VIDEO If You’re Sick Of Pointless Holiday Songs, ‘Hymns And Carols’ Has You Covered

If You’re Sick Of Pointless Holiday Songs, ‘Hymns And Carols’ Has You Covered

If you’re desperate for an alternative to the thin musical gruel of holiday playlists, then the hymns and carols of Advent offer a remarkable and lovely respite of truth and preparation.

In approaches to Christmas music, many suggest you’re either Buddy the Elf or the Grinch. If the former, then you consider that open Christmas carol season begins the minute you finish the Thanksgiving turkey. If the latter, then you spend the entire holiday season stuffing your fingers in your ears to avoid having to hear anyone who sounds remotely like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

But there’s a third category of people, which is probably the most common: you want to go all-in on Christmas music, but you’ll scream if you have to hear some wailing pop diva moaning about a lost love only tangentially related to Christmas, one more time.

In this season of singing, it can seem like there’s a real dearth of good songs. Rare is the festive ditty that can really call to mind the surprising intervention of a holy God in our real, human world. If you’re desperate for an alternative to the thin musical gruel that Simon malls calls a holiday playlist, then the hymns and carols of Advent offer a remarkable and lovely respite of truth and preparation.

Unleash the Grace of Music

Music, in the church, is often instrumental in pointing our hearts in the proper direction for worship and holy living. The hymns of Advent offer a different and a richer approach to our celebration of Christ’s nativity. In the music of this forgotten church season, the earthly looks heavenward, and begs for the light to dawn. In the subsequent songs of Christmas, the star appears. But will we be ready to see that light if we have not yet practiced the discipline of looking heavenward?

If you’re not from a liturgical Christian background, then the season of Advent may not be familiar to you. In the most basic sense, the term refers to the coming—in Latin, adventus—of Christ to this world as a human baby, laid unceremoniously in a manger in a backwater town. In both Catholic and Protestant tradition, Advent precedes Christmas as the first season of the ecclesiastical year. It encompasses four Sundays, starting in very late November or early December and leading up to Christmas Day.

If the phrase “Advent songs” just doesn’t inspire warm feelings of instant recognition in you, then you’re not alone. But it’s worth making a tour through these underappreciated gems to see what they have to offer to the modern church, particularly because they can enrich our eventual celebration of Christmas.

Ironically, one of the more broadly popular sacred Christmas carols is actually a song of Advent: the great “Veni, Veni Immanuel.” It’s also one of the oldest, traceable to the eighth century. The lyrics are familiar to most people in the church, yet they deserve another look: “O come! O come! Emmanuel! / And ransom captive Israel; / That mourns in lonely exile here, / Until the Son of God appear.”

It’s not subject matter that we typically associate with a holly jolly Christmas. Drawing inspiration from the psalmist and from the prophet Isaiah, here we see Israel—that great nation that prefigures Christ’s church—mourning and lonely, held captive in a foreign land. The chorus, with its insistent call to rejoice, is almost jarring in contrast.

Almost uniquely among modern popular carols, recordings of this hymn often retain the classic character of many Advent tunes: haunting, reserved, and poignant. It is not a song of present Christmas joy, but instead a command to rejoice in spite of darkness and sorrow—exile, even. It is, properly understood, a hymn of sharp contrasts between the here-and-now and the hope that the faithful have in that-which-is-to-come.

Ten centuries later, Englishman Charles Wesley echoed the same theme in these words: “Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free, / From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee: / Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art, Dear Desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”

Once again, the hymn dwells not on the baby in the manger, nor on shepherds and angels, but on the people of this earth, and it pulls no punches about their “fears and sins,” their need for delivery, rest, and consolation as these people await a Savior to lift them from their mourning. There are a great number of modern versions and harmonies, as well as classic hymn versions, usually set to either a simpler German tune or to the somewhat cheerier Welsh tune Hyfrydol (also used for “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”).

In both of these, Israel looks forward to the coming of the messiah, even as the church looks forward not only to its annual commemoration of Christ’s incarnation in Bethlehem, but also to the great promise of his second coming and the final redemption of our fallen world. The cry to “Come, thou long expected Jesus!” is both a plea for deliverance and a statement of faith. There is as much pain in it as joy, and perhaps even a mingling of defiance, as the singer looks out on what appears to be reality and avers that his hope, his desire, is not in this world, but in something better and brighter.

A Light in the Darkness

Light and darkness very often figure in the liturgy of Advent. One eighteenth-century Scottish hymn text echoes the Biblical words of Isaiah 9 and Matthew 4: “The people that in darkness sat / A glorious light have seen; / The light has shined on them who long / In shades of death have been.”

Almost contemporaneously, in France another hymn-writer started his approach to Christmas in the same manner that the Gospel of Luke does—with the story of John the Baptist: “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry / Announces that the Lord is nigh. / Awake and hearken, for he brings / Glad tidings of the King of kings!”

A German carol from the previous century elaborates the same theme. The first verse goes back to the idea of light and darkness, despair and deliverance: “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People, / Speak of peace, so says your God, / Comfort those who sit in darkness, / Groaning under sin’s dread rod.”

The later verses again recount not herald angels, but John’s preparatory ministry: “Hark, the herald’s voice is crying, / In the desert far and near, / Calling us to true repentance, / For the kingdom now is here.”

The Discipline of Waiting

Most Christians are familiar with a time of repentance and reflection before a high holy day, but we usually call it Lent, not Advent. When we start in on the loud proclamations of joy as soon as the Thanksgiving table is cleared, we deprive ourselves of a historic period of preparation and meditation. The famous 12 days of Christmas—the liturgical Christmas season—come not before Christmas, as modern big-box retailers seem to think, but after it. In the meantime, we wait.

Fundamentally, waiting is a discipline, and it isn’t a common modern accomplishment. In the era of Amazon Prime, we are not used to waiting. Yet Christians are called to be a waiting people. Even after the coming of David’s great seed, the church—new Israel—still awaits the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul describes all creation groaning as earth waits for her final redemption (Romans 8:23). But though we sometimes wait amidst darkness and groaning, we never wait without hope, and the hymns of Advent do much to magnify this truth.

One of my personal favorites is this jubilant lyric, taken from Psalm 24: 9-10: “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates, / Behold the King of glory waits, / The King of kings is drawing near, The Savior of the world is here. / Oh, blest the land, the city blest, / Where Christ the ruler is confessed! / Oh, happy hearts and happy homes / To whom this King in triumph comes!”

Advent Grapples with Sorrow and Darkness

As adults, we often have too much on our plates to feel like we’re waiting for Christmas—holiday parties, last-minute work projects, decorations to put up, presents to buy, and family to plan for. We may be longing for Christmas, but we’re rarely waiting for it. Children, however, are always waiting for Christmas, and it’s charming because it is a joyous waiting.

If the accumulated traditions of Lent enforce discipline through denial, then the traditions of Advent are a glorious reversal, even the extra-ecclesiastical ones. Children know this, as they wait wide-eyed for Santa Claus and the unbridled glee of shredding the wrapping paper off piles and piles of Christmas loot.

Instead of forgoing indulgence, even adults can now open a little door to find a chocolate or a trinket or a miniature bottle of booze every day, for 25 glorious calendar days. (Side note: anyone willing to buy the author of this post an Advent calendar focused on whisky, cocktails, or high-end makeup is entitled to immediate lifelong goodwill.)

Yet the hymns of Advent grapple with the reality of darkness, of sorrow, of stress. They deal with a lot fewer singing angels and a lot more dark nights. Yet every last one of them points the singer forward, waiting in hope for comfort, for redemption, for a joy that passes all understanding.

Do we still lose sleep with the joy of waiting for Christmas to come? Do we still take the time to marvel at the miracle of Christ’s birth and incarnation? In the words of a hymn even older than “O Come, O Come,” the true wonder of Christmas and the profound waiting of Advent collide. Writing around the year 397, well before the traditional date given for the fall of the Roman Empire, St. Ambrose phrased it this way: “Savior of the nations, come; / Virgin’s Son, here make Thy home! / Marvel heaven, wonder earth, / That our God chose such a birth.”

In practice Advent serves as an annual reminder that, even as ancient Israel awaited Christ’s first coming, so the new Israel awaits his sure return. Taking the time to revive the songs of Advent puts feet on Ps. 40:3: “And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.”

Whether you are prone to Grinchiness or to elfin cheer, it is already time for heaven and nature to sing, even while earth still waits to receive her king. So rejoice, rejoice—for Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel.

Update: A reader has put the songs in this list into a YouTube playlist you can access below. Thank you, Mr. Hutchinson!

Cara Anne Dublin is a native Texan who is slowly turning her penchant for overthinking into a writing career.

By Cara Anne Dublin

Extreme Measures

The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10

A few years ago, a friend of mine lost track of her young son while walking through a swarm of people at Union Station in Chicago. Needless to say, it was a terrifying experience. Frantically, she yelled his name and ran back up the escalator, retracing her steps in an effort to find her little boy. The minutes of separation seemed like hours, until suddenly—thankfully—her son emerged from the crowd and ran to the safety of her arms.

Thinking of my friend who would have done anything to find her child fills me with a renewed sense of gratitude for the amazing work God did to save us. From the time God’s first image-bearers—Adam and Eve—wandered off in sin, He lamented the loss of fellowship with His people. He went to great lengths to restore the relationship by sending His one and only Son “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Without the birth of Jesus, and without His willingness to die to pay the price for our sin and to bring us to God, we would have nothing to celebrate at Christmastime.

Christmas is about God taking extreme measures to reclaim those who were lost.

So this Christmas, let’s be thankful that God took extreme measures by sending Jesus to reclaim our fellowship with Him. Although we once were lost, because of Jesus we have been found!

Heavenly Father, in the midst of all the joy of Christmas, remind me that the true meaning of this season lies in the depth of Your love. Thank You for sending Jesus to reclaim undeserving people like me!

Christmas is about God taking extreme measures to reclaim those who were lost.

By Joe Stowell 


Do you know someone who has broken hearts by turning their back on friends, family, or faith? Is that person now living as someone who has lost their way?

Consider Zacchaeus. Though Jewish, he was no friend of Israel. Working for the Roman occupation he collected taxes from his countrymen and lived off the wealth of his overcharges. Who wouldn’t resent someone who loved money more than family, country, or neighbor?

That’s why Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus. He wasn’t just trying to see over the religious crowd that had their reasons for hating him. He was a lost child of Israel and maybe the most unlikely person in Jericho to be given special notice and honor.

That was the day God chose Zacchaeus to show us, or maybe those who are hiding from us, that no one is too lost to be found and changed by Jesus.

Mart DeHaan

Ministry Friendships

Acts 18:1-19

A significant facet of the Christian life is the development of friendships that help both parties fulfill God’s will for their lives. This is the kind of friendship Paul had with Aquila and Priscilla. The relationship, which began from their common Jewish heritage and occupation, soon became a partnership in ministry.

Paul met Aquila and Priscilla when he first arrived in Corinth during his second missionary trip. After teaching and mentoring them for about 18 months, he brought them along on his return trip, leaving them to minister in Ephesus until he returned to help them on his third missionary trip.

Although they all eventually went their own ways in ministry, their friendship—which was founded upon their mutual love for Christ—never ended. A few years later when Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he expressed his gratitude for this couple because they risked their own lives for his and were faithfully serving the church, which met in their home (Rom. 16:3-5). While Paul was sitting in a Roman prison during his last days on earth, he wrote to Timothy in Ephesus, telling him to send his greetings to Priscilla and Aquila (2 Tim. 4:19).

God never intends that Christians live like “lone rangers,” who simply attend church without growing close to one another. Our common bond in Christ draws us together, forming a closeness not found in other associations. Ministry friendships are among the deepest relationships we will ever have. These friends are the ones who always point us back to the Scriptures, challenge us to walk in obedience to Christ, and encourage us to persevere.

The Divine Human Word

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

The title of the Word of God is given both to Jesus Christ as the living Word (John 1:1-3; Revelation 19:13) and to the Holy Scriptures as the written Word (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; etc.). They are so perfectly synchronous that what is said of one can usually be applied also to the other.

Both are human, yet without error; both are divine, yet can be comprehended by man. “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). “In him is no sin” (1 John 3:5), “the Scripture cannot be broken,” and “all Scripture . . . is profitable” (John 10:35; 2 Timothy 3:16).

Furthermore, each is eternal. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).

Each brings regeneration and everlasting life to all those who believe. “He saved us, by the washing of regeneration . . . through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:5-6). “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). “Being born again . . . by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23). “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).

Finally, judgment comes by both Christ and the Scriptures. “The Father . . . hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). “The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books” (Revelation 20:12). Both Christ and the Bible are vitally important to each Christian and must be studied, understood, known, loved, trusted, and relied upon in every human endeavor. HMM

Thou wilt bring down high looks

2 Chronicles 25:14-24, 27, 28

2 Chronicles 25:14

This was madness itself, for if the gods of Edom had been worth anything they would have helped their former worshippers. It is wonderful that a man can bow down before that which he carries away captive, but is it not even more strange that others should adore a piece of bread, which they afterwards eat?

2 Chronicles 25:16

Those who will not hear must feel; no sign of evil is more sure than a refusal to listen to the Lord’s warnings. Victory had made Amaziah proud, and pride became the mother of many sins: the lower we are in our own esteem the better.

2 Chronicles 25:17

Probably because the hired Israelitish soldiers, whom he had dismissed, had plundered the towns and villages on their way home, Amaziah desired vengeance; therefore in his pride he sent a haughty challenge to the king of Israel.

2 Chronicles 25:18

A proud challenge provoked a contemptuous answer. Joash as good as said, “You petty king, you are but a thistle, how dare you challenge such a powerful monarch as I am? You are not worthy of my arms.”

2 Chronicles 25:23, 24

One pitched battle ended the war, and left Amaziah a prisoner, the walls of Jerusalem broken down, the temple pillaged, and the nation bound down under penalties to keep the peace. Thus the vainglorious monarch was laid low. Having lost the respect of all around him, it was not long before there were plots against his crown and his life.

2 Chronicles 25:27, 28

Thus in dishonour ended the life of the unstable son of an unstable father. Many start well and bid fair for heaven, yet fall short of it because there is no vitality in their religion, it has never changed their nature. Nothing short of a new heart and a right spirit will enable a man to weather the storm and reach the haven of eternal rest.


Learning To Rejoice And Learning To Weep

Romans 12:15

It’s such a big letdown when you experience something that gets you all excited, but you can’t find anyone who will rejoice with you. Not so long ago, this happened to me.

After waiting a long time for a particular victory, it finally happened! I could hardly wait to tell it, so I summoned together the group I was with at the time to share this mighty victory. However, when I told these people the good news, they just stared back at me with expressionless faces, as if they hadn’t heard a word I had said. When the meeting was dismissed, they left, barely acknowledging the great report I had told them. I was very disappointed because I wanted someone to rejoice with me!

Later that day as I thought about the group’s lack of response to my exciting news, it made me wonder how many times I had done the same thing to people who shared their exciting news with me. As I pondered the expressionless faces I had seen earlier, I realized that the other members of that group may have been loaded down with their own cares or anxieties. Perhaps their own thoughts weighed so heavily on their minds that they weren’t able to really grasp what I had told them.

We should never respond to someone’s good report with a lack of enthusiasm. Regardless of what we’re going through in our own lives, we need to get our focus off ourselves and learn to “rejoice with them that do rejoice….” (Romans 12:15). In this verse, the apostle Paul tells us about the importance of appropriate emotional responses. For instance, when a person rejoices about something wonderful that has happened in his life, then regardless of what we are personally feeling, it is appropriate for us to rejoice with him.

The word “rejoice” is from the Greek word chairo, and it means to be glad, to be full of joy, or to be elated. Furthermore, the word “rejoice” is a command, not a suggestion, which means Paul is ordering us to “rejoice with them that do rejoice….” The word “with” is the word meta. In this particular case, it means to rejoice along with those who are rejoicing and carries the idea of joining on the same level of rejoicing as “them that do rejoice.”

The phrase “them that do rejoice” would be better translated as “the rejoicing ones.” The Holy Spirit is instructing us that when people are thrilled and bubbling over with joy about something that has happened in their lives, we need to join right in with them and rejoice! If they are shouting, we need to shout with them. If they are laughing for joy, we need to laugh with them.


Therefore, this portion of Romans 12:15 presents this idea:

“When people are rejoicing that’s a time for you to join in the celebration and rejoice along with those who are rejoicing….”

You might say, “But it’s hard for me to rejoice when I don’t feel like rejoicing.” Well, you just need to get over it and put your flesh out of the way for a few minutes! Let the other person enjoy his exciting news. Think how selfish it would be for you to throw cold water on his joy simply because you don’t “feel like” rejoicing at the moment. What if you were in that person’s shoes and someone responded to you with such a noticeable lack of enthusiasm? It would disappoint you, wouldn’t it?

So rather than disappoint the person who is so excited, push your own emotional struggles out of the way for a few minutes and join in with those who are rejoicing! Besides, when you start to rejoice with a fellow believer, your deliberate rejoicing may be the very thing that sets you free from the emotional quandary that is trying to hold you down!

Paul goes on to tell us that we need to learn to “… weep with them that weep.” The word “weep” is translated from the Greek word klaio, and it means to weep, to wail, to sob, or to shed tears. A very good example of this word is found in Mark 5:38 when Jesus went to Jairus’ house and found “them that wept” because Jairus’ daughter had died. This perfectly presents the idea of weeping and sobbing that is portrayed by the word klaio.

Just as it is appropriate for us to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, it is equally appropriate for us to weep with those who weep. We will all face times when people in our lives weep because of something that has happened or because of an event that has broken their hearts. When that happens, then no matter what we are personally feeling, it is fitting that we show softhearted tenderness toward those individuals, doing all that we can to comfort them.

Brokenhearted people usually need someone’s arms wrapped about them. They also need to feel like they’re not all alone. And sometimes they need a shoulder to cry on—not because that will make everything better, but simply because they need a tender touch in that moment of crisis. This is why Paul says we need to “… weep with them that weep.”

Learning to respond with appropriate emotions is very important. A sullen frown during a time of rejoicing is not appropriate. A laughing and light-hearted spirit is often not appropriate in a room that is filled with brokenness and grief. As believers, we need to be sensitive to the needs of those around us, allowing the Holy Spirit to show us how to respond to the emotional climate in which we find ourselves. If we respond properly, we can be a blessing. But if we respond inappropriately, we can hurt people’s feelings and either dampen their joy or deepen their sorrow.

Let the Holy Spirit be your Teacher and show you how to emotionally respond to the various situations of life. He knows exactly what response is needed and will make you a master of appropriate responses in every situation of life.


Lord, I ask You to help me know how to respond appropriately to those who are around me. When they rejoice, help me put aside my own struggles and problems and enter into rejoicing with them. When people weep and I’m not feeling the pain they feel, help me set aside my own light-hearted mood so I can be the kind of friend they need in that vulnerable moment. Holy Spirit, I know You can teach me how to appropriately respond to the different situations I face in life. So I ask You to start teaching me how to be what I need to be in every type of circumstance.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!


I confess that I am sensitive to the emotional climate around me. When people are rejoicing, I join in and rejoice with them. When people are weeping and feeling brokenhearted, I am careful to show love and compassion to them. Because the Holy Spirit is teaching me how to appropriately respond to the various situations that arise in life, I am becoming more fit to minister to people in any given circumstance.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!


  1. Have you ever shared a great victory with a person or group of people who did not rejoice along with you? Was their lack of response a great letdown to you?
  2. Have you ever seen someone respond inappropriately to a moment of crisis? When people were brokenhearted and weeping, did that person laugh and make jokes at a very serious moment? How did his or her insensitivity to the moment affect the other people in the room?
  3. Are there people in your life right now who need you to rejoice with them or weep with them?

Brokenhearted people usually need someone’s arms wrapped about them. They also need to feel like they’re not all alone. And sometimes they need a shoulder to cry on—not because that will make everything better, but simply because they need a tender touch in that moment of crisis. This is why Paul says we need to “… weep with them that weep.”


I Have Three Questions About David’s Sexual Liaison With Batsheba

1. How could David so easily go from victory and magnanimity to cold-blooded murder?


The answer lies in the unimaginable power of sexual temptation. Believe it, that there is a level of titillation that all of us would find irresistible. Surely we must ask ourselves, “Just what would it take to bring me down?


David was at the apex of his power and prestige. Only recently had he danced in the street before the Lord, and had shown unprecedented generosity toward Jonathan’s crippled son, Mephibosheth. (2 Samuel 6:12-15; 7:1, 2; 9)


Could it be that David’s towering success brought about complacency, (he was lounging when kings routinely go to war), pride, and a false sense of security? “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you dont fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12) (See Proverbs 11:2; 16:18; 18:12; 28:14; 29:23; Isaiah 2:11; Daniel 4:30-37)


2. How could David maintain a religious facade, while leading a double life?


When Nathan the prophet related a story of injustice to David that mirrored his own heinous sin, his immediate response was one of “righteous” rage, “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must payfour times over… ‘” (2 Samuel 12:5, 6a)


I am reminded of Paul’s indictment of phony religious types, “People will be lovers of themselveshaving a form of godliness but denying its power… ” (2 Timothy 3:1a, 5a) (See Matthew 23:25-28)


3. How could David be so blinded to the long term damage to his family and nation?


It appears that David secretly believed he could get away with leading a double life. Yet he paid dearly, thus bearing out the Scriptures’ warning, “You may be sure that your sin will find you outMany are the victims she (the immoral woman) has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng… ” (Numb. 32:23a; Proverbs 7:26) (See 2 Samuel 12-20)


So, how can we ensure that we will not fall into sexual sins, as did David? Here are four suggestions:


1. Regular exposure to, and application of the Word of God, allowing it to impact our lives at the deepest level. (Hebrews 4:12, 13; James 1:22-25)

2. Daily soul-searching, repentance, and brokenness. (Matthew 5:3, 4; Psalm 139:23, 24; 2 Corinthians 13:5)

3. Learning what it means to walk moment-by-moment in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16; Romans 8:2, 12-14)

4. Careful observation of others who have fallen in order to learn from their mistakes. (Proverbs 1:20-22)



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