During this season of the year, we hear a lot of “Christmas” music. Much of it is secular music–Santa Claus and magical snowmen, gifts and parties, and the Holiday “blues.” But much of it is related to the real reason for Christmas: the birth of Our Lord. And the number of songs, hymns, cantatas and symphonies related to Christ’s birth is staggering! Popular secular singers record “their” versions of favorite hymns; choirs and orchestras present new songs and ancient melodies. Many of the songs fall into two distinct categories, however. There are quiet lullabies–peaceful and meditative, focused on the infant in the manger; and there are Hallelujahs– joyful and majestic, focused on the wonder of God coming to earth.
I don’t know if there were actually lullabies OR Hallelujahs on that first Christmas. The Bible mentions the visit of the angels, but they were “praising God and SAYING, ‘Glory to God in the Highest..'” We often assume that their praise included singing, but the Bible isn’t specific. But it is interesting to look at the contrast of the quietness of the manger and the Glory of the angel hosts, and hear the contrast in the hymns we raise at this time of year.
Lullabies, and quiet songs, like “Silent Night,” or “Away in a Manger” call our minds and hearts to the humility of the Christ child. Babies are cute and engaging. And they are not “silent.” But they do not command authority and majesty. Babies cry out for help. They are needy in a way that God is NOT. And yet…God came in the form of a helpless baby. The God who created the galaxies needed someone to feed and change Him; to carry Him from place to place and rock Him to sleep. “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” reminds us that He came to a cattle shed in a small town, rather than to a palace in the seat of power.
Hallelujahs, like “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” remind us that this was no ordinary child. And yet…the angels did not appear IN the manger or even in the little Town of Bethlehem. The Angels were compelled to sing their praises, not to the learned priests, or the courts of power, but to dumb-founded shepherds on a cold hillside. What an explosive visitation! Their praises (whether shouted or sung) shattered the quiet and the darkness. Like a sudden fireworks display, the Glory of God’s servants split the night.
God enters our hearts– sometimes quietly, like the cooing of an infant; sometimes dramatically, like a chorus of angels. God is at work– sometimes in humble moments and ordinary gestures; sometimes in glorious flashes of insight and inexplicable miracles. And this season, our prayers will rise up– sometimes like the humble cries of a newborn baby; sometimes like the soaring songs of angel hosts– prayers of need; prayers of thanksgiving; prayers of awe-struck worship; prayers of simple confession of our own unworthiness, and of God’s sufficiency and everlasting Love. Peace and Glory; lullabies and Hallelujahs; simplicity and majesty– all wrapped up on a manger of hay on one Holy Night.
Christmas is about both the lullabies and the Hallelujahs; the simple light of Truth and the glorious radiance of God’s Holiness.