December 18, 2008
The Music of Christmas
by Mike Pohlman, Editor, Christianity.com
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” –Luke 1:68
I love Christmas music. Of course, not all Christmas music is created equal. Every year, it seems, popular artists flood the market with new renditions of old songs in addition to the occasional effort to write the next original “Christmas classic.” Unfortunately for every Joshua James—whose “Fields and Floods” is excellent, especially his version of “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel”—there’s someone like The Killers. Last year they gave us “Don’t Shoot Me Santa” and for all its melodic value, it’s lyrically bankrupt. At least it’s an original. (This year they’ve teamed up with Elton John and Neil Tennant for “Joseph, Better You Than Me.” Hopefully this will put an end to their holiday offerings.)
I love the Dave Matthews Band performing “Christmas Song” live in Chicago. But I can certainly do without Taylor Swift’s rendition of “Santa Baby.” Sufjan Stevens’ “Joy to the World” is on the iPod, but you won’t find anything from “Christmas With Weezer.”
Each year I find myself migrating toward Christmas music that points me to the heart of the season. I love music that sings about God and his Christ—music that reminds me that there is a Redeemer, Jesus Christ God’s own Son.
One of my favorite songs comes from the Gospel of Luke. Zachariah’s prophecy is lyrical theology at its best. In this hymn of hope we are reminded of what is most profound about Christmas.
Of course, Zachariah wasn’t always singing. For a time he was mute because he doubted the promise of God to provide for him and Elizabeth a son—the one who would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (1:16). But once John was born Zachariah got his voice back and the first thing he did was offer praise to God for providing salvation: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people …” (68).
Zachariah’s Song is made up of two long sentences with the first praising God for providing salvation (68-75) and the second summarizing the role of his son as the one who would prepare the way for the Lord (76-79).
Zachariah could not help but sing over the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation in a coming Redeemer. In a burst of exultation, Zachariah announces that God has “raised up a horn of salvation” in keeping with the words “he spoke by the mouth of the prophets from of old” (69-70).
Not only is Zachariah’s prophecy intended to show us the faithfulness of God, but also his mercy. This salvation is according to the “tender mercy of our God” (78). Even as Zachariah is summarizing the role his son John would play in preparing the way for the Lord, he cannot take his focus off God and the absolute mercy it is that he would provide a Savior. For Zachariah the purpose of the birth of Jesus Christ is to display the mercy of God (72). And what a mercy it is that sinners like us can find forgiveness of our sins and, in Christ, serve God “without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days” (74-75).
Unfortunately I don’t think we will see Zachariah’s hymn as a “Top Song” at iTunes any time soon. However, this is a song infinitely more valuable than anything we will ever see featured there and a song worth singing not just this Christmas, but for all eternity.