More stuff. That’s what Christmas means to my kids—at least, that’s what they say in their most unguarded moments. Oh sure, even my 5-year-olds can tell you all sorts of details about Jesus’ birth, but it’s tough to avoid the fact that Christ is not naturally their preoccupation throughout the season.
As Christian parents living in modern western culture, we’ve inherited this holiday monster we call Christmas. A strange beast, if there ever was one—a twisted melding of middle-class capitalism, ancient Roman customs, Thomas Kinkade paintings, and medieval nativity scenes. And yet somehow amidst the mixed bag of traditions, the bustle of parties, tree decoration, light hanging, and shopping, we still need to find a way to make Jesus the center of it all.
There are many ways Christian parents can do this, but in past years my family has taken an approach that has really helped to steer our kids’ attentions to the Savior.
We’ve used the gift of music.
Here are 3 facts to consider this Christmas season about Christmas music.
Fact #1: Christmas Carols Contain Profound Theology
We love playing Christmas music in our house all through the month of December, and this has become for us a window to make Christ the focus in our home at Christmastime.
It is easy to sing Christmas carols without giving much thought to the lyrics. That’s what familiarity does—our minds dance on the surface of a song like a rock skipping across the top of the water, never plumbing its depths.
But the lyrics to many Christmas carols, like a lot of old church songs, are packed with rich meaning.
- “Joy to the World” hearkens back to the fall of mankind in Genesis, back to God’s curse of death and decay (Genesis 3:16-19), and then celebrates the coming of Christ the King to break the curse: “He comes to make His blessing flow far as the curse is found.”
- “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” speaks of our bondage in sin, how we were under Satan’s power, and how the Son of God came to destroy that bondage (1 John 3:8): “Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when were gone astray.”
- “O Come, All Ye Faithful” explores the mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming man (Philippians 2:6-11), inspired by words of the Nicene Creed: “True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal…Son of the Father, begotten, not created.”
- “What Child Is This?” takes us to the Gospel of John, to Jesus who is described as the Word who became flesh (John 1:14), who was pierced for our transgressions (19;37): “Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through; the cross be borne for me and you; hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the son of Mary.”
- “Angels We Have Heard On High” echoes the great exclamation of the angels who appeared in the fields outside Bethlehem, proclaiming glory to God in the highest (Luke 2:14): “Gloria in excelsis Deo.”
Using the music of the season, we can have both formal devotions and on-the-spot conversations with our kids about the amazing gift of Jesus.
Fact #2: God Commands Us to Teach One Another Through Music
Nearly 50 times in Scripture, God’s people are commanded to sing. On two occasions God tells us to use music, not merely as a mean to praise Him, but to teach one another…
“…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 6:18b-19)
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
These are not just nice ideas. They are something God expects the church to do.
And it is clear from the context that children are also meant to receive this kind of musical admonishment (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20).
Fact #3: God Made Us Musical Creatures
Science continues to unearth the power and impact music has on us.
- God made us to remember words, patterns, and categories more easily when associated with music. This is why no one I know can quote a line from one of John Wesley’s sermons, but nearly everyone I know remembers the words to his brother’s song, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”
- Enjoyable music has been shown to release chemicals in the brain that both help calm chaotic thoughts and energize us to focus on the moment.
- By giving our kids “musical memories” of life at home, we help create for them longterm memories that follow them into adulthood—sort of like a soundtrack for life. Even people with severe dementia can hear music and recall moments from childhood and their teenage years.
We are made in the image of a God who exults over His people with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17), and in the image of a Savior who sings praises to God in our midst (Hebrews 2:12). Is it any wonder music has such a profound impact on us?
Give Your Kids the Stories Behind the Music
Every song has a story—a story of how it was written or how it was sung among those who first heard and loved it.
Christmas carols are no different. In addition to being packed with theological meaning, the stories behind each carol are filled with fascinating insights for God’s people.
Over the last couple years I’ve been learning the stories behind some of the most beloved Christmas carols I know by heart. As I share those stories with my kids, as I share the profound theology of those songs, and as we sing them day in and day out in our home, slowly but surely I notice a change in the hearts of my kids.
We shared samples of these with our readers in the past, but this year we’ve released a full family devotional: The Stories Behind the Music. You can buy a softcover, full-color edition, or if you want to save some money, just purchase a digital, full-color copy of the book.
The devotional contains the stories behind 15 classic Christmas carols, and each lesson contains:
- A story about how the carol was written
- Lyrics to the carol
- A scripture reading
- An explanation of the Bible passage
- Discussion questions for the family
- A short prayer
- Sheet music for each carol
- A craft that can be completed together as a family
I pray this Christmas season, as you teach through music, your kids become more and more drawn to the child in the manger, just as C.S. Lewis wrote, “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”