Christmas music is the best — everything from Mariah Carey’s legendary “All I Want For Christmas Is You” to Nat King Cole’s classic “The Christmas Song” to every rendition of the sacred “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Besides “Do You Hear What I Hear?” which is excepted as objectively the worst Christmas song, these holiday ditties spread joy and cheer for so many reasons, not the least of which their youthful nostalgia, their anticipation of intimate reunion with those we love, and especially their celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world.
But the last reason often becomes distorted. This time of year, assuming we pause to think of the Christ child at all, we applaud our toddler shepherds at their Sunday School programs, spend a few moments pondering the virgin birth, and use nativity sightings to remind those less-theologically-aware around us that ackshully we don’t know how many wise men there were and they weren’t in the inn with Mary and Joseph and the babe.
I exaggerate a little. But if other Christians are anything like I am, they may find themselves so intentionally declaring “Jesus is the reason for the season” that they forget — from about Thanksgiving to the New Year — that Jesus is the reason for every season. It’s easy to look at the nativity and marvel about holy God taking on human flesh, but that’s just the first page of the story — there’s plenty more marveling to do. The virgin birth sets the scene for the whole miraculous gospel to which we cling the rest of the year.
Here’s 10 songs on which to meditate over Christmas week. Maybe you’ve heard one or two of them play once or twice over holiday seasons past, but they’re largely non-Christmas melodies. These songs, however, put the incarnation message squarely into the context of the rest of this overwhelming good news we call the gospel — not just that Jesus was born, but that he was born in order to die a spotless lamb to take away the sins of the world. Good tidings of great joy, indeed!
1. ‘At Last, The King’ by The Gray Havens
To the serpent low
Said the king upon his throne,
You’ve deceived and lied,
My child has gone into exile;
But I will go,
I will make a way home;
And I will bleed
Like the enemy.
Out upon the sand
Said the devil take my hand;
At your bended knee,
You will hold everything you see;
But the king said no,
I have come to be the spotless lamb undone;
And I will fall,
But not to you.
In the dark,
In the shadows,
Light has come;
In the quiet,
In the dead of night,
Glory, glory sang the angels in the highest,
At last, the king has arrived.
At last, the king
Is born to us to overcome exile;
Born to us a virgin’s son, this child,
Born to give his life for us;
Good news, good news so glorious!
2. ‘My Song Is Love Unknown’ by John Ireland
My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?
He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend. …
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.
3. ‘Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery’ by Matt Papa, Matt Boswell, and Michael Bleecker
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.
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.
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.
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.
For a different feel, check out Matt Boswell and the Boyce College Choir’s rendition here.
4. ‘Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor’ by Frank Houghton
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Savior and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
5. ‘The Gospel Song’ by Bob Kauflin and Drew Jones
“Holy God in love became perfect man to bear my blame. On the cross he took my sin. By his death I live again.” This song captures the simple gospel in one brief chorus, from the incarnation to the cross. If you have young children, what’s a better time than Christmas to point them to Christ? Not only as baby Jesus, but as Jesus, Son of God and Savior of the world. This version is perfect for kids.
6. ‘Immanuel (From The Squalor of a Borrowed Stable)’ by Stuart Townend
From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Savior of the human race.
But the skies were filled with the praise of heaven,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel.
King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father’s hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel.
Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free –
Death defeated by Immanuel.
Now He’s standing in the place of honor,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own beloved
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!
7. ‘All Praise to Him’ by Matthew Merker and Bob Kauflin
All praise to Him, the God of light,
Who formed the mountains by His might;
All praise to Him, Who names the stars
That sing His fame in skies afar.
All praise to Him, Who reigns in love,
Who guides the galaxies above,
Yet bends to hear our every prayer,
With sovereign pow’r and tender care.
All praise to Him whose love is seen
In Christ the Son, the Servant King,
Who left behind His glorious throne
To pay the ransom for His own.
All praise to Him, Who humbly came
To bear our sorrow, sin, and shame,
Who lived to die, Who died to rise,
The all-sufficient sacrifice.
All praise to Him whose pow’r imparts
The love of God within our hearts,
The Spirit of all truth and peace,
The fount of joy and holiness.
To Father, Son, and Spirit now
Our souls we lift, our wills we bow;
To You, the triune God, we raise
With loving hearts our song of praise.
8. ‘In Christ Alone’ by Stuart Townend
In Christ alone, who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again.
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
9. ‘Creed’ by Rich Mullins
This gospel-centered song comes from the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
10. ‘Glorious Day’ by Casting Crowns
One day when Heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelt among men, my example is He.
One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain,
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree,
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected,
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He.
One day the grave could conceal Him no longer,
One day the stone rolled away from the door,
Then He arose, over death He had conquered,
Now is ascended, my Lord evermore.
Living, He loved me;
Dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away.
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming,
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day!
This holiday season, marvel at the humble manger birth as the miraculous union of heaven and Earth, but also remember that Christ isn’t just the center of the Christmas story; he’s the center of every story.