I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart, just not with these songs.
Okay, I’ve got a confession. About half of what’s played on those obnoxious 24-hour Christmas music stations drives me mad. In fact, I’ve banned several songs from the office. In between the ever-reliable covers of classic carols, there are some truly horrific songs that, like flu season, tax day, and zombies, just keep coming back each year.
I’m thinking of songs like Joan Javits’ “Santa Baby,” most famously sung by Madonna. It’s everything a Christmas song shouldn’t be: vaguely creepy, materialistic, whiny, and barely safe for young ears.
Then there’s Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time,” a confusing tangle of synthesized noise with thinly-veiled references to getting drunk that held the title for dumbest Christmas song ever, until Train’s “Shake Up Christmas.” Not a single sentence in that entire song makes any sense whatsoever.
The Babylon Bee nailed another unbearable holiday ditty with the headline: “Thorn in Paul’s Flesh Revealed To Be Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas.’” You know the one: “Last Christmas I gave you my heart/But the very next day you gave it away.” I’m with Paul.
Last but not least, there’s the song that seems to play on the hour on every Christmas station, which the only native Spanish-speaker on our BreakPoint team confirmed is even more annoying in your first language: “Feliz Navidad.” Apologies to any fans out there, but I’ve had dental appointments that didn’t drag on as long as that song.
The annual assault on our ears is that much more depressing when you consider the striking, profound, glorious, and even transcendent music that’s available for Advent and Christmas. Consider some lines from the classic carols of the season:
“God of God, Light of Light/Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb…Word of the Father/Now in flesh appearing”—that’s “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
Or “No more let sins and sorrows grow/Nor thorns infest the ground/He comes to make His blessings flow/Far as the curse is found”—that’s “Joy to the World.”
Then there’s one of my favorites, Benjamin Britten’s setting of Robert Southwell’s poem, “This Little Babe So Few Days Old,” which captures the mystery of the Incarnation: “This little Babe so few days old/Is come to rifle Satan’s fold/All Hell doth at his presence quake/Though He himself for cold doth shake.”
And some of the greatest music ever composed—whether it’s Handel’s “Messiah,” or Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”—is about how Christ’s first coming fits in the overall narrative of redemptive history.
Amazing Christmas music isn’t restricted to the hymns. My family and my colleagues love Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God,” as well as Michael Card’s “The Promise.” Both of these artists, by the way, will be speaking at our 2019 Wilberforce Weekend.
Ultimately though, what makes for good Christmas music is the artful contemplation and celebration of the coming of our God, in the Person of a little baby, to rescue us from sin, establish His rule, and ultimately restore all things.
And for that, there’s no hymn that can top Advent’s greatest: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which puts Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah and His titles of authority to music.
These Messianic titles are what’s known as the “O Antiphons,” which have been sung in churches since at least the 8th century. Our BreakPoint team has put together a series of reflections on each of these Messianic titles of Christ, what they meant for Israel, why they matter to us, and how they teach us to look not only back to Christ’s first coming, but forward to His second coming.
This set of reflections is our gift from the Colson Center and BreakPoint to you. It’s beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written, and is offered as a free download for you and your family. You can get a copy at BreakPoint.org/free. Once again, turn off Santa Baby, and come to BreakPoint.org/free.