This holiday season, make your celebrations even more special by incorporating some of the most beautiful Advent hymns into your worship services and family gatherings. Here are some of our top picks:
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- Top 10 Advent Hymns For Your Church And Family
- Angels We Have Heard On High
- Come Though Long Expected Jesus
- Hark The Herald Angels Sing
- O Come All Ye Faithful
- Silent Night
- The First Noel
- What Child Is This?
- O Little Town Of Bethlehem
- Joy To The World
- Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel
Top 10 Advent Hymns For Your Church And Family
Angels We Have Heard On High
Story of Angels, We Have Heard on High
It is a beautiful image. The shepherds are standing in a vast field, staring at the sky, enchanted by the heavenly hosts. They sing out their praises and joy, echoing off the mountains.
It’s easy to picture the response of the shepherds. The young boys must have stared at each other wide-eyed and then cheered as they ran as fast as possible into the village, with a crowd of sheep following.
They were excited and giddy, but did they rush into the stable to crowd the manger? They might have stopped at the stable door and viewed the couple with a small baby. They didn’t fully grasp what they were seeing. Are we even able to comprehend what they were seeing?
This hymn invites you to “Come to Bethlehem” today. We look through the stable doors and kneel before the Christ child, our ears still ringing from the angels’ song.
We know more than the shepherds that we can see the identity of this child because we have the Gospel story. We know that angels will return again to announce that Christ is not there where women are looking for Him but that He has risen. It’s not difficult to imagine that an angel would have spoken a “Gloria” as well.
Come Though Long Expected Jesus
Story of Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Dale Cooper, a former Calvin College Chaplain, recalls in one of his “Coop’s Columns” moments when he returned home to his young families after spending the summer at Geneva.
When his four-year-old son called his wife from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to arrange the pick-up in Grand Rapids for him, he asked for the telephone. Cooper wrote, “His only words were a sigh to me: Daddy, when are you going to be there?” (Cooper. “Coop’s Column Spirit at Work: Guarantor.”)
This is the sigh of longing we feel when we sing Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”. We know Christ goes with us, but we long to be with Him in all His glory and fullness.
We long for the day we will be with Him in a New Heaven and Earth when all things will be made new. Just as a four year-old crawls into his dad’s arms after a long absence, so do we long for the day that we will be at peace in Christ, wrapped in the embrace of our Savior.
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Story of Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Charles Wesley wrote this hymn within one year of Wesley’s conversion. Albert Bailey wrote that the inspiration from his new-found contact with God was still fresh. ( Gospel in Hymns 100). Wesley does more than tell the Nativity Story. He also incorporates theological truths in this text.
The first verse tells of the story of the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth. The second and third verses go on to explain why the angels sang. Wesley describes Christ and tells the whole Gospel story. Wesley tells us about Christ’s birth, incarnation, and ministry. He also reveals his salvific purposes.
The Psalter Hymnal Handbook describes this hymn as: “A curious combination of exclamation and exhortation and theological reflection.” The emphasis shifts quickly from angels to us and then to nations.
It says: “The strength of the text may not be in an ordered sequence of thought, but in its use Scripture to teach its theology.” This teaching produces in us a childlike faith response. We, too, can sing “Glory to The Newborn King!”
O Come All Ye Faithful
Story of O Come All Ye Faithful
This hymn has a feeling of urgency. Imagine a child tugging on your hand and insisting that you move.
Although patience is a virtue, in this instance, impatience can be a beautiful quality. Who can stand still and wait when we want to worship our Savior?
Albert Bailey wrote, “The poet takes our hand and leads with a triumphant song to cave of the Nativity, Bethlehem. Shows us the Babe and bids us adore.” (The Gospel in Hymns 279).
This hymn invites you to worship Christ with all your heart.
Story of Silent Night Holy Night
Oberndorf, Austria, was a small town where a priest and organist created the most loved Christmas song worldwide.
There are many stories about the origin of the hymn. A society dedicated to protecting the story and text of the original hymn text exists. A replica of the Silent Night Chapel can be viewed at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Frankenmuth, Michigan.
The hymn is the foundation of operas and movies. Nearly every Christmas recording artist has recorded it. This spreading of the Word can be seen as a joy. These honors should not be taken lightly.
Paul Westermeyer wrote, “Due to its popularity, STILLE NACHT can easily point at itself rather than beyond it to the Word” (Let The People Sing, 53).
Therefore, listening to the words and not just to them is important. The “dawn to redeeming grace” has a meaning far beyond any song we can ever create.
The First Noel
Story of the First Noel
The Gospel accounts loosely inspire this Christmas carol in Luke 2 & Matthew 2 about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. It includes the shepherds and stars and the wise men.
The final two lines of the last stanza call us to action. Like the wise men reverently worshipped the Christ, so should we “with one accord sing praises for our heavenly Lord.”
These two lines remind us that our Lord is the Creator of this world.
What Child Is This?
This is the Story of What Child Is This?
Did you ever read Isaiah 9:6-7? They begin, “For us a child was born” and realize how bizarre they are. The expectations and grand titles placed on a child seem ridiculous at first glance.
It’s a bizarre picture. A small child is hunched over, looking like Atlas. He has the government on his shoulders. He also has a crown on his head. His face is very confused.
Yet, these verses are clear. There was no building, throne, or crown other than one of thorns. The thought of this child wrapped in swaddling clothing, fulfilling these promises, is amazing.
He would be and is the Wonderful Counselor, MightyGod, Everlasting father, Prince of Peace. We should remember this amazing prophecy as we ask “What child is this?”
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
Story of O Little Town of Bethlehem
The Civil War was over in 1865, and President Lincoln was assassinated. Americans would have welcomed themes of peace and tranquility in 1865.
The Rev. Phillips Brooks made a trip to Israel in that year and visited Bethlehem and the surrounding fields on Christmas Eve. This inspired him to create this Christmas hymn.
Brooks’s Christmas hymn emphasizes the glory of God, as seen in the great chorus of angels. Brooks instead focuses on the stillness of Christ’s birth and how little the wider world noticed.
The last stanza of the hymn is a prayer that Christ would come to us.
Joy To The World
The Story of Joy to the World
One of the greatest tragedies in Scripture is found in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are cursed by God and banished from the garden. It’s a devastating rupture in God’s perfect creation. It’s hard not to feel a twinge or despair when you read this text.
Yet, there is a promise before the curse. God promises that the woman will bear offspring that will slay the head the serpent. Jesus, the Son Of Man and the Son of God, will come to break the curse, renew the creation, and make right what is broken.
Psalm 98 asks all creation to make a joyful noise in front of God. The Lord has come to “judge” the earth and to restore His Creation. It is important to recognize our role in the destruction and devastation of creation through our sins of decadence and waste.
In some ways, this “judgment on the earth” is a judgment of us as caretakers. God is merciful, and full of grace, but rather than leaving everything to us, He gives us the Life Giver.
Isaac Watts connects the entry of Christ into the world with the beginning of restoration in this beautiful hymn.
Christ brings joy to the world, light where darkness is, and growth where decay is. We, and all Creation, respond by singing praise.
Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel
Story of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
The ancient Advent hymn was inspired partly by the “Great O’ Antiphons,” part of the medieval Roman Catholic Advent liturgy. Each day leading up to Christmas, one responsive song would be chanted. Each verse included a different Old Testament name for the Messiah.
Christ fulfills these Old Testament prophecies when we sing this hymn. This hymn is sung in the already-but-not-yet-kingdom of God. We have reason to celebrate Christ’s first appearance, but we also know that it is not all well in the world.
We also rejoice and plead with the lyrics of this hymn to Christ to come again to fulfill the promise that all dark will be turned to light.
The original text was reversed acrostic. “Ero cras” means “I will be with you tomorrow,” and that is what we hold onto as we sing this beautiful song.
In conclusion, these are some of the top Advent hymns you can use to prepare your heart for Christmas. As you listen to them, reflect on the birth of Christ and what it means for you. Let the words and music fill you with hope, joy, and peace.