Archive for the 'Music' Category

Christmas songs #20: Joy to the world!

So here is my favorite Christmas song of all time. I had to save it till last for that reason, but also because its message is so complete. It’s not even really a Christmas song by the lyrics, but for some reason it got stuck to Christmas and that is just fine with me.

It’s really a hymn about the universal importance of the Savior coming into the world. It was written by Isaac Watts, the first great English hymn writer, and it shows advanced meditation on the text of the Bible. The original inspiration for it was Psalm 98, verses 4-9, but it is certainly based on New Testament as well as Old Testament teaching.

In verse 1, Watts encourages us to make room for him in our hearts, not like the inn in Bethlehem which had no room. But the verse is also an echo of John 1.10-11: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

In verse 3, which is the best one of all, Jesus is presented as the one who reverses the curse brought on in the garden of Eden. We saw this theme in “Hark the herald angels sing.” In Genesis it says that God placed a curse on the earth and told Adam it would bear thorns and thistles to him, not just food. But Jesus is the second Adam who passes the test and earns the right, not just to be recognized as obedient, but also to redeem his people. The curse is being removed now, Jesus is ruling now (verse 4) and in the end he will put all things right, which are only partially redeemed now.

If any of you have followed me to the end, thanks for staying with me! If you have more questions about the basic message of the Bible, please visit  Two ways to live or The Gospel In Six Minutes. It is my sincere wish that all of you come to know the Savior as Lord and King.
The song:

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Christmas songs #19: Good Christian men, rejoice!

Have you noticed how sexist all these old songs are? Here is one that just calls on the men to rejoice, but leaves the women out! Of course that’s absurd. In the English language, anytime before 20 or 30 years ago, “men” just meant everyone. We are all “men.” So here is a song that calls everyone to rejoice in the good news of Jesus’s coming.

This song does not leave us with just a vague impression of the coming of Jesus. It is not just “peace on earth” like a Christmas card. The song calls us to salvation. “Now ye need not fear the grave.” There is still a fear of the grave. Nothing has changed about “men” in the last 2000 years, not essentially. If anything, we fear the grave even more than our “superstitious” ancestors did. At least they had their gods (whichever ones) that would protect them. But now that we have gotten rid of all the gods, our society lives in abject fear that any person would ever die, so we spend money like there’s no tomorrow, trying to avoid it.

But there is a God, and there is a life after death. Otherwise nothing makes any sense.

God is complicated - so complicated that the entire Bible can’t describe him fully - but he partially solved that problem for us by becoming one of us, and revealing so carefully what God was like. John 1.18 says, “No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.” (NET Bible translation)

There is a second problem, and it is worse than the first one. The second problem is that we have been in rebellion against God from the beginning. Jesus came to fix that too. He died on the cross intentionally, to secure the pardon from God the Father for those who would trust (believe) in him. This is the most amazing part of the story, and some of our Christmas songs have made it clear. The baby came to die. That was always the plan. Anybody who says God is unfair to judge us needs to realize that he came to bear his own penalty. He knows all about suffering. Now, literally anyone who wants a pardon can get it. But it’s a little more involved than just saying Jesus’s name reverently once or twice a year…

More tomorrow with the last song.

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul, and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say: Jesus Christ is born today;
Ox and ass before Him bow; and He is in the manger now.
Christ is born today! Christ is born today!

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened the heavenly door, and man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!

Christmas songs #18: God rest you merry, gentlemen

The last three songs, of which this is the first, are addressed to all people and call for us to rejoice in the birth of Christ. With this song we almost always mistake the meaning of the first line. The song, which is about 200 years old, does not say,

God rest you, merry gentlemen,

as if the gentlemen were already merry before the song reaches them.

Instead, the song, which is about 200 years old, says

God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!

Which means that the men were NOT merry; in fact they might have been anxious. But the song-singer says “God rest you merry” which is an old fashioned way of asking for God’s blessing on them. He says, “Meditate on the Christmas story with me and you will praise the Lord and not be anxious.” And so the refrain keeps saying that these are “tidings of comfort and joy!”

The words are very folky, so they are pretty hard to understand nowadays. But the general drift is not hard to catch.

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

In Bethlehem, in Israel, this blessed Babe was born,
And laid within a manger upon this blessed morn;
The which His mother Mary did nothing take in scorn.


From God our heavenly Father a blessed angel came;
And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same;
How that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by name.


“Fear not, then,” said the angel, “Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Savior of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might.”


The shepherds at those tidings rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding in tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway this blessed Babe to find.


But when to Bethlehem they came where our dear Savior lay,
They found Him in a manger where oxen feed on hay;
His mother Mary kneeling unto the Lord did pray.


Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all others doth efface.


Christmas songs #17: Away in a manger

Despite what some songbooks say, this song was not written by Martin Luther. It’s from the 1800’s in America, and nobody knows who wrote it. I would be glad to defend it as being a Biblical meditation on Christmas, but there’s not much in it that comes from the actual Bible Christmas story. We don’t even know whether cattle were anywhere nearby when Jesus was laid in the manger. But it makes a better Christmas card picture if there are lots of animals around!

Where the song really succeeds Biblically is that it teaches us all to be children in order to know Jesus Christ. Jesus rebuked his disciples when they tried to shoo the children away. And he called all believers his “little ones.” And he said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18.3). So every Christian should be willing to sing the third verse, any time of the year, and at any age!

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.

Christmas songs #16: Infant holy, infant lowly

OK, here is one that has almost no content, but it is just too beautiful to leave out. Play the audio and see if you don’t agree!

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (

Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a Gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.

Christmas songs #15: What child is this?

This song is very straightforward. Confronted with the birth of a child, the song asks us, Who is this that is born and lying in a manger? Why are angels singing?

The answer begins as we would expect, with the affirmation that he is a King who has come. Come and praise him!

But there is a problem. If he is a King, why is he lying in a feeding trough? This is where the mystery comes in. He cautions us, “good Christians fear,” there is something sacred and serious going on here. This King is born to be crucified. This King is here to save sinners, including the “Good Christians” (for ME, for YOU). This king will be pierced by nails for his people. He is here to seek and to save what was lost.

All of this is summed up in one sentence in the third verse: “The King of Kings salvation brings.”

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Christmas songs #14: Silent night

It’s interesting how the nighttime has always been associated with the Christmas story. The shepherds saw the angels at night, and the wise men followed a star, which naturally would be visible at night. The Scriptures seem to invite us to consider the story as a nighttime story, and so many of our songs emphasize that point.

This nighttime song was written for Midnight Mass in 1818 in Oberndorf, Austria. The organ was broken and so the song was first sung with guitar accompaniment. It’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written, don’t you think?

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Christmas songs #13: O come, all ye faithful

What a great song this one is. And yet, I think it is probably almost impossible to understand for today’s singers. It’s full of old-timey words and theological categories. Probably no one today sings more than the first and last verse, except in church. But it is a rich study for those who want to know God better.

Who exactly was born in Bethlehem? A great teacher? A spiritual leader? A philosopher? Well, the early Christians weren’t thrown to the lions because they believed in a different philosopher. They were persecuted because they insisted that Jesus was God and Caesar wasn’t. As Christianity was becoming legal in the early 300’s, people relaxed a little bit and there were teachers who taught that Jesus was merely “divine,” not God in the flesh. In response, the Nicene council reaffirmed the original faith of Christians, that Jesus was God in the flesh.

This song seems to be based on the Christmas story and the Nicene Creed.  You could look up all the hard words! I’ve pasted the Nicene Creed down below the lyrics.

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)


O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

God of God, Light of Light,
Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, begotten, not created;


Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;


See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;


Lo! star led chieftains, Magi, Christ adoring,
Offer Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
We to the Christ Child bring our hearts’ oblations.


Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?


Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be all glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.



I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Christmas songs #12: Once in royal David’s city

Here’s another song that every English carol singer knows, but maybe not so many Americans. It is used as the opening song every year in the traditional Cambridge service “Nine Lessons and Carols” which you can hear live on the Internet every Christmas Eve at 9am Dallas time ( ). Invariably the first verse is sung by a single boy.

The song was written for a book of children’s hymns. Each hymn was to illustrate a separate part of the Apostle’s Creed for children. This one was meant to expound the sentence, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.”

The author, Cecil Frances Alexander (that’s a female), carefully instructs us to look at Jesus not just as a sweet baby but as the Lord God of all things. He is perfectly human - he was little, weak and helpless, he shared all of our troubles, but he is perfectly divine at the same time, and he never ceases to be either one of those things forever. It’s good stuff. Christmas songs are the last chance some of us have, to hear the actual teachings of the Bible.

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (
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 a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love,
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heav’n above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in Heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

Christmas songs #11: O little town of Bethlehem

Phillips Brooks, who wrote this song, had actually been in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve night. His meditation on the meaning of Christmas has to be one of the most thoughtful ones that we still sing.

And Brooks captures both the world-history part of Christmas and the Gospel part of Christmas too. It’s not enough to just be impressed, as I’m sure we all are, with the amazing story of God’s coming into the world, and how it changed everything. Brooks knows that the other part of that story is that not all of us actually want Jesus to be king and lord or even savior. So he focuses in on the people who actually receive the gift, namely the needy, the miserable, the meek, the ones who become like little children in their faith. Jesus actually said that those are the only ones he came to call. The “righteous” turned away from him.

As Jesus said to Nicodemus early in the gospel of John, “You must be born again.” So Phillips Brooks tells Jesus,

“Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

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