Christmas is a time of celebration. Throughout the nation, people celebrate the holiday season with decorations, gifts and an abundance of food. Although every year brings a debate on when to start the musical festivities, one of the most popular ways to celebrate is through music.
But Christmas music does not always sound like a celebration. A few traditional Christmas songs are subdued, even somber, such as “What Child Is This,” “Mary Did You Know” or “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Even cheerful words can be overshadowed by a haunting tune.
In a perhaps unconventional way, these songs illustrate a facet of the Christmas celebration that can’t be communicated through all of the jubilant music, bright lights and warm colors. The song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” best highlights this concept by focusing on Israel’s plight right before the arrival of the Messiah.
Here’s the first verse for a refresher:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
The song emphasizes the triumph of Christ’s coming by exploring Israel’s intense need for a Savior, echoing the prophets of the Old Testament who described Israel in slavery as punishment for their sins and expressed their longing for One who could deliver them.
The prophets also described the effects of sin’s curse and the desperation we still feel today for an escape from pain, sorrow and death. Contrasting Christ with the curse gives us a true picture of the victory His coming is for all people.
The Christmas season often becomes a time to focus on the good things that we have or that we can give each other. But if we focus only on the good, we miss out on a large part of the story. Without understanding our desperate need for a Savior, we cannot truly celebrate God’s gift.
This Christmas, some of us will be returning to unsaved family members who cannot understand the miracle of Christ’s coming until they understand their own needs for a Savior. Some of us will be returning to trouble that seems to overshadow the Christmas season—like a haunting tune overshadows cheerful words.
But like those somber songs give crucial context to the celebration of Christmas, those troubles fit into God’s plan and purpose for our lives. They are an important part of the story. And God promises to provide in those troubles just as He provided Himself to meet humanity’s need for a Savior.
This Christmas, we should remember to look at the whole story. We should celebrate God’s gifts with joy and thanksgiving, but we should not pressure ourselves or others to be only joyful during the holiday season. No matter the season of life we find ourselves in this Christmas, whether that be a time to laugh or a time to cry (Ecc. 3:4), we can thank God for His provision in our needs.