She requested a song, and I can’t help but accept the invitation. As I cradled her in my arms, the only song that came to mind was Away in a Manger. So, I sang it, all the verses I could remember. She was quiet while I sang, intently listening to every word. As soon as I finished, she asked “What’s that song?” and “What’s lowing?” and “morning night? What’s that mean?”
I decided then, before we even had our Halloween decorations put away, that we were going to add something new to advent this year. My children knew all the words to It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas but had never heard of the song Good Christian Men, Rejoice. So, I made a list of 25 songs that I wanted to sing together, some more familiar than others but all with words that really mean something.
Every night, after we read together, we sing together. I print out two copies of as many verses of the songs that I can find online, one copy for the girls and one for the boys. We sing a verse, Lydia always trailing about one second behind as she tries to follow the words we’re singing, and then we pause and I explain what the words mean, words like “word of the Father, now in flesh appearing” and “ever o’er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing.” Then, we sing another verse and do it again. And, as we sing together and Mark and I try our best to explain what seems hard to understand even for us, we have been realizing what we’re singing and what we’re teaching. It’s the gospel. These songs are full of the gospel.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found…
Christmas songs aren’t all lullabies about a sweet baby who doesn’t cry (though Away in a Manger is Lydia’s favorite still, and the way she sings it is my favorite still: “…the little Lord Jesus sleeps on his head…”). Christmas songs tell the story of Jesus beyond the manger onto the cross and beyond the grave. That’s the story that makes Christmas what it is.
We still sing and dance to Jingle Bells with the rest of them. And, this fam’s got some moves, people. But, we know that the reason we are able to sing and dance with “exultation” is because of the bigger story. And, the hymns are helping us all remember it.