What Christmas Music Is About: Choosing music for your church

Public domain image.  Shared on Wikimedia Commons by Dcastor

Public domain image. Shared on Wikimedia Commons by Dcastor

What message does your music ministry want to bring this Christmas?

This page offers thoughts about the types of songs that can be used to minister during the holidays. We will look at the different messages about the Christ that are shared through Christmas music.

The story of Advent and Christmas is rich with meaning. Vocalists and choirs can find many themes and subjects to inspire choices for Christmas music to use in ministry. Even some songs that were not written with Christmas in mind can be beautiful expressions of the spirit of the season.

Here is a list of topics that are related to Christmas. Let each one inspire you to think of songs that relate to that subject that would be great for your church.

 

Songs about the baby

“And they came with haste , and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” Luke 2:16.

Everybody loves babies, and songs about Jesus as an infant inspire feelings of love and tenderness that are a beautiful part of “the Christmas spirit”.

Songs that carry that sentiment would include Christmas carols like “What Child Is This” or “Still, Still, Still”, contemporary songs like, “Mary Did You Know?”, spirituals like “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”, and many more.

 

Songs about beholding and adoring Jesus

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down , and worshipped him:” – Matthew 2:11.

These are different from the “baby” songs because instead of focusing on Jesus himself, they focus on our own feelings and acts of worship toward him. This worship is what all of the visitors did when they were in the presence of Jesus, and these songs encourage us to do the same.

Christmas songs like “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Now Behold the Lamb” express this feeling. But there are also lots of songs that are not actually Christmas songs that would be great in a Christmas service because they fit in with this same theme of reverent adoration and intimate worship. For example: “Here I Am to Worship” (“Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that You’re my God.”) or “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” (“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”).

 

Other events from the Christmas story

Along with the birth scene, there were other events that were a part of the arrival of Jesus – the prophecies to Mary and Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, the shepherds on the hillside, the treachery of Herod. Songs that recreate these happenings are an important part of keeping the Christmas story alive.

Examples would be songs like “We Three Kings”, “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow”, The Coventry Carol, etc.

 

Songs about the Advent of the Savior

“ . . . and he shall send them a saviour , and a great one, and he shall deliver them.” – Isaiah 19:20.

This is the reason WHY we needed Christmas. There was no one who was able to save mankind before Jesus came.

Songs that deal with the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus or songs about our need for a Savior remind us of the hope that Christmas brings to our lives today.

An example of a song like this is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

 

Songs about “the Light of the world.”

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined . . . For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given . . .” – Isaiah 9:2,6. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” – John 1:4-5.

Songs about the light of Christ are a part of the Christmas story and also fit in with the “look” that we associate with Christmas (the lights on the tree, the lights on the houses, all that pretty stuff).

One common Christmas carol that I think is really about light shining in darkness is “Silent Night”. And, of course, there’s also “The Light of the World Is Jesus”.

 

Following the example of the angels — corporate praise

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” — Luke 2:13-14.

This is different from the intimate personal worship that the wise men experienced. This is worshipers coming together to make a joyful noise of praise.

This includes songs about the angels, songs that use the same words the angels sang (in Latin, it’s “Gloria in excelsis deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.”), or any other proclamations of praise.

 

“Keep Christ in Christmas” songs

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” – Matthew 22:21

In the ungodly, materialistic world that we live in, these songs remind us where we as Christians want to keep our focus during Christmas.

Yes, it’s true that the winter solstice celebrations are older than Christianity, and I’m OK with secular people doing the holidays whatever other way they want to do them, but we who believe in Jesus can be at peace with the secular world and still have a holy holiday of our own. These songs are not trying to tell other people what to do, they’re reminding US of what WE want to do.

It’s especially important for our children to hear messages like this so that they will remember that even if the rest of the world sees Christmas as a time of “gimme, gimme, gimme”, we are focused on the Lord.

Songs I know that express this message include “The Real Meaning of Christmas” and “Jesus Is the Reason”.

 

2 comments

  1. These are really great choices for the content of good Christmas music to use in your choir. A good conductor is familiar with the words and the meaning of the songs, but he should also be familiar with the arrangement. It can be really tough to find a piece that is beautiful both in word and sound. When I was conducting a choir, I was always nervous about purchasing the copyright of all the music before knowing how it would sound with my choir. It is not an easy task, directing a choir, but it teaches you a lot about group music.

    1. Song selection can indeed be a challenge. My primary background is in gospel music, where most songs can be purchased in a recorded form cheaply, or even found on YouTube. With printed music, there is always that mystery (although some of the most popular pieces can also be found on YouTube).

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