Apocalyptic Carols

First_Nowell_stainer What do Christmas carols make you think of? Luke 2? Manger scenes? Candle-lit Christmas Eve services? Turkey dinners with family? That’s what they do for most people. Few of us think, “Oh, Christmas carols = the sky being peeled back and saints being caught up in the clouds.”

It is true that the nativity is the main theme of carols. Several carols also point to Calvary: “Then let us all with one accord/ Sing praises to our heavenly Lord/ That hath made heaven and earth of nought,/ And with his blood mankind hath bought” (“The First Nowell”).

But some of the best-known carols make reference to the second coming. They tell us that Jesus was “born to raise the sons of earth,” so that Christians “need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace!/ Jesus Christ was born to save!/ Calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.” Because of Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion, “He rules the world/ With truth and grace,” and comes to “open wide our heav’nly home;/ Make safe the way that leads on high,/ And close the path to misery.” One day, “Saints before the altar bending/Watching long in hope and fear/ Suddenly, the Lord descending, in His temple shall appear.”

The first coming—Christmas—was tangible, crucial proof that God was keeping His promises to His people. The first coming—the incarnation—was evidence that God was executing His plan of salvation. But it was the first: we have been promised a second. Christmas should not only remind us of what did happen, incredible as it is. It should also remind us that because of what did happen, we can look forward to what will happen. The second coming will finish the work that the first coming established. A good Christmas carol will remind us that looking back is only spiritually useful if it spurs us on and points us forward to the day when Jesus will again come to earth incarnate. Then the plan of salvation will be complete. The glory that Christ’s birth began will be consummated when He comes again, with glory:

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around
.”