Christmas Music: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Christmas music is among the most joyful of any “genre,” and for good reason – God becoming man in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is arguably one of the most wonderful, joyful, and mind-blowing occasions in the history of the earth (along with the resurrection, creation, etc.).

I have a decent amount of Christmas music on my iPod, and have been listening to it since mid-October (almost exclusively the “sacred” Christmas music). I don’t know if it’s because I started listening so early or because a lot of my selection is similar, but I’ve almost become burned out on much of it. Don’t get me wrong – I love it and most of it is well done – but much of the newer Christmas music is starting to sound the same to me – from the Christmas albums of Jars of Clay, Indelible Grace, Sojurn, and other various contemporary artists. There is only so many times you can listen to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” in a guitar/bass/drum context. Further, one of my all-time favorite Christmas hymns, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” is also a favorite of modern artists, and I have been all but burned out on eight different versions of it.

I’m not criticizing these modern versions of beloved Christmas songs, but am asking for help. I’ve found myself desiring more timeless, transcendent Christmas music than the modern artists provide. What I’m looking for is variety. Any suggestions? Choral, orchestral, instrumental, bluegrass, whatever.

A couple weeks ago we had a rich time of singing Christmas songs at a Christmas Wassail (or “wass-up” as some affectionately call it). There were a couple “new” Christmas songs that we sang that I immediately fell in love with, including the seldom-sung hymns “How Lovely Shines the Morning Star” and “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People.” I wish I could find these on a Christmas album.

On a similar note, Elizabeth and I have been rediscovering some traditional Christmas songs through different eyes this year, meditating on the words more thoughtfully. A great example is “Joy to the World,” which, like many other “old favorites” can be easily sung mindlessly. But Isaac Watts’ words about the implications of the incarnation for men as well as the whole of creation provide a profound and astonishing message contrasted with the typical “Christmas” message of the world. One’s heart cannot help but leap for joy when singing or reading the words!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

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