My Favourite Christmas Verse
Generally speaking I’m not big on most Christmas songs. A lot of them really have little to do with the biblical Christmas story. For many that’s not that bad – at least they’re consistent with Christianity even if not strictly biblical. Then there are others which are borderline heretical, like Away in a Manger’s line that Jesus didn’t cry, which to me is toying with Gnosticism’s denying that Jesus was fully human. Humans cry, and we even read that Jesus cried as an adult, so why not like every other baby?
Anyway, there’s one verse in one Christmas song that really stands out to me:
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
Whoa. So much in a few words. Let’s unpack some of these phrases.
“Truly he taught us to love one another.” Nobody is really going to debate that Jesus said that, and called it more important than anything else. And yet we can easily ignore that. It’s nice to get the great commandment in a Christmas song instead of only romanticized birth imagery.
“His law is love.” Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, he explained, but he did blatantly override some aspects of the letter of the law that contradicted God’s heart, such as the lex talionis. The author of Hebrews tells us that the Law is obsolete. That doesn’t mean it was bad in its context. It helped Israel establish a better society relative to the Ancient Near Eastern nations around them. It simply was never meant to be binding for all time is no longer useful in light of the greater revelation of Jesus. He explained that all of the Law can be summed up with “love God, love your neighbour, and love your enemy.”
“His gospel is peace.” Peace is good news. This isn’t just in some abstract personal wholeness feeling either. Many times I’ve heard people say that shalom is not just cessation of war. That’s definitely true. But shalom is also not just feeling good between you and God while ignoring physical violence around you. Jesus said that the peacemakers, those who are actively bringing peace to the world right now, are blessed. If you’re one of his followers, spreading the Gospel includes spreading peace for all.
“Chains shall he break…” It’s definitely refreshing to sing a song that is so blunt about the need to free the slaves in our world. I think this can be expanded beyond clearly-defined master-slave relationships, which we don’t see too often in the affluent Western world. We do still have many oppressed in other ways around us, however. We have many slaves to poverty, classism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, ableism, ageism, and any other forms of oppression you can think of. These slaves are waiting for their chains to be broken. Jesus invites us to join him in breaking these chains.
“…Grateful chorus…” We don’t praise God because we are afraid of God. We don’t praise God because we feel like we are supposed to. We don’t praise God because our parents did, although I’m definitely not complaining about good parental influences. We praise God because of the kind of things this song just named: he is source and teacher of love, he frees us from moralism or trying to earn our way to God, he brings peace between us and God and between each other, and he breaks chains of inequality radically breaking the Kingdom into our world. That’s worth singing, and living, about!