The reason the Son of God came was to destroy the devil’s work. – I John 3:8
“… born on Christmas Day/To save us all from Satan’s Power …”- “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Traditional Christmas carol)
When I was in high school my favorite activity was choir, and my favorite event was the Christmas program. For years we sang, among other things, a set of carols by Benjamin Britten. One of them was truly unique – I mean, who sings about spiritual warfare at Christmastime?
“This Little Babe” approaches the topic of the Christ Child as a picture of God’s assault on the kingdom of darkness. This tiny Baby in the manger is the Commanding Officer of God’s armies, leading legions of angels against the devil and his demons.
The lyrics, like the Nativity story itself, is packed with ironies. They point to the awesome power of the seemingly helpless newborn Infant:
“This little Babe, so few days old is come to rival Satan’s fold; / All hell doth at His presence quake, though He Himself for cold do shake/ For in this meek unarmed wise/ The gates of hell He will surprise.”
The melody is intense, in a minor key, meant to be sung forcefully. While one would usually expect a song about a battle to be written for male voices, this one is for high voices – women, girls, or possibly young boys. (Our choir was made up of high school girls, and we sang it with gusto!)
While one might think of songs of warfare being accompanied by drums, cymbals, and trumpets, the only instrument accompanying these female voices is a harp.
The arrangement of the song creates growing intensity. The first verse is sung in unison, the second verse in a two-part round, the third verse in a three-part round, with no refrains in between, like waves of armed reinforcements charging over the hill to join the battle.
The voices come back together as the song reaches a crescendo, “My soul, with Christ, join thou in fight – “ and they end in unison, admonishing the audience to “foil thy foes with joy.”
All that content is packed into a song less than two minutes long!
I recently heard this carol for the first time in decades, and it struck me how profound the message is, unlike the usual songs about Santa, toys, snow, and rockin’ around the Christmas tree. Even songs about the sweet little Baby in the manger, the gentle beasts, shepherds, wisemen, and angels singing, might lull us into forgetting that a war is being waged daily on the battlefield of our minds. This little Baby came to set the prisoners free, and that involves defeating the kingdom of hell that has held us in bondage to sin for so long.
Just after the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, God prophesied to the serpent that the offspring of the woman would ultimately defeat him – “He will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 No doubt the serpent (Satan) remembered those words down through history – and now, in the little town of Bethlehem, He had arrived!
Jesus, the offspring of the woman, with no human father, had come. Even as He lay sleeping, a tiny newborn, Satan’s doom was sealed.
So, while we’re singing songs about the cute little Baby, let’s not forget who He was, is, and always will be – the God who came for us then, fights for us now, and is coming back to complete His triumph over evil. And on that day, His victory will be like this carol – short and swift, forever separating the kingdom of heaven from the kingdom of darkness.
Which side will you be on?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we celebrate Your coming to earth, we thank You for the love You had for us. We are in awe of Your willingness to leave Your home in glory and be born as one of us, suffer in our place, die to pay the penalty of our sins, and rise to life again to show us the eternal life that awaits all those who love and follow You. Help us not to be distracted by the trappings of the season, but instead to have hearts and minds set on You, for it’s in Your name we pray, Amen.
Here is one performance of this truly unique Christmas carol – enjoy!