Among the many joys of this season is the music. Christmas songs are in the air, around us wherever we go, whatever we are doing: on the radio, in the stores, and at home. Some Christmas songs have nothing to do with the sacred. Instead, the focus is on “Christmas time in the city” or “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Other songs are about the faith, many of which we can remember hearing on our first handful of Christmases. Some songs are quiet and reflective such as “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger.” Others are full of energy, such as “Joy to the World” and “Angels we Have Heard on High.” We love these songs in part because they remind us of prior Christmases. But we mainly love them because of the messages they contain, that Christ was born in Bethlehem, Emanuel, which means “God with us.”
We call Christmas songs “carols,” which is a word with French roots. Carols are defined as songs that are religious, seasonal, and originally connected to dance. There used to be carols for other occasions. Today, carols are synonymous with Christmas. As curious as the word “carol” might seem today (after all, no one sings any Thanksgiving carols!), it doesn’t take much of a cognitive jump to connect “carols” to “chorale.” Christmas carols are treasures, over hundreds of years they’ve been collected and added to the pool of Christmas songs we call upon during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. But what was the first Christmas Carol? “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is among the oldest with the text dating to the fifth century and the tune dating to medieval Europe’s monastic plainchant.
But there is one carol older than that. We know that the first hymn sung about Christmas was by Jesus’ mother. Upon hearing from the angel Gabriel about her being chosen by God to bear the Christ-child, Mary broke out into praise about her son Jesus in Luke chapter 1. This song is called “The Magnificat” due to the Latin translation of the first verse: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary, pregnant with Jesus, sings of what this savior will accomplish.
On Wednesdays this month we will feature Advent midweek gatherings, starting at 6:00 p.m. We will have a light supper followed at 6:30 p.m. by worship in the Fellowship Hall, ending at 7:00. We will be using an acclaimed worship setting, Holden Evening Prayer, and during a brief message consider this first Christmas carol. Each week we will consider The Magnificat. Here is the schedule for the themes:
Dec. 6: Luke 1:46-49 God will raise our spirits. Dec. 13: Luke 1:50-53 God will turn things around and upside down Dec. 20: Luke 1:54-56 God will be Faithful
This year, as we sing these familiar songs from yesteryear, we do well to hearken back to that first Christmas carol. In this song, Mary sings of the greatness of God, how Christ will come to right the wrongs of the world, and she proclaims the Lord’s faithfulness. As we enter the frenzy of the season, Mary grounds us in what Christmas is all about.
Have a Merry Christmas, Pastor Jason Talsness