No one sent me this question, but I was talking with a friend about this the other day, and I thought I’d answer my own question…
As I’ve led congregational worship through the years, I’ve realized that all Christmas carols were not created equal. Some are more sentimental than substantive (Away in a Manager, I Saw Three Ships, Do You Hear What I Hear?), some allude to but don’t say much about what the coming of Christ actually meant (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, O Little Town of Bethlehem), while others help us treasure the true significance of God becoming man.
This season provides us a wonderful opportunity to remind the world why Jesus came: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5 ESV) Songs can either obscure or celebrate that truth.
These carols top my list for treasuring the truths of the incarnation and our redemption:
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (this song has some biblical phrases worth explaining to the unbelievers who might be present)
Joy to the World (He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found)
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (By Thine all-sufifcient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne)
Angels From the Realms of Glory (God with man is now residing)
A newer carol that’s working its way into our repertoire is From the Squalor, by Stuart Townend. The song begins:
From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
Here are a few more carols that I don’t think are quite as comprehensive, but at some point remind us why we have a song to sing:
Angels We Have Heard on High (Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king)
The First Noel (Who made the heavens and earth of nought and with His blood our salvation has bought)
O Come All Ye Faithful (Word of the Father now in flesh appearing)
What Child is This (Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you)
I’ve never used them in a congregational setting, but God Rest You Merry Gentlemen and Good Christian Men Rejoice both contain a good bit of biblical doctrine.
Take a fresh look at the lyrics of the carols you sing this year, and make sure that what moves us is not the beautiful or sentimental sounds, but the beautiful Savior, sent to save us from our sins.
By the way, a while back I ran across this series of sermons on different Christmas Carols. It’s from the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS website. Good stuff.
Coty Pinckney’s website, expository.org, has a list of “Unusual Christmas Carols and Hymns” under the “Worship Resources” link. These are usually lesser known, theologically rich songs. He also lists several collections of carols.
Thanks, Bob, for writing this blog. I really look forward to it every day.
I love From The Squalor as well…
Hi, Bob. I just recently discovered your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve been familiar with your ministry since I bought my first Glad album some time in the late 70s (still have it)!
Our church is celebrating Advent this year (first time ever) so I’ve thought a lot lately about Advent hymns. A song that I really like is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”–any thoughts about that one?
If it’s of any interest to you, I just today came across a site with lyrics to hundreds (maybe more) of Christmas songs, a history of carols, and lots more by following the links at the top. As with anything else on the internet, I’m sure some discernment is in order, but most of the site seems merely informational.
I greatly appreciate your ministry and have been recently discovering the treasure trove of theologically rich worship music from Sovereign Grace Ministries. It is refreshing to read about worship from such a perspective of reverence for the importance of worship in the church and the necessity of worshipping in spirit and in truth.
That is a great article as it provides a look into the mind of a worship pastor wise by God’s Grace over the years. Thereby, it helps us worship God more passionately and more doctrinally. My 2 most favorite hymns are, by mere coincidence, Christmas hymns: “Salvation unto Us Has Come” and “Joy Has Dawned”. I learned the latter yesterday when my good friend Ken, who is Pr. Bob’s assistant, led worship yesterday.
“Salvation…” is a Lutheran Christmas hymn with an uncommon tune. It can be sung throughout the year but it was originally written as a Christmas hymn. I orginally encountered it in the Christmas Cantata and a Organ Chorale Prelude of the same name by one of my favorite Christian musicians J.S. Bach. Then I found it as a hymn in the Lutheran Hymnal. It does not mentally paint graindose pictures of the manger, the shepherds, Jesus as a baby, or the wisemen. The entire hymn is VERY substantive and in 10 verses (shortened to 4 or 5 verses in some Lutheran hymnals) tells the Gospel straightforwardly. A few months ago, I began recommending it to Ken for use in CLC’s worship as Pr. Bob sees fit.
Two URL’s on the Lutheran hymn:
http://www.blc.edu/comm/gargy/gargy1/ELH.Hymn.info.STU.html (the hymn in the original German & the history from the “Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal)
http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/lyrics/tlh377.htm (the hymn in English from “The Lutheran Hymnal”)
http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/online/tlh-377.mid (the tune, which would need rearranging)
The other hymn “Joy Has Dawned” reminds me of how “Salvation…” starts. It is not as substantive, but it is still substantive and Gospel-centered for it explains why Christ came and nicely foreshadows the Cross. I think the only sentimental picture it paints is Christ as a baby or in the manger.
Bob – I know you have a great appreciation for Keith Getty. His New Irish Hymns 3 collection is on the theme of Incarnation and has some wonderful new Christmas music – some of it written along with Stuart Townend.
I like the German carol Sing, O Sing this Blessed Morn. Especially verse 4 which says, “God has come that man may rise, lifted by Him to the skies. Christ, is Son of Man that we, sons of God in Him may be.”