Here We Come A-Caroling
Christmas Concert Meditation
Redeemer Lutheran, HB - 2017
I’m a bit of a history wonk. So, naturally, when I sat down to write a few thoughts for our meditation this evening, I did what most modern historians do: I googled a history of Christmas caroling. I know what you’re thinking…not exactly a sound methodology, pastor. And you’re right. Searching Google for reliable history can be about as productive as looking for a good fruitcake recipe.
But after ignoring numerous links to the Top 10 worst Christmas movies of all time; after looking at several lists of “Everyone’s Favorite Christmas Carols”; after shoveling through all the fluff, like a Midwesterner looking for his car in a snowbank, I finally found a few reliable gems of historical fact.
Christmas carols experienced a modern revival in Victorian England when William Sandys, an English lawyer, published Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern in 1833. Many of the most well-known Christmas carols, such as Joy to the World, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, all date to the 1800s.
But earlier than that, in the Lutheran Reformation of the 1500s, Martin Luther, and many other Lutheran reformers were busy restoring many of the ancient Latin hymns of the early church to the language of the people, as well as writing their own hymns such as Luther’s cradle hymn: From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.
In the 13th century, especially in France, Germany, and Italy, Francis of Assisi was instrumental in pairing Christmas hymns with teaching the Christmas story.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, before him, Bernard of Clairvaux influenced a sequence of Christmas singing in the monasteries of Northern Europe.
Some of our oldest Christmas carols date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries: to the Spanish poet Prudentius (Of the Father’s Love Begotten) and Ambrose of Milan (Savior of the Nations Come).
But of course, the history of Christmas caroling goes back much farther in time, to a Virgin in the city of Galilee in Nazareth, whose name was Mary. After the Angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her that she would conceive in her womb and bear a Son whose name was Jesus, she sang the first Christmas carol: the Magnificat. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
Zechariah joined her later in his own song, The Benedictus, at the birth of his son John, the forerunner of Jesus. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people and redeemed them.
The angels too, brought the song of heaven to earth as they visited the shepherds and sang:Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And as Simeon held 40-day old infant Jesus, God in human flesh, he sang as well: Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace; for your word has been fulfilled.
As Linus told Charlie Brown, that’s what Christmas is all about. Tonight, we join in Mary’s song of thanksgiving for her Son, our Savior, who was born under the Law to redeem, rescue, and ransom us.
We join in Zechariah’s joyful song for the Lord who became flesh and dwelt among us to redeem us.
We join the angels in singing “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is please”.
We join Simeon in praising the Lord who keeps his promise to save us in Jesus.You see, wherever you find God’s people gathered together, you’ll find them singing Christmas carols.
That’s what we do at Redeemer: we hear, read, and sing God’s promises to us in Christ.So, we thank you for coming tonight, for joining us in our caroling; and know that whether you love to sing or whether you would rather sing Tenor…ten or 15 miles away…we want you here with us for every Christmas carol, song, and hymn…as together to sing the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
A blessed Advent and Christmas season to each of you…In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.