Let’s start off with a quiz.  What one word ties all eight of these Christmas carols together? And while the obvious answer (and the best guess) might be one of the words, Christmas, Jesus, Christ, God or O, none of these is the word for which I am looking (sorry). Here are the eight carols:

  1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
  2. Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
  3. Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates
  4. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
  5. O Little Town of Bethlehem
  6. Angels We Have Heard on High
  7. Angels, from the Realms of Glory
  8. O Come, All Ye Faithful

Okay, I’ll admit it. This was a bad quiz, but sometimes bad quizzes make good points (and I hope that is the situation here). In any case, I was struck by the importance of the word “come” in all of these carols. Take a look:

  • In “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” the first verse reads: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.” (In fact, all five verses implore God to come to our rescue so that the word “come” shows up 13 times!)
  • In “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” we see the emphasis on “come” in verses 1, 2 and 3; but verse 3 is my favorite: “Come to earth to taste our sadness, he whose glories knew no end; by his life he brings us gladness, our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend.”
  • We find the word “come” playing a prominent role in the last two verses of “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates.” Verse 5 reads: “Redeemer, come! I open wide my heart to thee; here, Lord, abide! Let me thy inner presence feel; thy grace and love in me reveal.” And verse 6 begins, “So come, my Sovereign, enter in! Let new and nobler life begin!”
  • It Came upon the Midnight Clear” emphasizes the word several times – “It came upon. . . . ” “Still through the cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled,” and “When with the ever-circling years comes round the age of gold.”
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem” ends with this plea, “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”
  • Angels We Have Heard on High” invites us in verse 3, saying, “Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing; come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”
  • Angels, from the Realms of Glory” has multiple verses, and each verse ends in this refrain: “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the newborn king.”
  • And “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is saturated with the exhortation to “come!” Seventeen times (17!), we sing the word, “come,” in this carol. Bottom line: There are not many “goings” in most carols, but there are a lot of “comings.” That is especially true in this one! (And yes, “Go, Tell it on the Mountain” is a noteworthy exception).

Now, all that may be nice; but you may be wondering what the big deal is about the word, “come.” For me it is clear, you can’t have a merry Christmas or a happy new year without the word, “come.”  In fact, the whole gospel is wrapped up in that one little word, “come.” Think about that.

At the core of the gospel is a cry of need. We cry out to God to come and save us. We implore him to come into our lives and give us new life. We plead with him to come and heal us.  And we urge him to come and forgive us and to give us his peace. Bottom line: “Come” is at the heart of the gospel. It is what we need God to do for us because we know we cannot save ourselves. We need God to come.

But there is a second use of the word, “come,” here. We need to come. We need to respond to Jesus’ call. We ask God to come to help us, but he also asks us to come to him. He invites us to repent, to surrender ourselves, to enter into his presence and to come and worship. Or better yet, to come and adore him.  It is this moving call to worship, that makes this Christmas carol a cut above the rest. In fact, I have often argued that the refrain ought to be sung all throughout the year. And why not, this whole hymn is great theology.

Please allow me on rabbit trail before we wrap up this series. Anytime you sing the Nicene Creed, you have my attention. In 325 AD, a council in Nicea put forth a statement summarizing what the church believes about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit and about the church. The part about the nature of Jesus is particularly striking. That part of the Creed says:

(We believe. . . ) in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.

While we are going to sing the whole hymn, pay special attention to the second verse. It has Nicea stamped all over it. Let’s sing the whole hymn:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem:
Come and behold him born the King of angels;

O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord!

God of God, light of Light;
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb:
Very God, begotten, not created;

O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above;
Glory to God, in the highest;

O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord!

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning:
Jesus, to thee be all glory giv’n;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;

O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord!

Christmas is often the time we think about God taking on our humanity and coming to us in response to our deepest needs, but we often forget that Christmas also calls us to respond to God’s gracious gift of his Son by giving ourselves, heart and soul, to worship Christ the Lord. See, it takes two “comes” to make Christmas glorious. Christ must come to redeem us, and we must come to Christ in worship.  And for me, there is no better way to wrap up Christmas than to pause in this week between Christmas and New Year’s and come to Christ to adore him because this is a happy morning, for God has done great things. He has come to save us and to invite us to respond to his love in worship and praise. And yes, maybe we ought to sing at least the refrain all year long because we all need a constant reminder of the God who came to redeem us and of our need to come and adore him.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!