Christmas is in the air, and churches are once again filled with ye' ol' Christmas Carols! Our favorite melodies are dancing on our tongues as we sing "gloooooo.... ooo.... oooo.... oooria" and other Latin stuff we probably never translated (btw "glory to God in the highest").
Churchgoers have been faithfully singing some of these carols for hundreds of years. "Silent Night" is coming up on her 200th birthday, and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is at least 275. Funny - she doesn't look a day over 150...
Carols fall into the same mental-comfort-space that hymns do. We are so familiar with the lyrics and melodies that we can sing them on auto-drive. When I sing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", I'm well-nigh transported to my childhood of singing alongside my brothers' pushes and prods. I remember caroling with that tune in cold winters' past. This is all so beautiful. Sadly, my mind is more filled with these memories than with the thoughts of comfort, hope, and joy that Christ brought us in His birth.
When we sing these songs - no matter what era or style or setting - we are allowing our mind, body, and soul to engage with a living God. When we let our minds shut off, even not intentionally so, our worship is incomplete (Revelation 3, 1 John 2) and a lost opportunity to celebrate Christ's birth. If Jesus tells us to worship God in Spirit and Truth, maybe there's a way to sing these rich truths about Jesus' birth while still maintaining the worship integrity and vitality of being in the Spirit. But what would that even look like?
Sometimes, all it takes to re-awaken our minds to the contents of carols is fresh instrumentation. Sometimes it's simply changing a melody or lyric. And sometimes, dare I say, it's adding a relevant bridge of Spirit-ness into a field of Truth. Sometimes it's writing a new song altogether. And these ideas are all OK for your church to try. It's letting the head meet the heart. It's worshiping with the Presbyterian and Pentacostal. It's the "holy night" meeting the "thrill of hope".
So, church-goers, I'm encouraging all of us to intentionally sing these beautiful carols with heart and mind. Please don't scorn the music-people for changing things up again.
And worship leaders: I'm hopeful that we can all find the right balance of preserving the old while integrating the new. Let's not dismiss the congregation for having valid and often holy preferences.
In the end, remember in this season that "Christ the Savior is born. Christ the Savior is born!"
Merry Christmas, everybody!