Is ‘Ave Maria’ really a Christmas song?

If you are like me, then you probably love this time of year for many reasons. I especially love Christmas decorations, meals, and music. It is marvelous to hear “Joy to the world, the Lord has come… Let earth receive her king!” being announced as a proclamation everywhere, even if most listeners don’t notice the strong Messianic themes of such a song.

However, not all Christmas songs are so glorious. Some are just silly, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman, and yet others are insidious. Now, I don’t mean to be an alarmist, nor do I intend to nit-pick all theologically inaccurate Christmas music, but I want to toss out a friendly reminder that Christians ought to be choosy about what they embrace as Christ-honoring carols.

Listen to whatever music you like, and enjoy the jingling bells of Christmas, but don’t assume that every Christmas song is a tribute to the Christ who ought to be the central focus of Christmas.

Take ‘Ave Maria,’ for example. This song has a beautiful arrangement. Who isn’t amazed by the range and pitch of this incredible music? I am especially impressed with Andrea Bocelli’s rendition… What a voice!

But, Christians should be more interested in the content, the lyrics, of a song than others. Christianity is a religion of content, substance, truth, and historical and theological propositions. Christians believe that Jesus really was born of the virgin Mary, that this God-man lived to die, and that Jesus conquered death forevermore for all those who would believe, trust and follow Him. Christians believe (as the Scriptures teach) that Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and sinful people, and Christians seek grace from God through Christ alone for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The song Ave Maria speaks of a different mediator and hope-giver in the hour of death, however. See the lyrics below, the Latin on the left and English on the right.

Ave Maria

Gratia plena

Maria, gratia plena

Maria, gratia plena

Ave, ave dominus

Dominus tecum

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

Et benedictus

Et benedictus fructus ventris         

Ventris tuae, Jesus

Ave Maria

Ave Maria

Mater Dei

Ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Ora pro nobis, Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Nunc et in hora mortis

Et in hora mortis nostrae

Et in hora mortis nostrae

Et in hora mortis nostrae

Ave Maria

Hail, Mary

Full of grace.

Mary full of grace

Mary full of grace

Blessed are you among women

Hail, hail, the Lord

The Lord is with you

And blessed

And blessed is the fruit of your womb

Your womb, Jesus

Hail, Mary

Hail, Mary

Mother of God

Pray for us sinners

Pray for us, pray, pray for us sinners

Now and at the hour of death

And at the hour of death

And at the hour of death

And at the hour of death

Hail, Mary

This song of prayer and admiration for Mary is a mixture of Scriptural truth (blessings upon Mary and her role in giving birth to Jesus) and terrible falsehood (Mary as intercessor and hope in the hour of one’s death).

Mary cannot save or rescue or even intercede for you. She cannot do these things even for herself. Mary, like all other humans, is a guilty sinner before God apart from the person and work of Christ on her behalf. Don’t sing to Mary; don’t pray to Mary; and certainly, don’t place your hope for grace in Mary.

If you are a sinner in need of grace, then the Christmas story has much hope to offer you. God has sent Jesus Christ into the world to live and die and conquer death for guilty sinners. This message of the gospel is what Christmas is all about, and I recommend that you give every moment you are able to the investigation of the singularly spectacular hero of Christmas – Jesus Christ.

Making Peace

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

When God promised peace on earth so long ago, imagining such a marvelous thing was quite difficult. How could there be peace when the world of humanity is so hostile to God and to one another? This problem only intensifies when one considers the personal conflict within themselves. Even the best people notice antipathy in their hearts and minds for those things they know are right and good. How shall we ever know peace?

In God’s wisdom, He has promised and enacted peace on earth through Jesus Christ. This perfect peacemaker has made peace and continues to do so on two distinct platforms. On the first and most emphasized platform in our day, Christ makes peace between the holy God and the penitent sinner. When any sinful person trusts in Christ’s finished work (His obedient life, surrogate death, and vindicating resurrection), he or she enjoys perfect peace with God.

On the second and less apparent platform in our day, Christ is making peace on earth. Oh, how we may lament the bitterness and animosity of our world. Aren’t human history and our contemporary times marked by war and woe? Ah, but Christ is making peace by the advancement of the Gospel in and through the lives of those who believe, and He is bringing all things to their final culmination, at which time we shall all know true peace on earth.

May all Christians know His peace, may we all strive towards experiencing His peace among us and in the world, and may we all eagerly await the day when He puts an end to all our striving.

Knowing Love

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

If you ask the average person about love, you are likely to hear at least some intelligible talk on the subject. Love is a common theme both today and throughout history. Companionship, eroticism, fidelity, and a host of other things have been connected to the idea of love. But, do you really know love?

The Bible speaks of knowing love in conjunction with experiencing and understanding the love of God in Christ. One may only know love as it truly is defined when one knows love in the person and work of Christ. We can only know the height and breadth of love when we measure it by the standard of the one who defines such a profound concept.

When we come to know the love of God in Christ, we know love as it truly is. Furthermore, because of Christ’s example and the love He has shown and given to us, we are enabled and compelled to love others. When Christians give themselves away in love to one another, they are following the example of their Savior who has already given Himself in love to them.

May we all come to know the love of Christ, and may give ourselves away in love to others.

Fatherly Love

Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18).

Fathers and mothers are distinct from one another, and differences regularly become clear in the discipline of children. A mother will often operate with flexibility in her expectations, but a father will usually demand immediate compliance. A mother may go until her emotional stamina can handle no more, but a father can regularly distribute discipline without much emotion at all.

Both fathers and mothers exemplify greater realities, reflecting characteristics of God Himself (even if imperfectly and sometimes abhorrently). God is like a cosmic parent, and all humans are like His children. Just as children with an earthly father, disobedient and defiant people are liable to God’s anger and wrath. What a heavy thought to consider… Your heavenly Father sees every disobedient thought, word, and deed!

Ah, but the beautiful and profound message of the Gospel is that God does not retain His anger forever. In fact, He delights in steadfast love! Through and because of Jesus Christ, God loves disobedient children. While disobedience requires punishment, God has fixed His wrath-filled gaze upon Christ in the place of those who trust in Him!

The great news is this: God is not a vindictive judge; He is a gracious Father who delights in steadfast love. He pardons sins and forgives disobedience, and He gladly gives a divine inheritance to all those in Christ.

What kind of love?

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…” (1 John 3:1).

If we were to think of different kinds of love, how might we distinguish God’s kind of love from other kinds? Would we say it is deeper, a more intensified kind of love, like a father or mother to a child? Would we say it is sincerer, a more self-giving kind of love, like a virtuous personal vow?

I think both of these are certainly true, but I believe there is something more in this differentiation of God’s kind of love. We might get to the bottom of it by asking a few questions.

First, who is “we”? Well, the “we” mentioned here is sinful, rebellious, and disobedient people. Those who were the original recipients of this letter were, like us today, guilty sinners before God.

Second, what does it mean to be a “child of God”? A child is beloved, joined, and an heir to all of the family benefits. It would take a lifetime to study all that such things mean when we are talking about God as Father to those He calls “child.”

Third, why and when are “we” called “child of God”? Because of Christ… and right now! The profound love of God is distinct from all other loves in that God loves the unlovable sinner. Those who rebel against Him are those upon whom He lavishes His love, and this He does through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this is true of any sinner who trusts in (i.e. believes in, has faith in, follows) Jesus.

See what kind of love God has for all those who trust Christ! He self-sacrificially gives them all that He is, despite their eager attempts to make themselves His enemies. This is an incomparable kind of love.

Love in Action

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

How frequently do you say, “I love you”? How does it make you feel when someone says to you, “I love you”? If you are like most people, then the words are regularly on your lips and you enjoy hearing them from others. Love, however, is more than just a word.

Love is a word that has become quite confused in our day. We love cheesecake, baseball, Jesus, and family, but surely, we don’t love these each the same. What is love, anyway? What are we saying when we say, “I love you”? More importantly, what does God mean when He says it?

True love, the kind of love God exemplifies, is always demonstrable. God’s love is on display in what He has done and what He still does. God’s love is decisive, it is willful, it is sacrificial, and it is active. This is, in fact, what love is supposed to be.

In Christ, God shows love for undeserving sinners, and He promises life and blessing for anyone who will trust Him at His word. May we meditate upon His profound love, and may we gratefully strive to love others as He has loved us.

Hope because of Love

The prophet Jeremiah assures, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

The coming of Christ is demonstration of something profound about God Himself. God decided to create humans, and He decided to lovingly preserve humanity even after egregious disobedience. Throughout human history, God kept saying He loved humans despite their proclivity to dissent from and even disregard God’s good authority.

There are certainly ways we can see God’s love on display in various acts in the past, but one particular scene shows God’s love more than any other. In the coming of God the Son to earth, humanity was able to point to something tangible and say, “This is God’s love.” When Christ came, lived, died, and rose again, we forevermore could know for sure that God’s love is steadfast.

On this last day of the week of hope, we begin to see how our hope rests upon the never-ceasing love of God. The Lord is our portion, indeed, and we may enjoy new mercies every morning because our hope is in the God who has already demonstrated His unwavering love in Christ.

How do you know that God will keep His promises? Why do you hope in Him? It is because He loves with an active and inexhaustible love, which we have already seen on display in the person and work of Christ.