A few nights ago I was introduced to a new Christmas song, “O Come All You Unfaithful“. Here are the first two verses and the chorus:

O come, all you unfaithful
Come, weak and unstable
Come, know you are not aloneO come, barren and waiting ones
Weary of praying, come
See what your God has done

Christ is born, Christ is born
Christ is born for you
(Bob Kauflin & Lisa Clow)

It’s obvious that this song is a counterpoint to the familiar carol, “O Come all Ye Faithful”. If you recall, that carol begins with these lines:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
O come and behold Him, born the King of Angels
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord
(John Francis Wade)

I get it. This is a powerful and beautiful carol with the call to the faithful to come, those who have been waiting for the Messiah, who are now joyful and triumphant because the Messiah has finally come.

But this is a hard year to feel joyful and triumphant. It is a year when the whole world has been buffeted by an unprecedented virus outbreak. Many have died. Many more have been infected. It has also been a time of political and economic upheaval and a time of natural disasters. It was a year I lost two people who were dear to me, a friend from primary school, my age, and a cousin. And there are still five more days to go before the end of the year.

And if the call to come is only for the faithful, many of us may question if we are faithful enough to qualify. If Santa Claus is keeping track of whether we have been naughty or nice, is some angelic accountant doing an audit of my faithfulness? Looking back on 2020 I have been hardly at my best. Indeed, like Paul, as we grow older we are even more aware of our spiritual poverty, that we are all the “worst of sinners” ( 1Timothy 1:15). If faithfulness is the condition to be allowed to approach Jesus, not many of us will think we are faithful enough. Hence we find hope in this new song, “O Come All You Unfaithful.” But are we indulging in wishful thinking?  Are those who are not faithful or faithful enough, welcome to Jesus?

I think the answer is “Yes” because of the shepherds. Remember the shepherds were the first group to hear the good news of the coming of the messiah (Luke 2:8–20). As Allison A Trites reminds us:

For the most part, shepherds were written off by the Jewish religious establishment for their failure to keep the Sabbath and all the minute regulations imposed by the ruling Jewish hierarchy. . .Their life was often lonely, cold, and rugged; on occasion their work could demand that they “live out of doors”. . . to ensure the safety and health of their sheep. It was a marginal, uncomfortable life at best, made more painful by the derision they experienced from those who observed the Jewish way of life more scrupulously. (Alison A. Trites, The Gospel of Luke & William J. Larkin, Acts [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006], 56.)

Most of us have so romanticised the Christmas story that we are no longer scandalised by the fact that God chose shepherds to be the first group to hear the good news of the coming of the messiah, a group considered unspiritual, unfaithful. It would seem then that those who see themselves as not faithful enough are singled out by God for a special invitation to Emmanuel.

Here are two more verses from the song:

O come, bitter and broken
Come with fears unspoken
Come, taste of His perfect love

O come, guilty and hiding ones
There is no need to run
See what your God has done

The focus shifts from what we have done or should have done, to what God has done — that He has sent Jesus to die for our sins, to cleanse us, and to make us whole.

This has been a rough year. For all sorts of reasons I don’t feel like I qualify for joy and triumph. I am grateful that I discovered this song, a reminder of God’s logic of grace — those who feel they don’t deserve grace are the very ones who will receive it and those who don’t feel faithful are in truth the faithful ones who know that they need Him.

O come all you unfaithful. I hear. I come.