It struck me recently how many Christmas hymns develop the doctrine of sin. It’s not just a passing reference; it’s a major theme. We don’t usually associate Christmas time with sin, but it’s a necessary association. After all, the gospel is not all that good of news unless there is bad news—that we’re hopelessly lost and stand in need of a Savior. This bad news is at the heart of the nativity narrative. The angel told Joseph, “Call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21). Zechariah’s song praises God that he would be the forerunner of the one who will “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77).
Here is a list of Christmas hymns that list explicitly mention sin and sinners or something similar:
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Charles Wesley, 1739
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
What Child Is This?
William Chatterton Dix, 1865
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Edmund H. Sears, 1849
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.
Joy To the World
Isaac Watts, 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.
O Holy Night
Placide Cappeau, 1847
John S. Dwight, translator
O holy night! the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Phillips Brooks, 1868
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray,
cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Immanuel!
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1867
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Unknown, ca. 1865
God rest you merry, gentlemen,
let nothing you dismay;
remember Christ, our Savior
was born on Christmas Day
to save us all from Satan’s pow’r
when we were gone astray.