The Top 16 Theologically Rich Christmas Songs
This is Part-II in a 2-Part series on the theology of traditional Christmas songs. Last week, the worst. This week, the best.
I was thinking about writing a little blurb on the theology of each Christmas song and ranking them in ascending order. Then I remembered that was boring, and ‘tis the season for joy. So I decided to pit the songs against each other in a snowy, angel vs. angel death match to determine the winner.
Here are the Suite 16, brought to you by the Nutcracker:
1) Joy to the World (JTTW) vs. 4) Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (CTLEJ)
Major upset in the first matchup! JTTW’s big star, the third verse, which provides stellar curse-crushing offense with lines like “No more let sins and sorrows grow” and “He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found” wasn’t in the lineup, which happens often. Even Veggie Tales omits this verse, which goes to show that vegetables aren’t as nutritious for you as everyone claims. Exploiting JTTW’s lack of star power, CTLEJ rubbed it in at the end with an alley-oop of righteousness via grace with “By thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.”
CTLEJ advances to the elite eight.
2) Silent Night (SN) vs. 3) Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (HTHAS)
This was an absolute holy bloodbath. The Charles Wesley arranged HTHAS’ second verse went on a rampage with solid Christology, featuring the highlight reel worthy theanthropic play “Hail the incarnate deity.” The silent night was erased with angels chanting “O-ver-rated! Hark, hark, hark hark hark.”
HTHAS advances to the elite eight.
1) O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (OCOCE) vs. 4) While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (WSWTF)
The shepherds spent too much time watching their flocks in this one. Aside from the doxological “All glory be to God on high” in the sixth verse, there was little depth to challenge the top-seeded OCOCE, which featured an onslaught of Christological foreshadowing from the Old Testament.
OCOCE advances to the elite eight.
2) O Come, All Ye Faithful (OCAYF) vs. 3) Go Tell it on the Mountain (GTIOTM)
The original OCAYF features the powerful statement “Begotten not created,” which affirms that Jesus existed in eternity past, but most Christian artists omit this line. But it was too little too late to stop GTIOTM’s evangelistic barrage from verse one to the end.
Go tell it on the mountain that GTIOTM advances to the elite eight.
1) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (GRYMG) vs. 4) Angels We Have Heard on High (AWHHOH)
There was controversy in this match-up. AWHHOH accused GRYMG of dualism on account of God vs. Satan allusions in “To save us all from Satan’s power, when we were gone astray” and “To free all those who trust him from Satan’s power and might,” but the judges ruled that GRYMG was well within the boundaries of Heb. 2:14, which says that Jesus died to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...” With these lines eligible to play, AWHHOH’s complete lack of theological depth was exploited.
GRYMG advances to the elite eight.
2) What Child is This? (WCIT) vs. 3) Mary Did You Know? (MDYK)
The upstart MDYK, written in 1984 and by far the youngest in this tourney, demonstrated solid play from its theme of rhetorically asking Mary if she was aware of the magnitude of Jesus’ birth. Near the end, WCIT busted out the soteriological “The King of kings salvation brings,” but it didn’t change the mockery that this was.
MDYK advances to the elite eight.
1) O Holy Night (OHN) vs. 4) Angels From the Realms of Glory (AFTROG)
This matchup was finished even before “O Night diviiiiiine” was belted out by the juggernaut OHN. OHN’s uncontested redemption line “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared and the soul felt its worth” was so chillingly profound that AFTROG nearly forfeited.
OHN advances to the elite eight.
2) O Little Town of Bethlehem (OLTOB) vs. 3) The First Noel (TFN)
The sleepy little town of Bethlehem was alive for this one. TFN was flat, pretty much only retelling the account of the angels and shepherds and wise men. OLTOB dominated with the redemptive-historical line “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The First Noel has seen its last.
OLTOB advances to the elite eight.
3) Hark! The Herald Angels Sing vs. 4) Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
This was a matchup between two of Charles Wesley’s finest. But HTHAS clearly benefited from George Whitefield’s helpful theological recruitment, so it came out victorious. HTHAS featured more stellar incarnational play with “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” a statement of the full expression of God in Jesus, and especially “Pleased as man with man to dwell,” which shows that while Jesus was doing the will of the Father, his sacrifice was not against his own.
HTHAS advances to the final four
1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel vs. 2) Go Tell it on the Mountain
There was little left to go tell on the mountain. OCOCE’s Old Testament foreshadowing was too much for GTIOTM to handle, and the line “From depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory o’er the grave,” displayed the seal of Christ’s atonement and sealed this match.
OCOCE advances to the final four
1) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen vs. 3) Mary Did You Know?
The rested merry gentlemen looked tired in this one, and MDYK played the resounding “This child you delivered will soon deliver you.” Mouths were open. Eyes were moist.
MDYK advances to the final four
1) O Holy Night vs. 3) O Little Town of Bethlehem
OLTOB demonstrated clear mastery of the doctrine of “salvation by grace alone” with “So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven,” but couldn’t stop the theological bullet train that is OHN. OHN unmercifully showered OLTOB with “Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,” a clear reference to the fact that we are led by faith, not our merit, to worship.
OHN advances to the final four
3) Hark, the Herald Angels Sing vs. 1) O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
This was the closest match so far, and the winner could have been determined with a flip of the coin (the outcome of which God controls, naturally). However, HTHAS touched on regeneration with “Born to give them second birth” and nailed redemption with “God and sinners reconciled!”
HTHAS advances to the Championship game
1) O Holy Night vs. 3) Mary Did You Know?
Despite MDYK’s phenomenal Christological performance from top to bottom, including the final line “The sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM,” OHN’s acknowledgment of Christ as our High Priest with “In all our trials born to be our friends. He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger...” was too much to handle. It seems certain that if MDYK had not faced OHN now it would have made it to the finals, but OHN is theological steak. Nay, theological filet mignon.
OHN advances to the Championship game
1) O Holy Night vs. 3) Hark, The Herald Angels Sing
OHN’s dominance of this tournament was completed in this final game. Christ’s exemplative demonstration of love for others was nailed with “Truly he taught us to love one another.” And our freedom to be obedient to God as a result of our spiritual freedom was proclaimed with “Chains he shall break... and in his name all oppression shall cease” and “His law is love and his gospel is peace.” Artists rarely sing the full version of OHN because, as I can assume, we would be crushed by the weight of God's glory.
If hearing O Holy Night doesn’t make your eyes well and your bottom lip quiver, then you are the exception that proves the rule that humans have a soul.
But O Holy Night should not just be the champion of this faux-tourney.
It should replace our national anthem.
Plus, it reminds us all to fall on our knees to worship Christ forever. And that is the point of all good theology.