"Christmas at Southern" featuring fresh arrangements of Christmas carols from Norton Hall Band, Lexington Road Band, Boyce Vocal Band, Cannons Lane Collective, and Doxology is now available! You can find this first volume of Christmas carols from the IBW on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play Music, and other major music providers.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Christmas season means we sing Christmas carols, right? Doesn’t Christmas season mean that our job gets easier? For those who seek to pastor a congregation through music and the arts, this season can be at the same time both unifying and frustrating. Many who strive weekly throughout the majority of the year get to December and mail it in. “Ah, my work is done. Time for Christmas carols.”
Then comes the inner struggle, at least for myself, of working to start every planning session with the Word of God, and base everything we do in Scripture. Easy, right? Reference an Old Testament prophecy here, talk about angels and shepherds, then sing a few carols. As my three-year-old would say, “Easy-peasy.”
Yes and no.
I love this time of year because, for the most part, as others have noted, even the broadest of musical styles have a common hymnal, if you will, for the Christmas season. That doesn’t mean, though, that your work is done, or even easier. It just means that it’s more speciﬁc.
Allow me to provide an example of how I balance this tension in the Christmas season. Our pastor is currently preaching through the Christ-hymn in Colossians, teaching on who Jesus is. This Sunday his text is Colossians 1:18-20, and he’ll be preaching on the truth that Jesus is Lord of the Church. He’ll give three reasons that point to Jesus’ worthiness for this role: 1. Christ is the ﬁrstborn from the dead (v. 18), 2. God’s fullness dwells in Christ (v. 19), 3. Christ reconciles sinners by the blood of His cross. Not much room in there for what can be a kitschy time of Christmas carols sung by rote memory.
So, seek out Christmas songs (and/or others) that point to the greatness of God in Christ. Here are the songs we’re singing this Sunday and a brief reasoning why we’re doing so.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: Verse One references the reconciliation that is available between God and man because of Christ’s birth. Verse Two acknowledges Christ as Lord and calls the singer to “Hail the incarnate Deity!” Verse Three references Malachi 4:2 and points to Jesus as the “Sun of Righteousness, risen with healing in His wings.”
O Come, O Come Emmanuel: The entirety of this song is a prayer asking God With Us to be all these different things (which He is), to guide us in such a way (which He does), and also offers a reminder to rest in the truth that He will do what He promises.
What Child Is This: A series of questions and answers in this song point to Christ as King, as the One who bore our sins on the cross (if you sing the entirety of all three verses), and it calls all of us to praise Him with all that we are.
O Come, All Ye Faithful: Following the questions posed and answered in the previous song, we’ll ﬁnish our singing with a song of adoration, once again reminding ourselves that Jesus is the “Word of the Father, now in ﬂesh appearing.”
So, sing Christmas carols! But sing them intentionally, in light of who God has revealed Himself to be in His Word. Even when it seems your music library may be limited, work hard to be thoughtful. Let Scripture guide your worship even in seasons that may be more “predictable.” And point out why you’re singing these songs. For our good and for His glory.
Garrett Wooten serves as the Worship Arts Pastor at Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, TX. He and his wife, Brittanie, have been married for 8 years and have two boys. Garrett is a student at Southern Seminary working toward the Master of Arts in Worship Leadership.
It’s that time of year again when worship leaders plan services for the Christmas season. Each year we have the opportunity to use the traditional carols and some newer Christmas worship songs. When it comes to Christmas carols and worship songs, they are not all created equal. Here are some principles to consider when choosing songs for Christmas worship services.
1. Check the biblical accuracy of the Christmas song. Does the song text agree with Scripture? We take this for granted since we have sung many of these Christmas songs for years. When it comes to a new song, read the lyrics first to determine the biblical accuracy before you listen to the music. If the song text does not pass the test, don’t listen to the song and be “hooked” by the music. All of your worship songs should first pass through a theological filter.
2. Run from songs with vague lyrics. Is the message of the song clear? If you cannot decipher a song lyric’s meaning, your congregation will most likely not understand it either. Why spend time in your service singing something that does not clearly present truth?
3. Resist the desire to choose songs because of sentimental attachment especially if the words are weak. Perhaps this Christmas song with weak lyrics needs to be retired from congregational worship at your church.
4. Balance Christmas hymns and songs that have strong theological content with those that are more simple songs of praise. Give your congregation a good diet of song texts (not all meat or all dessert).
5. Look for Christmas songs that explain why Christ came to earth. Find songs that are not only focused on the birth of Christ but tell the whole story. You will have many guests at Christmas services that need to know that Jesus died for their sins, was resurrected and now reigns victoriously over sin and death. They need to see their need for a Savior not just the babe in the manger.
6. Choose Christmas songs that can be easily sung by the congregation. Some songs function better as solos or choir songs. Look for songs that are simple in rhythm and not extreme in vocal range.
7. Avoid the secular songs of the season. There is so much about the Christmas season that leans toward commercialism and Santa Claus. We need to keep the focus on Christ.
The pastor of the first church I served as a worship minister used to anxiously wait for the Christmas season to pass because he said people were not focused on the Gospel but on the many other distractions of the Christmas season. We must strive to keep Christ in Christmas especially as we plan our services. Will your Christmas songs be full of the Gospel this season? As a worship leader, you can have a great influence this Christmas as you plan worship for your congregation.
Greg Brewton is associate professor and chair of the Department of Biblical Worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.