For most Americans, the holidays could not arrive fast enough. After experiencing what has to be the most divisive political campaign in our lifetimes, our collective breath still feels a little bated as we stand back and view the carnage—the vitriol that has harshly graffitied national media stories, social media feeds, and even our water cooler conversations with sharp, black and white viewpoints.
A little December red and green is a welcome color respite.
This month, Kristyn and I embarked upon a national Christmas tour where we will eventually stand upon the stages of Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center alongside a beloved band who voted almost exactly fifty-fifty for the two vastly different candidates.
Yes, we all feel the tension. Families feel it, where traditional lines of voting used to predominately exist. Houses of faith feel it too, as people with historically new and seemingly conflicting paradigms have reached vastly differing conclusions under one steeple.
But as a hymn writer, I have stumbled upon at least one seemingly simple, yet profoundly effective solution to the feeling of divisiveness we are sensing… this Christmastime, let's sing carols together.
Carols have existed for hundreds of years as rallying anthems to be sung together in communities. From medieval times when singing was primitive, to the years when the Catholic Church banned singing in English, carols were a unifying factor. Even when the puritans banned dancing and instruments, people went out in the streets to sing carols.
Carols are anti-establishment in the holiest sense of the word. They are rebel songs in truest sense of the words. And they are unifying in a way simply unrivaled by any other music.
Think about it—from young and old to devoted Christians and skeptics alike—for the most part, all still say they prefer to sing carols at Christmas. Even when it is not accepted as one’s personal credo, carols have still effectively become the masterworks of the Christian faith. Just as Western Civilization will look to stunning paragons of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice or the masterpieces of The Louvre as the high watermarks of art, architecture, and democracy, Christians can look to the legacy of the carols. They have literally been sung for a thousand years, melding the melodies of Handel, Holst, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn with the poetry of hymn writers like Wesley and Watts, all the way to Rossetti and many other classical poets.
That's why each generation of our families enjoys singing carols together. Whether in a church with carol singers, in school, in the home, or even just with family members as we play them on our iPhones, carols unify us. Yes, even when they are being sung passively in the background, singing them reminds us that, like the carols themselves, life, love, and ultimately faith, are ageless and beautiful. They remind us of times gone by, where perhaps relationships were easier and less complicated.
Of course, carols encapsulate something even deeper for the Christian heart. From the darkest times of suffering for the Jewish people in the Old Testament to Paul and Silas in prison, we view singing a way to help people through their struggles. Perhaps that is why scripture commands us—over two hundred times, mind you—to sing and to do so in every circumstance.
The carols embody what great hymns should be. Richly and beautifully theological, they are also extraordinary poetry. They possess an overarching story that is grander than even the smaller subjects of the hymns themselves. They are utterly thrilling to sing. But most of all, they are timeless—we could have sung them one hundred years ago, and we will still be singing them in another hundred years.
There's a simple reason people love singing carols: because they've kept the good songs. Like a timeless painting, a Dickens novel that you read again and again, or the poetry and angst of the Psalms, you can experience each of them a hundred times over, but they just keep getting deeper with each pass.
So perhaps we can indeed paint a little red and green over our nation’s current graffiti with the timeless colors of the carols because they remind us of the one story where true peace and unity can be found. Case in point…
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!"
This Christmas, let’s all sing together!
Keith and Kristyn Getty are the preeminent writers of modern hymns in the world today. Their annual An Irish Christmas: A Celebration of Carols 19-city tour will stop at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House, Washington DC on December 7, and NY’s Carnegie Hall on Dec. 20. For more information on the tour: http://www.gettymusic.com/tours