Christmas is an interesting time. The biblical truth and human imagination are mixed into a sweet punch. In our Christmas Day sermon, we heard about “We Three Kings” that Scripture does not refer to the wise men as “kings” and that their number is unknown. Is it bad to sing and believe/assume some things not in Scripture? Would God mind if we added a few details as long as the heart of the story is accurate?

  • Was the Christmas night “silent,” as we sing in “Silent Night,” with so many visitors in Bethlehem and no accommodations left? Or with a newborn baby? Very unlikely, but why do we sing what we don’t believe is true…?
  • We teach our children that baby Jesus did not cry in “Away in a Manger.” Although it might be great for parents (”Don’t cry because Jesus didn’t cry either!”), we know it is not in Scripture.
  • The shepherds went to Bethlehem in terrible circumstances: “in tempest, storm, and wind,” we sing in “God rest you merry, gentlemen.” Scripture does not say that, and it is highly unlikely.
  • The same song inserts oxen into the Christmas story, while “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “What Child is this” discovered another animal: “ox and ass.” It looks lovely in a nativity scene but is an addition to Scripture.
  • We also learn a lot about angels in the Christmas carols. “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” gives angels harps of gold, but the Bible doesn’t say that.
  • Many songs make the angels sing “Glory to God,” as we love to hear their singing, but Scripture does not say that the angels sang! “Hark, the herald angels sing” not only states that the angels sang but also that they praised Jesus (”to the new-born King!”): however, Scripture says the angels praised God. A few wires seem to be crossed.
  • There was no guest room in Bethlehem, so Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Scripture does not say He was born in a stable or cattle shed as we sing in “Once, in Royal David’s City.”
  • And Jesus was not born in the winter either, although the cold winter night in “The First Noel” speaks to our imagination in our colder climate.

At times, I have mixed feelings about Christmas. After “Joy to the World” on my car radio, I heard more countries “cleared airspace for Santa to enter.” With Christmas-truth and fable intertwined, “the season” seems to overtake reality. Many Christmas carols blend in, creating an augmented Christmas story. Is what we sing in Christmas carols imagination or truth? Our world defines truth as what you want it to be…

Adding these details above in a sermon would get a Reformed pastor in trouble, but can we sing it? Imagine that the truth of Scripture would determine the carols we sing… how would our children understand the Christmas story? What would we then sing in our church’s Christmas program?

Are we allowed to be critical about Christmas carols, or is that (church-) politically incorrect?

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