Have you ever noticed that some of the most popular Christmas carols deal with very serious issues? We sang the hauntingly beautiful Advent carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, on the first Sunday of Advent. It calls on God to put to flight “death’s deep shadows.” I suppose the somber tone of the melody should alert us to the possibility of serious poetry coming our way as we sing but death is not exactly a topic I’ve got on my list of Christmas discussion ideas.

The joyful hymn, O Come All Ye Faithful, proclaims that the babe born in Bethlehem is a “child for us sinners.” When was the last time you heard a Christmas Eve Sermon on sin? I’ve never heard nor delivered one but that favorite old carol seems to suggest that sin is something to deal with at Christmas.

Or take a look at this stanza from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,

And in despair, I bow’d my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will toward all.”

The shocking reality these lines point toward is grounded in the simple truth that peace on earth seems impossible. If we consider the fact that the last century was the bloodiest ever it seems as though the old hymn writers were right, “hate is strong and mocks the song.”

I suppose we could just try forget about all of this and say to ourselves, “Whatever, let’s just listen to Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer a few hundred times and try to forget about all of the terrible things going on in our world.”  However, even that silly song has a dark theme at the center of its comedy! Woe unto us.

So, then, I wonder. I wonder what we can do in the face of the reality of our world and the message of Christmas? Perhaps what we really need to do is sing the songs of Christmas with hope. Yes, let’s acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a new way of life and gather with the rest of the faithful as we look to follow Jesus. Let’s face the lack of peace in our world while we continue to pray for and even love our enemies. Let’s hold our heads high and sing the call for Emmanuel, God with us, to finally come and live among us.

Most of all, let’s not stop singing. The lyrics from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day name the pain and sorrow of our world but the song does not end there. It goes on to speak strongly to the hope that is at the center of the message of Christmas:

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.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.