Songs for the coming of Jesus

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

A stellar 2009 Christmas album is Glory in the Highest: Christmas Songs, from Chris Tomlin (and friends) – a collection of traditional songs recorded live in a worship setting, along with outstanding new praise and worship material such as Born That We May Have Life, Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground), My Soul Magnifies the Lord, Matt Redman’s Light of the World and several more.  Separate accompaniment tracks can be purchased.

Other favorite holiday albums from recent years include Third Day: Christmas Offerings (2006) with the powerful and distinctive southern rock vocal styling of lead singer Mac Powell and the great sound of a band that has been a fan favorite at Christian concerts for years.  This Is What Christmas Means to Me (2007) by Tommy Walker and the C.A. Worship Band is described by Tommy as a worship project with Christmas as the theme. Tommy is a prolific songwriter with a unique blend of pop/jazz/R&B and has been a top worship leader in Southern CA for nearly 20 years.

Come Let Us Adore Him (Essential Records 2005) contains a truly creative mix of festive and worshipful sounds from groups and artists including Bebo Norman, Joy Williams, Cindy Morgan, Third Day, Caedmon’s Call and more.  It is completely different, and is easily one of my most played holiday albums. You may also want to check out the 2008 Christmas album Casting Crowns: Peace on Earth.

On Christmas Eve our congregation sings a traditional version of Silent Night as one person’s candle is lit by the “Christ candle” from the center of the Advent wreath and is in turn used to light another person’s candle—with each lighting another’s until every flame burns brightly as we sing the final verse proclaiming the Son of God bringing the light of pure love with “the dawn of redeeming grace.”

But Advent speaks to even more than the Bethlehem story of the “Word made flesh” (John 1:4).  We are reminded of three comings of Jesus—the miraculous birth (adding humanity to his divinity); the active presence of Jesus now in the Church in the Spirit of Grace; and the future coming of Christ bringing new heavens and new earth (2Pet. 3:13).

The four candles of the Advent wreath (one for each week) each serve to represent an aspect of the active waiting involved in the comings of Jesus.  Often the first candle is Hope, Expectation or Prophecy.  The three remaining weekends focus on aspects such as 2) Love, 3) Joy and 4) Peace or perhaps 2) Annunciation, 3) Proclamation and 4) Fulfillment, or 2) John the Baptist, 3) Mary and 4) the Magi and so on.  So there is a wide variety of hymn/song possibilities. 

You soon realize that some of your favorite year-round call-to-worship songs and songs of thanks/praise, petition, response and sending already fit quite well within the overall theme of the ways in which Jesus comes to his creation.  You likely already sing songs about the return of the King and also about his presence with us here and now.  So you may only need to add several specific Advent songs each week, including some about the birth of Jesus in weeks nearest to Christmas.

Traditional songs for Advent include O Come, O Come Emmanuel; Come Thou Long Expected Jesus; Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending; Angels from the Realms of Glory; and Go Tell It on the Mountain to name only a few.

As readers of this blog know, I lead worship and sing with the praise band Higher Ground.  Our favorite traditional carol to lead is O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and we also enjoy O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and O Little Town of Bethlehem.   Newer songs on our list include the Christmas version of Offering by Paul Baloche; Third Day’s version of Joy to the World and Jesus and Light of the World; Tommy Walker’s Glory to God in the Highest and It’s Your Presence; Geoff Bullock’s Glory and our own version of Angels We Have Heard on High.

You are invited to share what has worked well in your congregations (or what has been a challenge!), and/or feel free to share what you've planned for this year.