Hey guys! I wrote a blog a couple years ago based on the annual struggle of all of us worship leaders... putting together Christmas-themed set lists without losing a worshipful atmosphere and flow with the rest of the service. Please read the blog post and share your thoughts!
In our contemporary service, we generally do one or two "traditional carols" each Sunday because that's what people want... but we also do some Christmas-themed worship songs (one of my favorites is Chris Tomlin's "This Is Our God") and then we do some regular "worship" songs that aren't really Christmas-y at all. One of our traditions is lighting the Advent Candles each Sunday, and we've found that doing just the chorus of "Jesus Messiah" works well with that.
In the traditional service, they tend to do "Advent Songs" until it's actually Christmas Day and beyond, and then there's one service that's generally all carols.
It's going to be especially weird this year with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday... what we've ended up planning is that on Saturday 12/24, the children will be doing their program in the afternoon and then the main Christmas Eve service will be with the choir and the candlelighting and all that. And then on Christmas morning, the band will do a contemporary service, again with our usual musical mix. The thought of having three services on Christmas Eve and then two more on Christmas Day was overwhelming, and this way, people in the choir & band can plan their family visits around when they're not singing.
There was one year where the band got to take December off and they just had the traditional services each Sunday in December so that people could get in more "traditional" Christmas music. I should point out that here in Arizona, our choir takes off July - August - September every year, so the band taking off four Sundays in December isn't totally outrageous...
(and hopefully some people other than me will get busy participating in the discussions here... )
A few years back I had the music service on Dec 25. It fell on Saturday that year.
Our Rabbi liked carols so I included "O Come Immanuel" and "What Child is this."
Then I pulled a surprise: "Bo-u Mishtach-ave." When they caught on to what I was doing, they joined in with gusto.
IT was the chorus "O come let us adore Him;" transposed into a minor key (we Messianics love the minor keys) and sung in Hebrew.
There are some carols I would happily never sing again. Top of that list is "Away in a Manger", which I think presents a trite and deficient image of Jesus; the lyrics risk keeping Jesus safely in a manger all year long. I'd be willing to hear a spirited defence but it will have to go being just a nice song that children love.
However, there are plenty that tell the story without sugar coating it or dig deeper to think about the meaning and impact of the incarnation. There are some good new songs being written with a Christmas theme but also well-established carols that have earned their place as songs for worshippers. If anything, it doesn't hurt to start using them earlier than you might expect and perhaps even draw on them in other times of the year; demonstrate that they are songs for God's worshipping people rather than dusty Christmas decorations. Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas and the faithful can come and adore him any time of the year.
Also, don't despise them as old. As Christians, it is rich to remember that our community stretches round the world and back through time and traditional carols are an opportunity to stand in this place of respect and awe. They also have a missional edge, being a repertoire that many who aren't regular church goers have a connection with. They might struggle to follow a song by Tomlin or Redman but they can participate in a carol.
Therefore, rather than dreading the Christmas season, I think there are plenty of reasons why worship leaders should look forward to it with anticipation.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I agree that it SHOULDN'T be a dread, but it easily can be if you limit yourself to ONLY the traditional carols. Before you or anyone thinks I'm just anti "old" or "traditional", I'm just going by experience. I often find while singing the traditional carols, people just sing them. Even if they like the song and they appreciate that it's being sung, often times people just sing them because it's that time of year and don't hardly even pay attention to the actual meaning.
For example, our youngest is 8 years old and when she says her prayers at night, she's always said the same bedtime prayer (although sometimes I say a prayer instead or in addition). As she's getting older, it's evident that most of the time, she's just saying the words that are memorized and in rhythm and not even thinking about the fact that she's talking to God. So we've started talking about this and how that prayer isn't wrong, but that's it's time to start saying her own prayers so she can actually focus, think about what she's saying, and it carry some meaning.
Traditional carols fall into that same danger, in my opinion, where it's easy to go through the motions... sing the familiar words and melodies... and then... the song is over and you've went no where in your worship experience. Of course, you CAN sing these songs and truly worship! I get that and am not disputing that. I'm just saying that I've always found it a challenge as a worship leader to get the congregation beyond caroling and into true worship, hence the blog post with ideas on how to address that.
There are lots of great new Christmas songs that are very worshipful and still hit the message of what Christmas really is. There are also lots of great songs that take parts of the old and mix it with some new. Paul Baloche and others have done a great job of putting things like that together and giving us all some material to keep things fresh and effective.
Merry Christmas! :)