Hold On, All Ye Faithful!

I have developed a humorous reputation among a few folks in our congregation as being a Scrooge when it comes to singing Christmas songs before Christmas. Many folks in the congregation have expressed a desire to start singing some of the traditional Christmas hymns in early December. I used to not have a problem with this. Before I understood the meaning behind the Advent season, I didn’t really stop and think about what we meant when we sang our Christmas hymns. But now that I do pay attention, it makes sense to me to pay more attention to why we sing something and when we sing it.

Advent means “anticipation.” The season is about being expectant, as we await the birth of Christ. We need to be intentional about holding onto that sense of expectancy, because our culture starts beating us over the head with Christmas months before Dec. 25. I see singing Christmas hymns too early as contributing to the deflation of the Christmas miracle. We can’t sing “Joy the world, the Lord is come” if he hasn’t come yet! What does it mean to sing about a manger when its occupants won’t arrive for several more weeks?

There are some who would argue that every Sunday is a Sunday worthy of singing a Christmas hymn (or an Easter hymn, for that matter). And I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them. But it should be the church, of all places, that strives to protect the spirit of Christmas, to preserve it until the appropriate time to unleash the true joy of the season upon this hurting world. Does that joy lose a bit of luster on Christmas Day if we’ve already being singing about it for several weeks?

Part of the problem here is the lack of good Advent hymns. Let’s see, there’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and…er…and…um… There are actually a couple of other good ones in the Chalice Hymnal – “Christians All, Your Lord Is Coming” and “Come O Long-Expected Jesus,” for instance. But when folks are hearing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” at Walgreens on Saturday, they expect to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” at church on Sunday.

One solution is to re-word the Christmas hymns to fit the Advent season. How about, “Joy to the world, the Lord is coming.” Or “Hark! The Herald Angels Have Scheduled A Concert.” Maybe “Make plans to come adore him, make plans to come adore him, make plans to come adore him, Christ the Lord.” Hey, I’m trying!

This year, I’ve been a little less Scroogy on this issue. For our Hanging of the Greens service on Dec. 3, we sang a number of Christmas hymns (but not “Joy to the World”!). And I even had a big smile when I stood with several children in our church and we all sang Christmas hymns during our Carol Sing on Dec. 10. I’ve learned that pastoring a church is a lot like being in a marriage – it takes a lot of love, a lot of work, and a lot of compromise.

This topic got me thinking about what my favorite Christmas song would be. There are so many good ones that it’s hard to choose. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” while not technically a Christmas song, is one of my favorites, as is “What Child Is This?” And I like to sing, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

What about you: What’s your favorite Christmas song, and why?

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8 Comments

Filed under Church/spirituality

8 responses to “Hold On, All Ye Faithful!

  1. Comment from Gale K: Thanks for making me really think about the meaning of Advent and Christmas hymns. I guess I never really thought about it before as being the “anticipation”. It really does make sense.
    Silent Night would have to be one of my favorite. I think for me it brings back the true meaning of Christmas and not the commercial part of the season. The words and the tune of this hymn fill me with the peace and joy of Christmas.

  2. Kim

    I guess I never looked at it from that standpoint either. When we did sing carols before Christmas, I guess I always thought of it as being excited enough about this wondrous event to make it a month-long celebration. However, I don’t see it that way when the stores & radio stations are trying to start the celebration at the beginning of October. I have enjoyed singing carols during & since the hanging of the greens this year. It has seemed more like Christmas time.

    Oh, and my favorite carol? I’d have to say O Come, All Ye Faithful. Why? Because we’re being “joyful and triumphant”, and because when I went to the Community Christian Church in New York as a child, we always sang that song first. That was when my whole family – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. – would go to church together. I like to close the Christmas eve service with Silent Night. I also liked the version of Silent Night that we did in the cantata.

  3. Kathy

    Well, Kory, you’ve touched on a subject very close to my heart!

    I wholeheartedly agree that Christmas songs lose their TRUE meaning when we sing them during Advent, or even worse in the beginning of November! Everything is so commercialized and we are led to believe that ‘more is better’. ‘More music’…puts us in the mood to spend ‘more money’…on ‘more gifts’…for the people that we care about!

    As with anything in life, it’s easy to take things for granted if they are always there. (Like all those Christmas songs!) But in the absence of those things and the anticipation of having them back in our lives, we are more aware of them and appreciate them even more. Advent is a time to sit back, soak in and anticipate the excitement of the coming of Jesus…the true miracle of Christmas.

    It is hard to choose just one favorite Christmas song, but one song that has a special place in my heart is Amy Grant’s “A Grown-Up Christmas List”.
    It’s about looking well beyond our own wants and needs (as we did as a child) and wishing for a world filled with healing, peace, love and friendship for everyone. Most of all it’s about realizing that as the song says…”Maybe only in our blind belief – can we ever find the truth”.

    In this unsettling time of war and uncertainty, this song brings me back to those things that really matter most…faith, prayer and searching for the truth.

    Thanks for sharing, Kory!

  4. Kathy, I also like “A Grown-Up Christmas List.” A group of youth used to sing that every year in my home church. I have also grown to love “Welcome to Our World” by Chris Rice. One of our Northwestern students is going to sing that on Sunday. I can’t wait!

  5. Kendra Ro

    I love “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” … I love singing it at the beginning of an Advent service. It really does remind me that we are expecting a birth. And last year, I thought it was verrrrry strange that we were still singing “Joy to the World” in January…..but I get it now! Thanks for compromising on some things, Kory, but being persistent and insistent in others!

  6. Thanks Kendra! I hope my explanation helps some of the hymn selections make sense. And as I’ve said before, ANY Sunday is a good Sunday to celebrate Christ’s coming!

  7. Barb Osicka

    I guess I don’t feel so strongly about it as you do, Kory, though I see your point. “Joy to the World” should wait, but several of the others besides “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” though not “Advent” throughout their wording, have a more anticipatory feel. I’d like to hear them earlier. My favorite (yep, you already know it, Kory) is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” It’s so reverent, and I get such an overwhelming sense of something about to happen that is momentous and majestic.

  8. Pingback: Hold On, All Ye Faithful! - the 2007 version « Thoughts on God…and other stuff

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