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My Favorite Carol — the four reasons I love it

Alistair Begg | Nov. 29, 2016

Nobody announces that the Christmas season has begun. They just change the music in the stores and in the mall.

All of a sudden, you realize that you’re walking through the mall to the tune of something deeply profound like “Jingle Bells” or “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” or “Grandma got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Or maybe it’s something more religious, a Christmas carol like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

The change of music indicates that Christmas is coming. And when Christmas is coming, there is a lot to do to get ready. So the sentimental songs and the cheesy songs and the religious songs just wash over you throughout December. They are on the radio as you make gingerbread. They are on the commercials that remind you of all the presents you haven’t bought yet. They are on your playlist when you have friends over. And then, all of a sudden, it’s Christmas Eve, as if the whole month has collapsed over you… and Christmas happens and then it’s all over, and the songs in the stores and the mall go back to normal because it’s January.

But if you listen a little closer, you’ll realize that some of the familiar music around us really does encapsulate what the season is all about. “Once in Royal David’s City” is my favorite carol. I wish they would play it in our local mall—because it takes us to the heart of Christmas. Here are four reasons why I love this carol.

First, it begins with history:

“Once in royal David’s city.”

That means the events it describes happened in a timeframe. And they happened in a geographical location—the city where the greatest Old Testament king of Israel, David, grew up: Bethlehem. There was a point in history when this event actually occurred, in a real place and at a real time. Luke and the other Gospel writers did not set out to write stories—they set out to record history. Have you understood that the Gospels are not fables—that they are facts?

Second, it takes us to divinity:

“He came down to earth from heaven.”

The second person of the Trinity—the eternal, Creator God—came from heaven and stepped into time and lived in his creation. The baby born in Bethlehem that first Christmas night was God—God moving into the neighborhood.

The baby born in Bethlehem that first Christmas night was God—God moving into the neighborhood.

If Jesus were just a remarkable man, or a prophet, or a great teacher, then we will stumble here. If that’s who we’ve determined he was, then we will have issues with the virgin birth. We will struggle with the idea of miracles. We will be unable to believe in the resurrection. But once we acknowledge that the baby born in Bethlehem was God, then that makes sense of everything we read in the Gospels. Suddenly, this man walking on water, turning water into wine and feeding five thousand with a boy’s lunch is not only possible, it’s what we’d expect to see, because the Creator has shown up. When we read the Gospels, we read what happened when divinity entered history.

Third, it shows us Christ’s humanity:

God the Son entered history as a human:

“He was little, weak and helpless,

Tears and smiles like us he knew.”

This line is often dismissed as Victorian sentimentality. It’s not. Babies are helpless. In fact, adults often are too. Babies are moved to cry and to giggle. Adults often are too. God came to earth as a helpless human baby—that is amazing. And he lived on earth as a real man, experiencing the ups and downs that are part of our lives—that is wonderful.

Lastly, this carol shows us Christ’s majesty:

“And he leads his children on

To the place where he has gone.

 Not in that poor lowly stable,

With the oxen standing by,

 We shall see him, but in heaven,

 Set at God’s right hand on high.”

God became a man so that man could live with God. The baby Jesus grew into the man who died on a cross so that he could open the way to heaven. He became the man who rose from the tomb so that he could rule from heaven, at his Father’s right hand. And he became the man who sent his Spirit to open people’s eyes to the truth about him. We shall all see him at God’s right hand on high. We all have an appointment with him there.

History, divinity, humanity, majesty—four words that encapsulate Christmas.

This post is adapted from Christmas Playlist: Four songs that bring you to the heart of Christmas, which is available now.

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Alistair Begg

Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio and the Bible teacher at Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world. He graduated from theological college in London and served two churches in Scotland before moving to Ohio. He is married to Susan, and they have three grown children.