No matter how old we are, music is essential to our celebration of Christmas. From the plaintive cry of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” to the thunderous joy of Handel’s “Glory to God in the Highest,” each tune is a reminder of the sacred night when Christ stepped down from heaven to become fully man while remaining fully God. And because they weave that stunning good news with our personal memories of—and hopes for—the season, the songs of the Lord’s nativity touch us deeply year after year. We asked staff members at In Touch Ministries to tell us the stories of their favorite carols and why they’re an important part of the holiday.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
In the mid-90s, my family experienced a particularly difficult winter. Once it became too cold for me to make the mile-plus hike to the bus stop on my own, my mother would drive me. I still remember the dark blue of the mornings, broken only occasionally by the headlights of the rare passing car. Our breath was visible as we waited for our rumbling faux-wood station wagon to start warming up.
For whatever reason, the song “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” came on the radio around the same time every morning, to the point where it moved from oddity to inside joke to special moment between my mother and me. It was our time together before having to face the day—and with it, the harsh realities we weren’t ready to admit surrounded us. It was our time to pretend that Dad hadn’t abandoned us, that he was simply still asleep at home.
The carol was a needed reminder of what Christmas and Advent are about in the first place: Even in our darkest and coldest moments, the announcement of Christ and reconciliation is all around us, sustaining us when we feel it the least.
—Tim R., International
What Child is This?
My favorite hymn is “What Child Is This?” But that hasn’t always been the case. For the first seven years of my marriage, I experienced infertility, which left me feeling alone and grief-stricken. It wasn’t Mother’s Day that hurt the most, but the weeks leading up to Christmas. Many of the hymns we sing are laden with images of pregnancy, birth, and new life—and the words, though wonderful, wounded my heart deeply.
For the Christmas pageant each year, the roles of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were played by the youngest infant in our church and the baby’s parents. While I rejoiced over Christ’s birth, I ached internally. I wanted to experience the same joy that was so evident on their faces.
My husband and I adopted three children during those seven years, all of whom we adore. But something in me still felt incomplete. Then, in April 2010, the Lord remembered me and opened my womb. I carried my son nearly to full term, but I began to suffer from pre-eclampsia, and doctors were worried he might not make it.
After an emergency C-section, he was born on Christmas Eve.
My Father had not forgotten me. Each of my children is a miracle, as is the way God brought them to us. His timing is perfect, though often it seems as if our prayers are going unheard and unanswered. He is at work. He has a plan, and it is beyond our dreams.
—Rebekah R., Partner Communications
My father was like other musicians who put down their instruments at graduation and never pick them up again. However, Christmas Eve was the one time of year he would take his trumpet out of its case and play at church. He performed several songs, but with the lights turned off and candles glowing, the sweet melody of “Silent Night” was always the final song to ring from his horn.
The last time that my father would play the song was 2008. Unbeknownst to us, pancreatic cancer had already begun to spread inside his body, and it ultimately took his life in September 2009 when he was just 54.
The first holiday following his death was a difficult one for us, and I remember thinking that I felt his absence much more acutely than I ever had felt his presence. He loved Christmas and had a hand in everything we did during the season. Without him, it just wasn’t the same. But though my father is no longer with us physically, “Silent Night” still is. It’s a part of the legacy he left behind. And now that I’m a dad myself, I realize just how essential a role he played in my development. I’m a trumpet player, too, and I hope to share with my young son some of the wonderful things my father taught me.
—Michael G., Finance
Do You Hear What I Hear?
This song about getting word of Christ’s birth was the first solo I sang at my little Methodist church in Columbus, Georgia. We were having a candlelight service on Christmas Eve with maybe 100 people in attendance. The room was dark, and it was bitterly cold and windy outside. But inside, it was warm as we huddled together on metal chairs, happy to be with each other on such a holy night.
Even today, the song reminds me of the kindness and community I felt in that room. As I sang, I could picture the night Christ was born. I could feel the wind blowing, see the stars in the sky. It was as though the song took me there and allowed me to play a part in sharing the good news—first to a little lamb, then to the shepherd boy, to the king, and finally to the people everywhere. By the end, we had become part of the story—observing Jesus’ birth, bringing Him gifts, and experiencing His goodness and light.
—Art C., Foundation
In the Bronx neighborhood where I grew up, everyone was either Catholic or Jewish.
I was the latter, but my family wasn’t deeply religious. Once, a friend invited me to midnight Mass. When I saw the beauty in that place and the sincere worship of God, I was captivated. It was so unlike my synagogue, where everything was learned by rote. There was something different about Christians.
Maybe that’s why “Silent Night” is my favorite Christmas song. I loved the idea of experiencing “love’s pure light,” even though I didn’t know what it meant. So I learned every verse, much to my mother’s disapproval. “Jesus was a very good rabbi,” she’d tell me, “but he’s not who the Christians say he is.” Yet the seed was planted because of that song, though it didn’t bloom until I was 45, when my father had to be rushed to a specialist because of an aneurysm.
At the hospital, I saw other families, all of whom had loved ones in critical condition. Many were Christians, and there was a peace about them that I didn’t have. But I desperately wanted it in my life. So while we waited, I bought a Bible and began reading in Matthew. Halfway through Luke, I prayed to receive Christ.
I now know the Son of God and understand the meaning of “love’s pure light.” What God showed me when I was a child was true. He’s been teaching me about love all along.
—Robin P., Christian Guidance
Away in a Manger
When I was 4 or so, my dad played a king in our church’s nativity play. He had this gray robe with scarlet tassels, and between that and the crown my mom made out of tin foil, he was the most regal thing I’d ever seen.
When you grow up on a working farm, as I did, you become very familiar with mangers, where you put the animals’ grain and hay. So when the congregation sang “Away in a Manger” and I watched my father present his gift, I felt sorry for little baby Jesus. I couldn’t believe He didn’t have a bed. Each of our cows and horses had a stall. Even my doll had a bed. But Jesus, our Savior, didn’t have a place to lay His head.
Sometime after that performance, I asked my dad to build me a manger out of scrap wood. I put it in my playhouse, filled it with straw, and tried to imagine what it must have been like for Jesus.
When I got older, I saw it wasn’t pity I should feel, but joy: As the third verse of the song says, He will “fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.” As humble as His first bed was, the world was changed because He was willing to lie in it. Because of Him, we all have heaven before us—a place where we will be with Him forever.
—June M., Volunteer
O Holy Night
In 1963, my family was living on a military base in Orléans, France, where my father served as commander. I was only 5 at the time, but I remember my mother singing “O Holy Night” during the Christmas service. Her voice was high and lovely, and it filled every corner of the tiny chapel.
When we moved to Atlanta, we went downtown to Rich’s Department Store each Thanksgiving to watch the lighting of the great tree. The windows were decorated with glittering ribbons, garlands, and shiny silver and gold balls. The scene was magical, but the best part of it all was a soloist performing “O Holy Night.” When she sang the dramatic words “O night divine,” the tree exploded in a flash of light and color—illuminating the darkness and bathing everyone there in its glow.
This song has been part of many wonderful memories, but no matter how many times I hear it, “O Holy Night” always takes me back to listening to my mom sing it on a cold, blustery night in France, and it’s one of the songs that makes Christmas truly Christmas for me.
—Greg I., Foundation