The message of the first Christmas carol
Christmas is a great time of festivity, celebration, exchanging gifts and expressing love and goodwill toward one another. It is one day of the year when conflicts and wars are often suspended and there is a semblance of “peace on earth.” The spirit of Christmas is expressed in the words joy and peace. We sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come” and “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
The Need For Carols
But life is not always joyful and peaceful. We have uprisings in African nations, strife in the Middle East, guerrilla warfare in South America. These bring fear rather than peace. Even in democracies, governments can act like dictators. And so can people.
My wife and I usually go to a restaurant to celebrate Christmas with our friends. On one occasion after most of us had eaten, we were rudely asked to leave to make room for more customers. The manager acted like a dictator; there was no joy, peace or goodwill in his attitude.
Of course we all face troubles and barriers to peace from time to time – at work, among friends, within marriages and families. How do we react? Do we ignore them and battle on, like an ostrich putting its head in the sand? Do we attack like a dictator, always wanting our own way? Or do we try to resolve the matter by removing the barrier and restoring peace? This is the approach we should use, as we are reminded at Christmas of how God reacted to our troubles.
There is a great need for peace in our world. The main purpose of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security. They have peace-keeping missions in many places around the world including the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, East Timor in Asia, Haiti in the Greater Antilles, Kosovo in Eastern Europe and Iraq in the Middle East. Like the peace at Christmas, these places show us that peace in our world is often very temporary.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa deals with racism, discrimination and the human rights violations that had occurred under the policy of apartheid (strict separation of races). Its aim is threefold: to uncover the truth of what happened in the past, to enable national reconciliation, and to prevent more racial and ethnic strife. They had the right idea – find the truth and seek reconciliation. But they found that reconciliation is difficult: when the guilty refuse to apologize because they say they have done nothing wrong; when there are others who wish they could forgive, but feel too deeply hurt; and when there is little conviction of wrongs and the need for forgiveness when God is left out.
We all need to face the truth and seek reconciliation if there is to be any lasting peace in our lives. At Christmas we remember the coming of the Savior who brought truth and reconciliation to our world (Jn. 14:6; Rom. 5:11; Col. 1:20).
Carols Are Songs Of Peace And Joy
There is much truth in Christmas carols; they are not all about snow, sleigh bells and reindeer. The word “carol” means “a song of joy and peace.” And so we sing, “Come sing a song of joy, for peace shall come my brother” and “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
But singing about peace will not bring peace. One Christmas carol is titled “The Tradition of Christmas.” Traditions do not bring lasting peace either. We can’t have peace without involving the Peacemaker. Jesus Christ is known as the Prince of Peace and we sing “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.” He came to make peace (Isa. 9:6; Jn. 16:33; Eph. 2:14-17). True and lasting peace only comes when the Prince of Peace is allowed to control our lives.
Christ’s birth was announced as “good news of great joy … for all people” (Lk. 2:10). That’s unusual. How could so many benefit from the birth of a baby? The answer is given in the very next verse of Luke 2 which tells us that this baby was the Savior and the promised Messiah.
Another response expressed in Luke 2:14 was, “Glory to God … and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” Peace and goodwill are part of the “good news.” In a sense Jesus was “Peace on earth,” as He is the Peace-maker; He came to earth to destroy the sin barrier so we may have peace.
Later, Jesus promised His followers the gift of peace, and Christians are said to have “peace with God” (Jn. 14:27; Rom. 5:1 niv). Do you have this peace? Do you know “the way of peace” (Rom. 3:17)? Are you willing to seek this peace? It takes two parties to make peace. God has done His part. What about you?
Many of the Christmas carols contain the secret to true joy, peace and goodwill. They concern historical events that occurred about 2,000 years ago, that are recorded in the Bible as the life of Jesus Christ, whose birth divided all history into B.C. and A.D. These carols speak the truth about our need to be reconciled to God and to one another.
The First Carol
The words of the angels after Christ’s birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk. 2:14), can be viewed as the very first Christmas carol. The angels told of Christ and the salvation He came to bring to earth. This is a salvation that brings glory to God and peace to mankind. It is the theme of later carols such as “The First Noel,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” and “Angels From The Realms Of Glory.”
The angels announced “peace on earth” – a place where there had been no peace since Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Real peace can only be found in the message of Jesus. It transcends all understanding and will guard our hearts and minds as we live in relationship with Him (Phil. 4:7).
And they announced that peace to “those on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They are those who respond to the Good News by repenting of their sins and receiving Christ as Lord and Savior. They have accepted God’s generous gift of salvation.
The angels announced Christ’s birth with gladness and rejoicing, and the shepherds responded by glorifying and praising God. Likewise, Christians should be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation that was achieved through Jesus. Christians should be full of joy and rejoicing at Christmas time and all during the year (Phil. 4:4). Similarly, they should communicate the good news with a joyful confidence.
This first carol of the angels also has a future aspect. Today, very few people praise and honor God, and trouble seems more prevalent than peace. But there is a time coming when God’s kingdom will come and His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and there will be peace on earth (Mt. 6:10). Also, in the future everyone will offer praise, honor and glory to God (Rev. 5:13). Why not praise Him now and be one of His agents for peace and reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21)?
Your Own Carol
How can you put Christ in your Christmas, making it one of true peace and joy? The first and most important thing you can do is make peace with God. Admit that you’re less than perfect and decide to turn away from your sin. Ask Christ to forgive your sin and control your life. After doing this, make peace in your family and peace with others (Rom. 12:18). Then remember that regular prayer, confession and repentance are needed to maintain inner peace (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Jn. 1:9). By doing this, you will come to share the joy, peace and goodwill of the Christmas carols, and have a real reason to celebrate Christ’s coming.