No season fills our ears with hundreds of thousands of songs specifically for that season like Christmas. And people are surprisingly passionate about this music and when they start listening to it.
Worldwide, songs like “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “Last Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas” top the list of most-listened-to Christmas songs on Spotify. Many of these are fun classics we know and love. But as you scan lists of top Christmas songs this year, you’ll find many sprinkled with distinctly Christian songs. These Christmas carols are filled with rich theology for this season — and every season.
Perhaps you have sung these songs for years — the words roll off your tongue when the music begins. But when was the last time you slowed down and allowed the lyrics to speak to your soul?
Here are five Christmas carols seeped in rich theology:
1. O Holy Night
This song, composed by French poet Placide Cappeau more than 175 years ago, reminds us of what we’re celebrating in the Christmas season— “the night of our dear Savior’s birth.”
This is a song of hope for the weary world — a world ridden with sin. And this hope is not based on feel-good words of holiday cheer. Neither is it based on fun activities for the family or a cozy Christmas tree with gifts all around. This is a hope that doesn’t require the weary to plaster on a smile. Rather, it’s a hope that invites the broken to see Jesus — the one who makes all things new. Christ is our thrill of hope.
In Matthew 22, when the Pharisees tested Jesus asking Him “which command in the law is the greatest?” (Matt. 22:36, CSB), Jesus’ response was to “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39, CSB). And this love is compelled by an understanding that everyone bears the image of God.
When we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world, we celebrate the coming of a new law, a new covenant. And in this covenant, the Father invites us into a relationship with Himself through the work of His Son. So we have peace while still anticipating the fullness of God’s righteousness. As we reflect on Jesus’ first advent, we look forward to His second when He will put an end to the oppression and suffering of His people.
2. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Written in 1739 by Englishman Charles Wesley, this song has, for centuries, helped the church see the glory of God in the incarnation.
According to the latest State of Theology report, 53% of Americans say Jesus was a great teacher but not God. But as the lyrics of this song remind us, Jesus, the Christ child, is the everlasting Lord. He came to earth as the physical presentation of the Godhead for humans to see. Jesus is the incarnate — in the flesh — person of the Trinity. He was pleased to be Immanuel — God with us. And this humility by which He came has a purpose.
Jesus told Nicodemus this was the reason for His birth — so we might be “born again” (John 3:4, CSB). And as we think about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s birth, we marvel at how He laid His glory by for our sake, “assuming the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7, CSB).
3. Joy to the World
This song, written by Isaac Watts in 1719, reminds the world of the joy we have in the Lord’s coming and the Savior’s reign.
As we experience the sorrow, pain, and brokenness of this sin-filled world, the call to joy may seem trite and unhelpful. But this joy is not based on our circumstances but in the God who rules over all — now and for eternity.
The psalmist writes: “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains shout together for joy before the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world righteously and the peoples fairly” (Psalm 98:8-9, CSB).
And John writes: “We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” (John 1:14, CSB).
Jesus came to make the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love known to a lost world. And we await His return when we will be able to see more clearly His rule of grace and truth. The Lord is come. He offers the gift of salvation as “far as the curse is found,” and He will return to judge the earth according to His righteousness.
4. Go Tell It on the Mountain
A Negro spiritual passed down orally from plantation to plantation, this song is a call to join the shepherds in fulfilling the Great Commission to declare that “Jesus Christ is born.” John Wesley Work, Jr., the first African American collector of Negro spirituals, published this song in 1907.
After the angels declared Christ’s birth to the shepherds, they hurried to find the Savior who had been born to them. “After seeing [Jesus], they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18, CSB).
Although you and I didn’t receive the good news of the gospel from a “multitude of heavenly host” (Luke 2:13), we share in the same good news today. As we remember the miracle of Christmas and the salvation we have in the coming of Christ, we can, like the shepherds, go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18).
5. What Child Is This
This song, written by William Chatterton in 1865, reminds listeners of the unexpected nature of Christ’s coming and calls the church to respond in worship. While the first verse sings the glory of Christ — the child “whom angels greet with anthems sweet” — there are still hints of the unexpected. Christ came as a child sleeping on the lap of a young girl in humble conditions. And shepherds, of all people, were watching.
In the second verse, we are once again reminded of the humility in which Christ came. “Why lies He in such mean estate?” In the birth of Jesus, God was coming near His people. And our response, like the wise men, should be worship.
Jesus came to bring salvation — no matter who you are, peasant or king. So, we are called to worship this child who is the Christ who saves all who come to Him. May the carols of this Christmas bend our hearts toward right theology and right worship of Him.