I’m not sure why, but every time I’ve heard the word Advent this season I’ve thought of the song “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” a song I’ve never particularly liked.
I didn’t know whether to laugh, cringe, or cry the first time I heard a choir crooning, “Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon / Many will meet their doom, trumpets will sound / All of the dead shall rise, righteous meet in the skies / Going where no one dies, heavenward bound.” (I didn’t grow up on Southern Gospel.) The incongruity of the upbeat, saloon-like piano tune behind the damning lyrics seemed almost satirical. “Doom” might be a near rhyme with “soon” and “noon,” but that doesn’t make a peppy song about people being condemned to eternal judgment any more palatable to me.
Yet, redemption and judgment are inseparable in the coming of Christ—in His birth and Second Coming. The prophetic word of Isaiah 9:7 promises He will “establish” and “uphold” the throne of David with “justice and righteousness.” As God’s children, this promise assures us, and we rejoice in the angel of the Lord’s declaration to Joseph, “‘you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:21).
This is the Good News we celebrate at Advent. It’s the Good News we want others to receive as we talk about a baby in a manager, some shepherds and some sheep, the wisemen and a star.
But news of a Savior is only good if it comes with the truth about sin and judgment—the Son of Man is coming with the wrath of God to judge the unrighteous at an hour no one knows (Matthew 24:44; Colossians 3:5).
Singing the Truths of Judgment and Hope
So, how do we share our joy for Christ’s first coming and our anticipation for His Second Coming with a world of people weary with words of judgment? Although we could send Christmas cards scrolled in glittery cursive letters with the message, Receive the baby from Mary’s womb or you will receive eternal doom, I believe the world may be better prepared to receive these truths if we sing them.
The church has been bled by poets and musicians who have composed songs, who have gifted us with enduring hymns, that simultaneously speak the message of judgment and hope. “O, Come, O Come, Emmanuel” speaks of the Son of God who will save His people “[f]rom depths of hell.” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” speaks of longing for a Deliverer who was “[b]orn to set [His] people free” and to “release” them from their “fear” and “sins.” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” speaks of a Savior who was born “[t]o save us all from Satan’s pow’r.” “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” praises a King who reconciles “God and sinners.” “O Holy Night” rejoices in our Blessed Hope who came to a world “laying” in sin and “pining” in error.
These songs speak of our need—our salvation from sin.
But they also speak of the power of redemption, of rescue and victory, joy and freedom, comfort and peace. And they speak these words to a people who mourn in “lonely exile,” who know longing, who go “astray,” who desperately need to bow before the King they were made to worship.
As the church, we get to sing these songs together as we gather to celebrate Advent. For this, we should be grateful, and we should also be grateful those hymns have not totally disappeared from the modern Christmas music canon. Though department store speakers blare Buble’s “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and Mariah’s “All I Want for Christmas,” Christmas movie watchers will still hear “Hark the Herald Angels” in It’s a Wonderful Life and “O Holy Night” in Home Alone, and children’s choirs will still sing “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger.”
Martin Luther said music “is a gift of God” that “drives away the Devil and makes people joyful.” And though those outside the church may hear a tidbit of truth about “our dear Savior’s birth” as Kevin McAllister wanders past a Nativity and down a church aisle on Christmas Eve, we as God’s people can give this gift of music to our neighbors.
Ways to Share
- Ask someone who is far from God what her favorite Christmas hymn. Have a discussion about the meaning of the song. Ask the Spirit to direct the conversation to Jesus.
- Think of a way you can add music to your gifts. Our family “gifts” relatives a slideshow of photos using songs that point to Jesus.
- Share an Advent playlist with neighbors via text or email or social media. You may even create an old-school CD for friends less inclined to use Spotify. (Our church created this playlist.)
- If you’re brave, go caroling. Pray the lyrics of the song over the homes you visit.
And one of the greatest gifts we can give the world is living the song of the heavenly hosts: “‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14). The world may need this more than an invitation to a Christmas cantata or a children’s program.