So I am walking into a card shop to look for an appropriate Christmas card and my ears perk up to the mishmash of seasonal music that is playing in the store. Most of the tunes are the usual “feel good” attempts like, I Saw Mommy Kissin’ Santa Clause, Frosty the Snowman (Christmas??), and some rendition of Jingle Bell Rock (Christmas??). Though my piety is duly disgusted, I catch myself kinda whistling – humming – and head bobbin’ along. One of the medleys morphs into an upbeat version of Angels We Have Heard on High with its familiar Latin refrain, “glo……ria in excelsis deo!” As I’m listening, I’m thinking, really? What arranger thought, “these things go together?” Of course, I am also thinking that if this muzak was playing in my house (not too likely), I would be either singing along, or coaxing one of my grandkids to dance a jig with me, especially to that Jingle Bell Rock song. I refuse to be the Grinch or Scrooge who threatens coal in the stockings if anyone in the household mentions the guy in the red suit, or enjoys the generic “holiday” songs. With all that is truly bad in our world, I find it absurd to waist my righteous indignation on debunking children’s belief in a costumed legend who brings them toys if they behave. Dare I say that I am less concerned that store clerks say “Happy Holidays” than I am that so few of us Christians convey the true spirit of genuine desire for everyone to have a merry Christmas? And this brings me to the point of this posting. Our worship needs to be centered in the truly good news of the Gospel.
The Advent – Christmas season provides a perfect time for us to move definitively in the direction of presenting good news, and preparing to live it out. Whether we are stirred more by the details and miracle of Jesus’ first coming, or urged to action by the anticipation of His eminent return, we simply must center our worship in the metanarrative that pronounces His activity throughout, and our place in Gospel living in the in-between. Let us find and point to the relentless hope that is voiced in every Christmas carol we sing, and foster heart and mind connection to the Gospel truth! But be careful, because we likely have some pretty serious confessing to do if we are going to declare hope that is to be fleshed out with our ministries. But fear not! Our confessing helps proclaim our position, not as those who have grasped grace, and thus no longer have need. Rather, we are those in the grasp of grace, and thus overflowing with gratitude, must proclaim it! Let’s look at lyrics of just a couple of Advent-Christmas hymns, and consider our seasonal worship, confessional and celebrative:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
What am I doing to help souls know their worth? Do we seek to share the hope of soul-worth with those who do not look, think and act like us?
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
How well am I loving others? Are we more consumed with pointing out people’s oppression than we are sharing with them the freedom for which we say they long?
O come, Desire of nations bind all people in one heart and mind.
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease; Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Am I an agent of peace, or a promoter of division by political, social, or economic argument? Do we value God’s peace above our way?
For lo! The days are hast’ning on, By prophets’ bards foretold
When with the ever-circling years comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.
If I believe in a returning and reigning triumphant Savior, then do I also reflect that confidence in the face of all the negative around me? Is the church dispensing religion or grace? Do our tactics indicate we are about saving lives, building Kingdom or cornering market share?
So many wonderful Christmas hymns and carols reinforce the stream of eternal praise for Christ, as Holy Child, as Incarnate Word, as Hope for all the world forever and ever. I have sung so many of these carols and hymns my whole life, yet different phrases, words, or refrains catch me each year, as if the first I have sung them. It is a season dripping with Gospel – good news!! So, let’s sing it! And then, let’s live it! Joy to the World! The Lord is come!
Paul Clark Jr. is Director of Worship and Music Ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Convention. He is a graduate of Union University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and holds a Doctorate of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Paul served for 26 years as a local church music minister for churches in Missouri, Kentucky, Kansas, Tennessee and Georgia. He came to his present role of ministry in 2000. Paul directs the Tennessee Mens Chorale and Tennessee Ladies Chorus, and has served as a clinician and conference leader at regional, state, and local events. He was elected president of the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference in 2007. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Ebbie, and has two married sons, one married daughter, and seven grandchildren. Paul and Ebbie make their home in Franklin, Tennessee, and are members of Forest Hills Baptist Church, Nashville.You can follow Paul’s writing on his blog, or follow him on Twitter at @PaulClarkJr.