Well, advent is a wonderful time to think about what we say we believe.
Christmas carols are excellent teachers too! Of course, you have to actually listen to the stanzas of the carols – especially to the ones we don’t usually sing anymore.
To see what I mean, just Google Hark the Herald Angels Sing and read the old lyrics.
Then try Joy to the World. Meditate on the words.
The carols are theologically richer than most of our sermons these days. If you take the time to digest them, they will feed your soul.
Obviously I’m not talking about singing merely the bits and pieces of cannibalized lyrics that pass for modern Christmas music! I’m talking about learning the blood and guts of ancient Christian culture.
You could make this one of your Advent adventures: to finally understand the lyrics of the carols. Read through all the stanzas of We Three Kings. Read over the words of more obscure carols, such as Once in Royal David’s City. Expand your spiritual perception beyond the doctrinal provincialism of our age as you listen respectfully to past believers.
Once you understand the lyrics of the great carols, you will have no problem understanding the meaning of any of the great creeds.
You’ll also come to know why the creeds are important for cultivating a healthy spiritual life.
Of course, creeds bore people.
That’s just life. Learning the multiplication tables bored me too, once upon a time.
Heck, paying bills bore me! But if you ever want to advance beyond coloring Sunday school pictures and really develop a robust adult faith, this may be the place to start: with the doctrines of our faith that the carols express. Then, perhaps, you may take a few minutes and memorize the two central creeds of the church.
That’s a very subversive thing to do now. Modern Christians don’t tend to like anything structured, formal or (gasp) “historic.” Creeds can be downright creepy for modern Christians.
You’ve probably heard people say something like, "Christians don’t need creeds or doctrine! They just need Jesus!"
I have certainly heard them say things like that.
It sounds good, even pious. But just ask another question,
“So, who is Jesus?"
A fervent believer will usually say something like “well, the Jesus of the Bible, of course."
Then ask, "And what does the Bible say about Jesus?"
You will soon realize that any answer to these simple questions reveals a doctrinal viewpoint.
So we all have doctrine!
Some of our doctrines are “homemade,” just pieced together from our life experiences, old teachers, preachers, and, frankly – and much more than we realize -- our personal preferences.
All believers will, sooner or later, develop a theological system, formal or informal, that form his or her beliefs and practices.
The question then is not whether we have a doctrine or not. It is impossible not to have doctrine.
Therefore, a conscientious Christian will ask, “How does my doctrine compare to what the Bible teaches? Secondarily, he or she will ask “what have the saints through the ages believed?”
These questions reveal whether we are (or are not) marching to the steady beat, the common rhythm, of our faith, the one St. Jude claims was “once and for all delivered to the saints.”
As we really meditate on the teachings of THAT faith, we may discover how seriously we have tended to erode that faith and to morph it into something that past generations might not have recognized. After all, if their words –as we experience in the carols and creeds – seem increasingly alien to us, perhaps it is because what we normally practice and preach is increasingly alien from them.
Why is this important? It is important because beliefs have consequences. It is, therefore, important to consider the implications of a belief before we adopt it. And, to claim to believe something without understanding the implications lacks integrity. If the child born long ago really was God, and the early followers of that child really received what He wanted the world to know, then we should dedicate at least a part of our lives to understanding their message.
It is also important to review the beliefs we unconsciously collect. We all do that. Then, we have a habit of continuing to believe those things simply because we already believe!
However, what we believe determines how we behave. If our beliefs are not sound, how can our behavior be otherwise?
These are the reasons why a Christian should periodically do prayerful thinking about Christian doctrine. That way, he or she can live in peace and integrity with what he or she claims to believe.
Memorizing and meditating on the creeds will help you form a healthy doctrinal foundation. However, learning the lyrics of the carols will do it too.
Even the apparently silly ones, like “five goooood ---en riiiiiings!”
It makes me think of something that my true love once gave me, and which I hope will be the words of my dying breath:
“I believe in the Jesus Christ … who was born of the Virgin Mary and suffered under Pontius Pilate, who died and rose again. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
Or, if you prefer, you can use the piecing words that Isaac Watts wrote in 1719:
"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, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found."
Copyright © 2009 Dan Scott. All Rights Reserved