Christmas Eve Lessons & Carols Explaining Christmas Hymns

Christmas Eve Lessons & Carols Explaining Christmas Hymns

Christmas Eve Lesson #1
Do we worship baby Jesus?

Welcome to our lessons and carols Christmas Eve service. My name is Jonathan Romig and I am the Pastor of this church. We’ve just opened our time by singing O Come, All Ye Faithful. I think this is a great Christmas carol to open with because it’s invitation to us to come and worship Christ Jesus. But who is the Jesus we’ve come to worship?

I once saw a scene in a movie that I thought made a really great sermon illustration. But I never thought I would bring this scene up at a Christmas Eve service. The scene is from the movie Talladega Nights. This is a NASCAR driving movie starting Will Ferrell and in it his character, Ricky Bobby, prays to “Dear baby Jesus.” He actually gets into an argument with his wife and father-in law because he prays this way. His wife interrupts him when he’s praying to baby Jesus.

Carley: You know sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd and off puttin’ to pray to a baby.

Ricky: Well look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin grace. When you say grace, you can say it to grown up Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus, or whatever you want.

I think that’s a great illustration because although it’s funny, it also get’s right down to the heart of Christmas. When you think of Jesus this Christmas who are you thinking of? Are you thinking of the sweet innocent baby in the manger? He’s the harmless Jesus. He’s the Jesus who can’t do much but sleep, cry, and eat. He won’t tell you how to live your life. He doesn’t expect much of you.

Or are you thinking of the grown up Jesus who died and rose again and is seated on the throne next to God the Father? That Jesus is Lord of all, including your life. In the first verse of O Come, All Ye Faithful we do sing to Jesus born at Bethlehem, but he is “born the King of Angels.” Even in the first verse we recognize this isn’t a harmless baby, but one who has power and authority. And although each verse sings about some aspect of his birth, each ends with the words, “O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!” To be Lord is to rule. To be Lord is to be king. To be Lord is to be sovereign. 

Jesus was king at his birth and he is king today. But he’s no longer a baby. The New Testament book of Hebrews says this about Jesus.

Hebrews 1:3 “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (ESV)

Yes, at Christmas we come to remember the birth of Jesus. But when we sing to Jesus we’re not singing to a baby. We’re singing to the living reigning Lord. “O come, let us adore him. Christ the Lord!” Join me as we continue to worship and sing to Christ Jesus, our Lord and King, no longer a baby but the one who sits on heaven’s throne.

Pastor Jonathan wrote this homily for Cornerstone’s Lessons & Carols Christmas Eve Service.

Christmas Eve Lesson #2
What does Emmanuel (or Immanuel) mean?

For the remaining lessons I’m going to introduce the songs we are about to sing. We are about to sing the Christmas Hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. This is a beautiful and powerful hymn with the chorus, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emman-u-el… shall come to thee, O Isra—el.” Now we’re not telling Emmanuel to rejoice but we’re telling God’s people to rejoice because God has come to them. The chorus itself makes a lot more sense if you know what the word “Emmanuel” means. 

The word Emmanuel appears in an Old Testament prophecy spoken 700 years before Christ’s birth. In fact, we actually have a hard copy of this prophecy that pre-dates the birth of Jesus—The Great Isaiah Scroll, which is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls dated at 125 BC.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (NIV®)

The Hebrew form of Immanuel is spelled with an “i” (עמּנוּ אל) and the Greek form is spelled with an “e” (Ἐμμανουήλ). What matters is not the spelling but who this verse is talking about—Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew actually quotes the prophet Isaiah after the angel appears to Joseph.

Matthew 1:22-23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (NIV®)

The word “Immanuel” is actually a compound word like “snowflake” which is made up of two words “snow” and “flake.” “Im-manu-el” is made up of three words:

“Im” = with
“manu” = us
“el” = God (shortened form of Elohim)

So “Im-manu-el” literally means “with us, God” or “God with us.” What the prophet Isaiah promised was that one day a virgin would give birth to a child who would literally be God with us. 700 years later Jesus fulfills that prophecy. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to the virgin Mary. 

Because the Holy Spirit (who is God) is Jesus’ biological father and Mary is Jesus’ biological mother, Jesus is actually both God and man. He’s not like Hercules or other Greek heroes who are part human and part God. Jesus is fully 100% totally God, but also fully 100% totally man. And just by his birth he is fulfilling that ancient Isaiah promise that one day God would come to humankind. 

So when we sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel realize we’re not just singing a nice Christmas song. We are singing that God has fulfilled his Isaiah promise through the birth of Jesus to come and dwell among humankind. Together, let’s sing that God has come in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

Pastor Jonathan wrote this homily for Cornerstone’s Lessons & Carols Christmas Eve Service.

Christmas Eve Lesson #3
Why “I Heard the Bells” rings true today.

Christianity Today recently published an article on the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells.” As I read it I learned that the great American poet Henry Wadworth Longfellow wrote this song as a poem during the Civil War, “the bloodiest war in American history.” The lyrics reflect this terrible time:

“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!’”

I didn’t know that just a few years before this Longfellow’s wife died in a terrible accident that left his face scarred. That same year his son was also injured in the war. So when Longfellow wrote this poem, he was writing from a place of deep personal pain and pain for his country. If we go back to the first verse of the song, we recognize that this is not how life is supposed to be, especially at Christmas. 

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet the tones repeat,
“There’s peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow describes the tension between how Christmas should feel—peaceful, joyful, happy—and how life actually feels—there’s conflict and hurt everywhere. As we look out at our world I think this song rings true. Just watch or listen to the news. Whether it’s politics or a tragedy or the economy it seems like there are tensions and conflict everywhere. Sometimes they’re up close and personal between us and family members or friends. This is because we live in a world marred by sin.

Romans 3:10-11 As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
     there is no one who understands;
     there is no one who seeks God. (NIV®)

Sin creates disorder and chaos in our world. It creates brokenness and hurt between people. But God offers a way of healing and hope for any who will trust in Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV®)

So does our song sing of this hope? Longfellow was a Unitarian. That means he didn’t believe in Jesus like we do at Cornerstone, but he still captured the hope God offers in this stanza:

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.’” 

As we sing this song tonight we can all find hope in Jesus Christ. Despite a world in a conflict, God promises that one day through Jesus he is going to right all wrongs. He is going to end all wars and conflict and peace and true justice will reign forever. So no matter what you’re going through this Christmas season, or how you feel about this world, I’d like to offer you hope through Jesus. Jesus is our final and everlasting peace. Let’s sing about this struggle and our final victory in “I Heard The Bells.”

Pastor Jonathan adapted this homily from an article published in Christianity Today. You can read the original article “A Carol for the Despairing” by Kristen O’Neal in the December 2018 issue.

Christmas Eve Lesson #4
Why do we sing Joy to the World after Silent Night?

Tonight we are singing two songs in closing, Silent Night followed by Joy to the World. It’s pretty typical for churches to sing these one after the other on Christmas Eve, but why do we that? Let’s start with Silent Night. What’s it about? It tells us of the birth of the Savior by recounting three miracles.

The first miracle is the birth of a child to a virgin girl. Verse one says, “Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.” “Yon” is short for “yonder”—like “over there.” We’re saying, “Look over there! The Virgin mother with her child.” When we sing this line we are recounting a miracle foretold by a Scripture passage we already read tonight, Isaiah 7:14. Both the gospel of Matthew and Luke tell us Mary was a virgin when the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus within her (Matt 1:23; Luke 1:27, 34). The virgin birth is the first miracle we recount.

The second miracle is the angels appearing to the Shepherds. Verse two of Silent Night says, “Shepherd quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar. Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!” The angels come to announce the birth of Jesus. Their presence is another sign that this is no ordinary birth. It’s supernatural. It’s so special angels announce it (Luke 2:8-15).

The third miracle is that this baby is the “Son of God.” Verses two and three say, “Christ the Savior is born… Son of God, love’s pure light… Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.” This baby’s mom wasn’t ordinary. She was a virgin. His birth wasn’t normal. Angels announced it. This is because he wasn’t an ordinary baby. He is God come in the flesh. He is the Savior, the Son of God, the Lord.

But did people respond to Jesus like he is the Savior and Son of God? Did the crowds accept him as Lord? No. This is why 33 years later Jesus is crucified and dies. So how can we sing the next song? How can we sing “joy to the world” if our world rejects the baby who brings joy? Our world rejected him at his birth and is still rejecting him today.

We can sing Joy to the World because although we sing this song at Christmas time, it was not originally written to be a Christmas song. This hymn is based on Psalm 98, which speaks of the Lord’s return at the end of days to both restore and judge the world.

Psalm 98:4-9
4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
     burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the Lord with the harp,
     with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
     shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
     the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
     let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the Lord,
     for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
     and the peoples with equity. (NIV®)

Jesus died and was buried but three days later he rose again and then he ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Eph 1:19-21). Right now Jesus is ruling and reigning over all of creation from afar, but one day soon he will rule and reign up close. 

So when we sing, “Joy the world, the Lord has come” we are not actually singing about the birth of a precious little baby, but the return of King Jesus in final victory over sin, death, and Satan. So when we sing Silent Night we are singing of the first coming of Christ, his miraculous birth, and when we sing Joy to the World we are singing of the second coming of Christ. Lets praise God for both the birth of Jesus Christ and his return by singing Silent Night followed by Joy to the World. 

Pastor Jonathan wrote this homily for Cornerstone’s Lessons & Carols Christmas Eve Service.