Songs from the Bible on the Birth of Jesus
By Donald Shoemaker
Christmas Season is a wonderful time for song. The Advent portion of Handel’s “The Messiah” is a top value. As traditional carols go, you can’t do better than “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing” (Charles Wesley).
But do you know the Bible itself gives us four Christmas songs? They are often known by the words that open each song in the Latin Bible.
- Mary’s Song – The “Magnificat” [“Magnificat anima mea Dominum”]
“My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46 English Standard Version)
This has been rightly called the “first canticle of the New Testament.” It is a song of ecstasy—praise to God for his grace and mercy and his fulfillment of his promises to his people.
Its message must be viewed in light of the earthly ministry of Jesus (else it can be twisted to serve secular movements and manifestos). In it we learn that God honors the humble and shows mercy to those reverent in heart. We see God’s love for the lowly. And we are warned about pride and the quest for power and the love of possessions.
- Zechariah’s Song – The “Benedictus” [“Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel”]
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” (Luke 1:68)
Filled with God’s Spirit, Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) prophesied that his son will point to a deliverer who will save us from the enemies that afflict us (physical and spiritual) and enable us to delight in doing God’s will.
- The Angels’ Song – The “Gloria” [“Gloria in altissimis Deo”]
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
This is the best-known “Song of Christmas” from the Bible—impressed into our collective consciousness by works such as Handel’s “Glory to God” in “The Messiah” (a chorus that tortures tenors!) and the popular hymn “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
The song is by a majestic angelic chorus. They announced praise in heaven and peace on earth. Certainly the story of the birth of Jesus has a peaceful effect in the world. The peace may not be deep and it may not last long when the story is heard, but I’m thankful for it. More important, the story of Jesus brings peace into the lives and hearts of those who truly embrace it.
- Simeon’s Song – The “Nunc dimmittis” [“Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine secundum verbum tuum in pace.”]
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:29-30)
Simeon was an elderly servant of God to whom God gave the promise that he would not die until he had seen “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). When Mary and Joseph presented the Baby Jesus in the Temple according to the Law of Moses, Simeon took Jesus into his arms and, in the words of the “Benedictus”, gave praise to God. It was as if he had said, “Lord, I’m ready to go now—I’ve seen the Savior!”
The secular world offers its many “consolations.” Some of them have led to terrible carnage and bloodshed, as we witnessed through much of the 20th Century and still see today. Jesus brings true consolation.
Hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear desire of every nation.
Joy of every longing heart.