Christmas Hymns/Carols: Do We or Don’t We?

Greg Strand – December 22, 2014 Leave a comment

How do you approach the planning of music for the people of God during the Christmas season? Do you sing hymns and choruses related to the various aspects of the incarnation of the God-man? Do you continue on as any other time of the year? Do you include some focused on Christmas and some that are not? Do you only include those pertinent to the Christmas season? And once you have responded to those questions, what is your reason for your response?

Someone asked me a form of this question. In no specific order, here are a few thoughts I gave in response.

  • Some do not believe the music ought to be any different in December (Advent and Christmas) or April (Easter) than at any other time of the year. Those are a couple of times in the Church Year when key redemptive historical events are remembered and celebrated. There are those who do not believe the Church year ought to be followed. For example, the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas.
  • Some will sing a few Christmas songs/hymns, but include other non-Christmas songs as well. There is nothing morally wrong with that. But there is something to singing the songs written for such doctrinal foci celebrated by the church. It brings focus for this period of time. Another thing that could be done is that these songs focusing on key redemptive historical times in the life of Jesus be sung at times other than Christmas or Easter. We don’t just focus on the doctrinal truths of the incarnation or the death and resurrection of Jesus annually. These truths are foundational for all of Christian theology and life.
  • There is something to join in singing this music with the global church, both in time (the church around the world) and through time (the church throughout history).
  • Christians and the gathered church are to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. This is a time to engage fully in all three, just like any other time. Though there might be an appropriate focus and emphasis at certain times so that there will not be an equal balance of all three kinds/types of song on any given Sunday or any given month. But over the course of a quarter or semester or half-year, our corporate gathering is marked by all three expressions.
  • It is said that familiarity breeds contempt, so singing the familiar Christmas songs are done without meaning, more ritually than worshipfully. That may be true. But unfamiliarity leaves one ignorant. So which is better? Neither! For the former, we acknowledge that temptation, do want we ought personally so it does not blind, numb, or create callouses and we do the same corporately. For the latter, we must educate, equip and inform.
  • On the one hand, focusing on all aspects of the incarnation in song over against not singing these songs at all is one thing. On the other hand, singing songs about the incarnation either through traditional music and melody or contemporary is another thing. The former I would address. The latter I would not.
  • Once this is acknowledged you enter into the preference realm. As long as the lyrics are biblically and doctrinally solid, the music/melody is almost completely preferential, a personal taste.
  • There is something about teaching/training as we gather corporately. But remember, that setting is to support what is occurring at home. For some who want these traditional hymns to be sung in our corporate gathering because “where and when will my children learn them?,” the primary place this teaching and instruction takes place is in the home. Are they teaching, equipping and singing them at home?
  • The older hymns have many years behind them so the bad ones have been weeded out. This does not mean they are all good, but the number the church has retained is smaller than those written. The issue with choruses is that because they are contemporary time has not had its effect on them yet. However, having said that, there are many contemporary choruses that are rich in theology.
  • If one desire to instruct, teach, equip, and to address/avoid the familiarity, or inform the ignorant, I suggest one compile an Advent/Christmas Hymn/Chorus book of the songs the church will be singing in the next month. You can then provide this to families that they can take home and make the singing a part of their family lives during this time, which will then be supported by the gathered church on Sundays. If it were I, I would also include a brief historical explanation about the song and its significance.

Now back to the questions asked in the opening paragraph: how do you answer the questions and why?

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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