Why? So much of modern worship is emotional. Jesus is presented merely as a loving friend rather than as a dying, rising, reigning Lord.
Yet, at Christmastime, even while we remember Jesus as a helpless infant, our songs give us a glimpse of a Christ who rules the world. Consider the regality of this passage commonly used at Advent:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
The message of Christmas is that the King of kings has come and is conquering the nations through the spread of the gospel. And it’s because of Jesus’ authority over the world (Matt. 28:19) that we engage in missions.
Once you look for this theme in our common holiday hymns, you won’t be able to unsee it. Consider these few examples below.
1. “JOY TO THE WORLD” BY ISAAC WATTS
Joy to the world, the Lord is come,
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow,
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove,
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
Pay attention to the parts in bold. Jesus came not only to save sinners but also to redeem the lost world—as far as the curse from Genesis 3 is found.
And Jesus isn’t just fixing the physical creation. He’s after the nations. Peoples. Tribes. Countries. Not only does he offer them a way to be saved, but he will win them because he purchased them. (See Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 9:7.)
2. “I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY” BY HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
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 Man.
The common refrain of “peace on earth, good will to men” reminds us of the angels’ song to the shepherds in Luke 2:14 announcing the birth of Messiah. But we shouldn’t miss the radical statement being made. Jesus came not just for the Jews, but for “men”—humans worldwide.
In John 11:52, we’re reminded that Jesus didn’t just die for his nation but for all the children of God scattered across the world. Isaiah 49:6 says that’s because redeeming the Israelite nation alone would have been too small a thing. His goal is a day in which “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). His mission is global.
3. “O HOLY NIGHT” BY ADOLPHE ADAM
A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn,
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel’s voices,
O night divine, O night when Christ was born.
Just as dawn breaks the night, so the coming of Christ began to break the dark spell cast over a sinful world. “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2).
When Jesus returns and has defeated his enemies, we’ll see the “high noon”[C1] of his global kingdom. But until then, the sun—or Son—continues to rise over all the nations, lands, and people groups of the planet.
4. “WE THREE KINGS OF ORIENT ARE” BY JOHN HENRY HOPKINS JR.
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign,
Frankincense to offer have I,
Incense owns a deity nigh,
Pray’r and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him, God Most High.
Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice,
Earth to heav’n replies.
Here we’re reminded again that Jesus is King and Lord right now. “[T]he kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
When Jesus ascended to heaven, he sat down to rule at the Father’s right hand (Psalm 110:1). Because of his present authority over all nations, we plead with them to repent and find forgiveness in his cross.
5. “GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN” (WRITER UNKNOWN)
God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas day,
To save us all from Satan’s power,
When we were gone astray
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.
At Christmas we recognize that Jesus came as the serpent crusher (Genesis 3:15) to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). But how?
Scripture depicts Satan as a prosecutor in the courtroom of God, pressing charges against God’s people because of their sins (see Job 1, Revelation 12:10). Jesus, our legal representative, bears our penalty, pays our ransom, and pleads our case so that we stand justified before God, clothed in his righteousness (Zechariah 3:1-5, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
But Satan’s legal accusations aren’t just limited to individuals. He attempts to lay claim over nations. Scripture calls him the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), and the “deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). So, when Jesus came to redeem and Satan was disbarred, he lost legal claim over the world.
Thus, the demonic spirits that deceive and enslave the unreached peoples of the world have lost their power (Colossians 2:14-15). They can do nothing to stop the spread of the gospel. Our job is to believe that and to act.
6. “HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING” BY CHARLES WELSEY
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King,
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
The nations rejoice not simply because a king is born, but because their King has come. King Herod knew this, which is why he did everything he could to stop Christ. Today’s governments and dictators are doing the same thing. After all—if Jesus is Lord, then the Herods and Caesars of the world aren’t. So let’s not be daunted by the countries that say “no” to the gospel. Their King has already come for them.
7. “IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR” BY RICHARD STORRS WILLIS
For lo, the days are hast’ning on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendor fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
Can you imagine being a Jew living under the Law of Moses, looking into the future, and seeing how far the gospel, the church, and the fame of Christ have spread by the 21st century—compared to the dim shadows of the old covenant?
Whether or not we’re right to call the age we’re living in right now a “golden age,” we live in an era of unprecedented spiritual and unmatched gospel privilege—thanks to faithful missionaries.
What if we really believed what these songs say about the global power of the gospel? That Jesus is really ruling as King, enabling our evangelistic mission to succeed? How might that make us bolder on mission?
As Advent unfolds, let’s remember the triumph of Christ—from his cradle, to cross, to commission.
Author’s Note: A longer version of this article was originally published in 2019. Thanks to writer Isaac Arthur for inspiring the selection of these particular hymns.