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Three Exceptional Christmas Songs

Many of the most well-known (and most enduring) songs are Christmas songs—scan through any hymnal, and you will be surprised about the percentage of songs that are devoted to Advent.

Not all Christmas songs are good, of course. In fact, some of them are particularly cheesy. But many more tend toward excellence than silliness, and the reason for this is simple: they start with the birth of the Savior.

But if they focus only on the birth, or the silent night, or the oxen and what-have-you, then they will be mired in shallowness. The reason many Christmas songs do become exceptional is because they don’t stay in the manger. Instead, they use the birth of Christ as a launching point to survey his life. The best of these songs even make it all the way to his cross and Second Advent.

This is true of all hymns, and not just Christmas ones. If any song is narrowly focused, or focused on the softness/stillness/nearness/gentleness of God, it will likely be a lame song. But if a song progresses through—from God in human flesh, to what that God did, to why he died, to his resurrection, and ultimately to eternity—then it is at least set up to be an exceptional song. Here are three Christmas songs that do just that:  

Once in David’s Royal City

At first reading this song (especially with the traditional lyrics) can seem too quaint to move people’s thoughts to the glory of Christ. But the version below (changes by Jamie Brown) is very effective at taking the worshiper from Bethlehem into Glory (sheet music for this arrangement is here [2], by Joshua Spacht; or you can buy the album here [3]):

Once in Royal David’s City, stood a lowly cattle shed

Where a mother laid her baby in a manger for His bed

Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little Child

He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all,

And His shelter was a stable, And His cradle was stall;

With the poor the scorned and lowly, lived on earth, our Savior Holy.

For He is our lifelong pattern; day by day, like us he grew;

He was tempted, scorned, rejected, tears and smiles like us He knew;

Thus he feels for all our sadness and he shares in all our gladness.

He was give’n to pay our ransom. By his blood we are set free.

Suffered He for our transgressions, Lamb of God upon the tree.

Then he rose up from the grave, Risen King with power to save.

And our eyes at last shall see Him, through His own redeeming love;

For that Child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heaven above,

And he leads His children on To the place where He is gone.

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

Released in 2013, this song follows the pattern of great Christmas music in that it moves you from the incarnation into eternal glory. Much like Once in David’s Royal City, this song not only puts forth the glory of Christ, but it also stresses the longing in the sinner’s heart to see him. Christmas is the coming of the Light into the world, and this song explains how our darkness requires the light, then how our perception of that need changes with the increasing glory of Christ:

 

VERSE 1

Come behold the wondrous mystery

In the dawning of the King

He the theme of heaven’s praises

Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness

Now the light of life has come

Look to Christ, who condescended

Took on flesh to ransom us

VERSE 2

Come behold the wondrous mystery

He the perfect Son of Man

In His living, in His suffering

Never trace nor stain of sin

See the true and better Adam

Come to save the hell-bound man

Christ the great and sure fulfillment

Of the law; in Him we stand

VERSE 3

Come behold the wondrous mystery

Christ the Lord upon the tree

In the stead of ruined sinners

Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption

See the Father’s plan unfold

Bringing many sons to glory

Grace unmeasured, love untold

VERSE 4

Come behold the wondrous mystery

Slain by death the God of life

But no grave could e’er restrain Him

Praise the Lord; He is alive!

What a foretaste of deliverance

How unwavering our hope

Christ in power resurrected

As we will be when he comes

What a foretaste of deliverance

How unwavering our hope

Christ in power resurrected

As we will be when he comes

Who is He in Yonder Stall:

Mark Dever, in Deliberate Church [4], uses this song as an example of theologically rich yet responsive music, the kind of music pastors should strive to have in their churches. It pairs the exaltation of Christ with the praise of his people, and moves through an overview of his ministry. Enfield has a sweet arrangement of it–you can get the charts/music for that here [5]:

Who is He in yonder stall,

At whose feet the shepherds fall?

Chorus:

’Tis the Lord! oh wondrous story!
’Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! crown Him, Lord of all!

Who is He in deep distress,

Fasting in the wilderness?

Who is He the people bless

For His words of gentleness?

Who is He to whom they bring

All the sick and sorrowing?

Who is He that stands and weeps

At the grave where Lazarus sleeps?

Who is He the gathering throng

Greet with loud triumphant song?

Lo! at midnight, who is He

Prays in dark Gethsemane?

Who is He on yonder tree

Dies in grief and agony?

Who is He who from the grave

Comes to succor, help, and save?

Who is He who from His throne

Rules through all the worlds alone?

 

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