Sing the old songs. Sing the new songs being written by our generation. Sing the songs of the church. Your voice is joining in a great chorus. When you give these words to your children, you teach them who they are. We are the people of God, worshipping our great King and brother!
Sing the story this year. God made your voice for this.
Please leave your comments below. What are your favorite songs to sing at Christmas that remind you of our Savior?