The True Spirit of Christmas

© Gareth Weeks

What is the spirit of Christmas?

Worship, in a word, worship…nothing more and nothing less.

And, you know, as you look back over the Christmases of the ages, and we do that every Christmas season, we go back through history. I’ll tell you how we do it. We do it when we sing the carols. Do you realize that we’ve sung carols from as far back as the fifth century that have gone through several translations and finally reached us? And we’ve sang carols from the fifteenth century, the eleventh century, the seventeenth, the eighteenth, the sixteenth…as well as the nineteenth. And as you go back through the history of the Christmases and you touch those Christmas carols, you touch the most brilliant poets and articulators of Christmas truth and their attitude is always worship, it’s always been worship.

Listen to some of the Christmas carols. . . . We know [Luther] for his great theological work, but sometimes forget his great poetic work. . . . On one Christmas season Martin Luther wanted to write a Christmas carol for his little son, Hans. This is what he wrote. “From heaven above to earth I come, to bear good news to every home, glad tidings of great joy I bring, where of I now will say and sing. To you this night is born a child of Mary, chosen mother mild, this little child of lowly birth shall be the joy of all the earth. Were earth a thousand times as fair, beset with gold and jewels rare, she yet were far too poor to be a narrow cradle, Lord to Thee.” And then he ends, “Ah dearest Jesus, holy child, make Thee a bed soft undefiled within my heart that it may be a quiet chamber kept for Thee.” That’s worship. Take up your place in my heart.

William Dix . . . wrote the words to, “What child is this?” which . . . ends, “So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, come, peasant king to own Him, the King of kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him.” That’s worship…

Charles Wesley wrote six thousand hymns. Maybe the best you heard played this morning, “Hark the herald angels sing.” The last verse, “Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace, hail the Son of righteousness,” that means worship. “Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings, mild He lays His glory by,” that’s the incarnation, “born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.” That’s worship.

One of my favorite poets of the nineteenth century is Christina Rosetti. . . . Through that life she wrote some of the most magnificent poetry, all of it a tribute to Christ. She wrote this poem and it was set to music twelve years after her death. “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow in the bleak midwinter long ago. Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain. Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed, the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. Angels and archangels may have gathered there, cherubim and seraphim throng the air, but His mother only in her maiden bliss worshiped the beloved with a kiss.” Then she ends with this great, great stanza, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I’d give Him a lamb. If I were a wise man I’d do my part, but what can I give Him? Give my heart.” That’s worship.

And maybe it was John Francis Wade who died in 1786 who summed it all up in the simple words, “O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

John F. Macarthur Jr., The True Christmas Spirit (12/24/1995). © Grace to You.

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  • Don

    These words remind me of one of the most memorable worship experiences I had when touring Israel two years ago. It was in a basement vault in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world.

    I was with a group of fellow believers. Our pastor read the about the birth of Jesus from Scripture following which, without prompting, we all began to sing Silent Night. By the time we were finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in a group of twenty men and women.

    The story about Silent Night is interesting.

    It was written on Christmas Eve in 1818 in Oberndorf, Austria. One common story of this carol was that the organ at St. Nicholas Church was broken. Others claim that there is no evidence for this and that Joseph Mohr, the assistant pastor of the church, requested the instrumentation simply because he loved guitar music. In any event, Mohr had written a poem “Stille Nacht” in 1816. On December 24, 1818 he gave the poem to his friend the church organist, Franz Gruber. Gruber immediately composed the melody and arranged it for two voices, choir, and guitar. It was finished in time to be performed that night at the Midnight Mass. By 1955, Silent Night had become the most recorded song of all time.

  • Becky@Daily On My Way To Heaven

    I am grateful for this post, thank you.

    May we never forget that He came, first and foremost, to bring Glory to the Father; so we should also, bring worship, and glory to the One who sent His Son to redeem us.

    Yes, it is all about worshiping Him!

    Don, thank you for your interesting comment too!

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  • Aaron Armstrong

    @Don – Thanks for sharing the background of Silent Night; I had no idea that it had gone on to be the most recorded song of all time. Glad to have that info :)

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  • John

    Very interesting. Thanks for a new perspective on the hymns and their relation to worship, especially during Advent and Christmas

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