Hold On, All Ye Faithful! – the 2007 version

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 it’s going to sit empty 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 our denominational 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!

Last year, I was a little less Scroogy on this issue. For our Hanging of the Greens service, 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. I also remember something a fellow seminary student said while trying to write a paper: “Sometimes theology just gets in the way!”

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? Click here to see comments from last year’s post on this subject.

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4 Comments

Filed under Church/spirituality

4 responses to “Hold On, All Ye Faithful! – the 2007 version

  1. Kay

    Well, we do not usually disagree but I have a different take on Christmas hymn, carols. I think it all began in my childhood–wrapping gifts, helping my mother address Christmas cards, decorating–all these tasks were done to the accompaniment of Christmas music. From the first year of our marriage, I began collecting Christmas records–Firestone and Good Year had annual recordings done by exceptional artists. My sweet husband who spent weeks trying to find a recording of “The Cherry Tree” carol for me still had a rule: no Christmas Carols until after Thanksgiving. On the Friday following I would begin with my collection and would usually get them all played by Christmas. I still have all of those LP’s stored away–just can’t part with them though I no longer have anything on which to play them. Now I definitely have too many tapes and CD’s to fit in. But each one is special and I select from my stash each year and play them (singing along when I am working and ALONE–except sometimes even Ebony objects). It is almost a ritual. Each of the words says something to me and it doesn’t much matter what day it is. I just love those songs, I love hearing them, I love singing them. I know that business interests exploit them for profit, but even in stores they bring a hum to my lips and an inward smile.
    Now, would you take that away from me?
    Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful or Jesu Bambino.

  2. Susan Bracken

    Kory, I love you! but I also disagree with you on this one …….
    Since Easter and Christmas are the two biggest Holiday’s of the year that Christians can shout out and sing about our Savior then I want to start as soon as I can to sing Christmas songs! I was singing Christmas songs before Thanksgving! Why stay bottled up and not sing until it gets around to Christmas??? With every day that passes that a Christmas song is sung it may just put the thought of our Savior in someone’s head which may just soften a heart or mend a relationship or better yet….. bring someone to accept Christ. My children have recently sung Christmas songs in stores while we were running errands which has brought smiles to passing strangers faces and this just may be one way we spread the Christmas spirit! Also, Away in the Manager is one of my favorite Christmas songs since it tells the story of Christ’s birth and seems to be one song you can sing all year long as the lyrcis simply tell the Greatest Story Ever Told!

  3. I agree with you on this one. “Joy to the World” is the song we sing at the end of Christmas Eve services, and not one minute before. However, I will happily sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” all Advent season. (Except in second block when I have an Emmanuel in my class, whose twin, and you will love this, is named Samuel.) I also love “Come O Long Expected Jesus.” I don’t think I have ever heard the other hymn you mentioned, though.

    By the way, I think everyone should wake up to “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from “GodSpell” the first Sunday of Advent. I knew a family growing up who did this. My mom did it once or twice, too. Maybe I will put it in our cd player Saturday night… My mom saw the original cast at Ford’s Theater in DC in the late 60’s. She was pregnant with my older sister and had to walk through the lines of protesters who thought the Gospel should not be put to rock music.

    But my favorite Christmas song is…Joy to the World. Maybe… I don’t know. I also love Silent Night because we had this great book about the mice eating the organ in the church and the pastor writing the song. Since I grew up in a church where there was no organ, and we had folk music Sunday once a month, we found this book like a kindred spirit.

  4. Such disagreement from my congregation members! I must say I’ve come to expect nothing less. One of the things I love about this church is their willingness to see the pastor as thoroughly human and flawed and – sometimes! – wrong. Julie, I need you to come join my congregation so I have an ally! Seriously, I can see both sides of it, and I have no problems listening to Christmas music during the season. You can’t really avoid it, and it certainly brings us joy and recalls wonderful times in our lives. My beef is contained to worship itself. That, of all places, should be where theology matters. And even there I’ve given in a little! Thanks to the folks in my church for being understanding and putting up with me. You all are the best!

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