The Sentimental and Sublime Songs of Christmas


Christmas offers a strange combination of shallow consumerism and sublime celebration. It has a unique position as both cherished Christian holiday and major cultural festivity. Macy’s proclaims good news of great toys for all children who bring their hopes and dreams (and their parents’ credit cards) to SantaLand. Yet Christians for generations have celebrated “Advent” to remember Christ’s first coming and prepare for his glorious return. The songs of Christmas offer a memorable shorthand summary of the contrasting “gospels” of Christmas.

Atop the 2017 Billboard Holiday 100, feel good specials commemorate “the best time of the year” with “a cup of cheer” (“Holly Jolly Christmas”) and herald the “sentimental feeling” that comes from “voices singing” and “dancin’ merrily in a new old fashioned way” (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”). These songs also conjure hope and longing as they call us to “keep on waiting underneath the mistletoe” for true love to come (“All I Want for Christmas Is You”).

At the same time, Charles Wesley’s familiar Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” beautifully summarizes the story of redemption in an economy of gospel-drenched words. Jesus is “the new-born King” that the prophets foretold (Matt. 2:2). He is “Christ the everlasting Lord” who rules over all (Rev. 22:13), yet also “th’ incarnate Deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel” (Matt. 1:23). He is “the heaven-born Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), who brings “light and life to all” (John 1:4). The lesser known fourth verse takes us back to the pain and promise of Genesis 3, hailing Jesus as “the woman’s conquering Seed” who would “bruise in us the serpent’s head.” The hymn concludes by expressing the goal of our faith, final redemption:

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,

Stamp Thine image in its place:

Second Adam from above,

Reinstate us in Thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain

Thee, the Life, the inner man:

O, to all Thyself impart,

Formed in each believing heart.

The secular Christmas gospel promises to bring out humanity’s best by calling for generous giving (and spending) and nostalgic celebration with friends and family. The Christian gospel exposes humanity’s worst—“sinners” with “Adam’s likeness”—and proclaims light in the darkness, “good news of great joy for all people.” The old songs like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” pierce through our culture’s sentimentality and commercialization and bring us back to the sublime ancient truths of Christmas that kindle faith and hope in Christ our Savior.

Brian Tabb

Academic Dean

Prayer Requests

  1. Pray that faculty, staff, and students would experience an increasing measure of great joy as they reflect on the good news of Jesus’s coming and rest after a busy semester.
  2. Pray that God would continue to supply the financial needs of our school through generous year-end giving to the Serious Joy Scholarship.
  3. Pray for faculty members Dr. Andy Naselli and Prof. Johnathon Bowers as they prepare for research sabbaticals beginning in January.
  4. Pray that God would lead a strong group of men and women to apply to study at Bethlehem College & Seminary next fall.
  5. Pray for those coming to the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders.