Carols and worship
(by Jillian Reay-Smith)
I love Christmas carols.
I blast them in my car from the beginning of December, harmonizing like a boss to modern acapella arrangements (until I turn the volume down and hear myself properly, at which point I am very very humbled). Carols bring comfort in their familiarity; each year no matter what our circumstance we can expect to hear the same melodies, whether sung by slick performers or by fidgeting students at the school Christmas fete. And for Christians, carols provide an (increasingly rare) experience of hearing our faith proclaimed in public spaces. Who hasn’t watched ‘Carols by Candlelight’ and commented in earnest tones to their couch-mate about how amazing it is that all these people are unwittingly declaring the good news of Jesus with every drunken sway of their battery-operated candle? As the credits roll we will discuss the genuine emotion on Marina Prior’s face when she sang Gloria. Indeed, for those concerned with the role of Christianity in public life, great tidings of comfort and joy are sure to be found in Marina Prior’s glistening eyes.
Of course, some carols are quite obviously jolly little numbers celebrating the festive season (halls, holly, sleighs). But other carols, once you get past the over-familiarity and the archaic language, are talking about something quite remarkable. They are songs that speak about a moment in God’s story when something extraordinary happened. These carols tell of the moment when Jesus smashed through the curtain between heaven and earth and pitched His tent in our backyard; the moment He set aside His heavenly robes in favour of a rudimentary baby wrap.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing! The Lord has come! God and sinners reconciled!
It’s an incredible, supernatural, history-and-life-changing moment.
Fall on your knees!
But if you’re like me, the over-familiarity of these carols means I sometimes miss this sense of wonder. And I want it back.
Can we worship God through singing carols? Most carols don’t fit the mould of our typical ‘worship songs’. For one, most carols aren’t addressed to God but are rather talking about God, often in a roundabout way. Most are songs that describe a scene or tell a story, so the visual thinkers and story-lovers can heartily sing along while those who process the world more literally will be thinking: “But why do I need to go to Bethlehem to behold Him? And He really wasn’t born this happy morning you know…”
But regardless of whether you love or loathe carols, and how you view carols as a worshipper, you will likely find yourself in a carol-singing situation this Christmas season. To help us all recapture the wonder embedded in some of these songs, we’re sharing reflections on some carols that we love, why we love them, and how they reveal the extraordinary wonder of the Son of God dwelling among us.
Check out our reflections on these carols...
Carol of the Bells
with Jillian Reay-Smith