Good carols are immeasurably more valuable than nice words and nostalgia
Created by Jon Taylor - Tuesday 18 Dec 2018
Jon Taylor
Carols are surprisingly popular with a wide audience. Classic FM play a great selection throughout December each year. Some will appreciate certain lines and verses or have a favourite carol even though they subscribe to a different religion or have nominal beliefs. A few carols are just nice sentiments and nostalgia revisited annually. On the other hand, meaningful carols proclaim the gospel and explain why God took on human form and entered our time and space. An excellent carol is not just descriptive of events but also has expository value. In other words, not simply what happened but why.
This time of year presents an exceptional opportunity to invite people to services and share the gospel with them. It is peculiar that many sing great truths from God’s Word though give little attention to what they sing on an annual basis. Asking someone what their favourite carol is and why that is, is a great conversation opener.
For the sake of brevity, not exclusivity, here are a few brief comments on half a dozen of my favourite…

Once in Royal David’s City
Like ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, even from the outset; in fact, in the title itself, reference is made to the great and vital Micah 5:2 prophecy pinpointing the birthplace of the Messiah. God’s sovereignty and astonishing humility are unpacked in the opening two verses. The third verse encourages us to emulate His character and the fourth emphasises the full spectrum of His humanity. The fifth verse speaks of the Redeemer and assurance of salvation for those who belong to Him. The final verse reminds us of His ascension and that He sits at the right hand of the Father and that when we see Him, He will be glorified. His children are clothed in white since He has paid the price for their sin and washed them with His blood and made them white as snow and has gone ahead of them to prepare a place for them.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Not only does this carol remind us of the crucial Micah 5:2 prophecy but also that Bethlehem Ephrathah was ‘little’ among the thousands of Judah and reference is made to the ‘hopes and fears of all the years’. Micah prophesied approximately seven hundred years before the birth of our Lord. The everlasting Light-Jesus is the Light of the World. The Menorah (lampstand) would have in years previously been in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple but Jesus is the Light of the World and in heaven, God will be the everlasting Light. God entered our sin-sick world but abides in the souls of those who have received Him. God is holy, is the only One who can cast out our sin and He regenerates us! That is good news indeed since He not only saves us but abides in us since He is Emmanuel-God with us.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
This carol exhorts us to join the angels in glorifying God which was why we were created. Formerly our sin separated us from God and we were enemies; yet God has reconciled man to Himself. This is a cause for great joy for many from among all the nations. The new born King is adored in heaven too! The second verse draws our attention to the vital Isaiah 7:14 prophecy since the circumstances of Messiah’s birth would be miraculous. God became incarnate and condescended to us willingly. The third verse cites the Malachi 4:2 prophecy but also explains that the reason why He was born into this world is connected to His children being born again.
The fourth verse expounds Genesis 3:15, the first Messianic prophecy known as the ‘protoevangelium’ with the promise of the Redeemer who would crush the serpent’s head, save us and not only reside with us but to make us in union with Him. The closing verse continues with the theme of the fall of Adam and takes us to Romans 5 which shows that though death entered through Adam and that death spread to all men, through the sacrifice of one Man, Christ Jesus, His righteous act results in justification of life.

O Come O Come Emmanuel
Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Gentiles). Israel and Judah knew what exile meant yet in an additional sense we were all trapped in sin until we came to know and trust in Jesus as our Messiah who frees us. Simeon held our Lord in his arms and he was delighted to behold God’s salvation since he was waiting for the Consolation of Israel.
The second verse references Isaiah 11:1. The Messiah would come from the stem of Jesse and the lineage of David with whom He had made a covenant with (2 Sam. 7:1-17). Messiah would come to Israel, His name, Jesus means Saviour and He saves people from hell and a lost eternity. Only Jesus could defeat death and give us a certain hope that causes us to rejoice! The fourth verse tells us of the key of the house of David which refers to Isaiah 22:22. The path to misery has been replaced with the narrow gate which leads to life! He sets before us an open door which no-one can shut since He has the key of David (Rev. 3:7-8)! The final verse mentions ancient times when God gave the law. Moses was the mediator at that time, though he himself spoke of a greater Prophet who is none other than the Lord Jesus our Messiah. In Luke 24:27, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus began at Moses and all the prophets and expounded to them all the things concerning Himself.

In the Bleak Midwinter
God is far greater than the universe He created, hence heaven cannot contain Him, nor earth sustain! Yet He was born in such a humble setting and He will come again to reign. He has risen and will return. The third and fourth verses paint a portrait of the hosts of the angelic realm that delight to worship Him ceaselessly, His creatures adore Him, and His mother worshipped Him. When we consider the magnitude of that, the simple and right response is to worship and adore Him. The final verse reminds us of the gifts which the Magi presented Him with and begs the question what can we give Him? Giving our ‘heart’ is often a cliché and rolls of the tongue easily, though in sincerity and in truth, we can love the Lord with our heart, soul, strength and mind and join heaven and earth to worship Him.

We three kings of orient are
Following from the previous carol, consideration of the gifts is instructive. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were prophetic gifts indicating that the Messiah would be King, God and Sacrifice and Sovereign, High Priest and Saviour. Great effort was made to find the Saviour. Similarly, we will seek Him and find Him when we search for Him with all our heart (Jer. 29:13). The wise men followed the star. It is possible that they were familiar with the Numbers 24:17 prophecy from when Daniel was in exile in Babylon. Today, God leads us through His Word and by His Spirit. God is glorious, hence ‘Earth to heaven replies’ reminds us that we should respond to Him in worship, adoration and praise!

Tuesday 18 Dec 2018