The First Carols

The First Carols

Hopefully, by now you have been listening to lots of carols. So let me ask you a question; do you know where to find the first Christmas carols? 

The first Christmas carols go back 2,000 years to the very first Christmas. That’s right! The first Christmas carols are written in the Bible as part of the Christmas story. When Luke sat down to write his gospel, he recorded four of the original songs of Christmas. They are found in Luke chapters 1-2 which is the story of the Nativity.

In the early centuries of the Christian church, the Bible was translated into Latin. From that time until the present, these four songs have been best known by their Latin titles. In each case, the title is simply the first word or two of the very first line of the song. The four songs in order are:

  1. Mary’s Song called the Magnificat which is found in Luke 1:48-55
  2. Zechariah’s Song called the Benedictus which is found in Luke 1:67-80
  3. The Angels’ Song called the Gloria in Excelsis which is found in Luke 2:14
  4. Simeon’s Song called the Nunc Dimittis which is found in Luke 2:29-32

1. Mary’s Song called the Magnificat which is found in Luke 1:48-55

It starts with praise and that is perfectly right; Christmas is all about praise. 

Mary’s song is steeped in the Old Testament. As we read Mary’s song it sounds like one of the psalms of David. When Mary says, “His mercy extends to those who fear him,” that sounds a lot like Psalm 103 which is a praise Psalm. 

We pick up the story in Luke 1 when she goes to visit Elizabeth, who was herself pregnant with John the Baptist. When Elizabeth saw Mary, she greeted her with those famous words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (Luke 1:42) 

When Mary heard those confirming words, she broke out into song. The words of her song are recorded in Luke 1:46-55. It praises the Lord for the great things He has done. Its traditional name is “Magnificat” from magnifies. The name is also the song’s first word in the Latin Bible. 

Mary praises God from deep within her soul

The primary reason for the use of LORD in place of God’s Hebrew name is to follow the tradition of the Israelites in not pronouncing or spelling out God’s name. So, when God’s Hebrew name “YHWH” is used in the Old Testament, English translations usually use “LORD” meaning one having authority.

Now Mary goes from the soul to the Spirit, that supernatural part and it rejoices in God her Saviour. Mary here implies her need of a Saviour thus indicating that Mary was not perfect. No, Mary admits her condition.

Mary is reflecting on what it means to her to be chosen to bear the Messiah. She is praising God for his great mercy to her personally. Her words are personal and her point of view is turned inward.

Is this how we praise God?

What are you praising God for? 

More to come next week.

Stay safe and Blessed