7 Beautiful Hymns to Sing during Advent

  • Meg Bucher Writer and Author
  • 2020 24 Nov
Christmas sheet music for o come o come emmanuel with jingle bells, advent hymns

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” 

Advent is a traditional season celebrated the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day, in recognition and anticipation of the coming of Jesus. The Latin word for Advent means coming. Jesus came to earth, born as a babe to Mary and Joseph on earth. He also comes to us presently, as we accept salvation through Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. Advent also reminds us of Jesus’ future coming, when He will return to earth once again to establish God’s Kingdom. God’s plan always included our rescue and redemption through Christ. “We have a message of spectacular rescue:” John Piper reflects, “the love of God has rescued us from the wrath of God.”

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MKucova

What Kind of Songs Do We Sing at Advent?

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5

The songs and hymns of Advent reflect upon who Jesus is, and the beautiful scene of His birth on earth. Songs which paint a picture of the choir of angels breaking through the night sky to announce the birth of the Prince of Peace; of both shepherds and kings following a remarkable star to the babe; and the miraculous series of events which fulfilled hundreds of Old Testament prophecies. God’s people had been waiting 400 years for a word from God before Zechariah received word from an angel that his son, John, would prepare the way.

Jesus, the Messiah, came to defeat death! A tiny babe born in humble circumstances saved the entire world from self-destruction by the curse of sin and its punishment of death. Advent songs are preparatory and deep, with rich melodies sinking into our souls as we right the compass of our hearts once more to remember and reflect upon who, and Whose, we are. “Like Adam, we failed to obey the Law,” R.C. Sproul wrote, “but the new Adam, our Mediator, has fulfilled the Law perfectly for us and won for us the crown of redemption.” A rebellious people, both Jew and Gentile, who could never live up to the requirements of God’s just and holy law. Jesus saw us. He sees us. Christ came to earth to fulfill the will of the Father, tearing the temple curtain and two and swinging wide open the gates of heaven for all who live within His love. Advent is a time of praise, gratefulness, and awe of the miraculous works of our Mighty God.

Today, we feel the anticipation of hundreds of years building up to the moment when God once again will keep His promise, and Jesus will come, again! “The joy that Jesus came to bring is from the outside world,” John Piper reflects, “It is the very joy that Jesus himself has in God the Father- which he has had from all eternity and will have forever.”

Here are 7 Beautiful Hymns to Sing during Advent at Church or at Home

joy to the world graphic for crosscards

1. Joy to the World

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with the trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn- shout for joy before the LORD, the King. Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;” Psalm 98:4-8

Joy to the World was written amongst 750 hymns by Isaac Watts and released in 1719. It’s included in Watts’ Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and reflects upon Psalm 98“During Advent we celebrate the threefold advent of Christ in His incarnation, His dwelling in our hearts by His Spirit, and His glorious return at the last day,” Randall Van Meggelen wrote, “ These three aspects are each portrayed in Watts’ hymn.”

One of the greatest Christmas anthems in modern society, Joy to the World is sung in celebration of Jesus’ birth on earth, though most scholars believe Watts originally wrote of Christ’s second coming. The joy of Jesus, the joy we have full access to because He came to earth and defeated death on our accord, sustains us and establishes a peace in our souls that surpasses all understanding. Our perspective shifts and all of nature sways to the song of His love, grace, mercy, and joy. It is our duty, as this Advent anthem reminds, to sing of this joy, and share the gospel of Christ Jesus. We were created to bring glory to God, just as nature sings of His praises.

 Excerpt from Joy to the World:

“Joy to the World! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing”

Click here to watch and listen to “Joy to the World.”

Photo credit: ©Crosscards.com/BethanyPyle

2. O Come All Ye Faithful

“‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” Luke 2:10-11

O Come all Ye Faithful was translated into English in 1841 by Frederich Oakley, from John Francis Wade’s Latin song, titled, Adeste Fidelis, but the song has origins reaching back to the 13th century. A longstanding tradition of the Catholic church, this hymn was eventually sung by Protestant denominations and has become a classic Advent hymn. John Piper wrote that the hymn sings of the marriage of heaven and earth, which is what Christmas is. The lyrics take us to the scene in Bethlehem the night our Savior was born on earth, to the tune of a choir of angels and the bright spotlight of a miraculous star:

“O Come All Ye Faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels.”

Click here to listen to O Come all Ye Faithful.

3. Silent Night

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Silent Night is an anthem about Peace. The power of this song lies in its calming nature, an accidental composition birthed from an Austrian church devoid of organ notes due to some church mice. Rev. Joseph Mohr wrote lyrics and Franz Xaver Gruber composed the melody on the guitar. “We seem to live in such a noisy chapter in history,” Brian Lee of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago said, “I think even just the title of the song in and of itself speaks to people.” Silent Night is about the night of Jesus’ birth, which was ordinary and humble in outward appearance. From the babe in the lowly scenery, would come the salvation of the world and defeat of death. Silent Night “inspires pictures of baby Jesus sleeping soundly the evening he was born,” wrote Marshall Segal, “But as the song progresses, it’s increasingly about the peace he brings.”

Excerpt from Silent Night:

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child

Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

music book open

4. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

“Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” Luke 2:13-14

“The Christmas Song,” was written by Charles Wesley, published in 1739, and updated by George Whitfield in 1758. The song is about the breaking open of the night sky on Christmas as Jesus Christ, our Messiah Savior, was born on earth. All creation is designed to sing glory to God, even the angels! “Hark means listen or pay attention,” wrote David Mathis, “In modern English, ‘Listen how all the sky rings.’” We sing this hymn during Advent as we recall the scene to be witnessed as angels sang out into the night sky, and revel in our God of miracles and His indescribably love for us to send His Son.

Excerpt from Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem,”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!”

Click here to listen to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

5. The First Noel

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Luke 2:8-9

Noel is the French word for Christmas, also meaning good news. Though the origins of the song reach back to the 13th century, the author of the song is unknown. The First Noel was published in the “Carols Ancient and Modern” in 1823. Sung at Advent to reflect upon the angels' announcement of the Savior’s birth on earth, and to remind us of the hope we have in Christ, and to sing of His joy to others, especially during the Christmas season. “To hear the hymn writers tell it, the angels had a lot to say about Christmas,” wrote R. Fowler White, “and, biblically speaking, those hymn writers are right.” The First Noel sings of shepherds, of Joseph and Mary, all regular people. Shepherds some of the lowliest! Yet, we call Jesus our Shepherd. He came for all of us. For the lowly. God continually works miraculous feats through average people!

Excerpt from The First Noel:

The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winder’s night that was so deep.

Click here to listen to The First Noel.

Photo credit: David Beale/Unsplash

6. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us.’)” - Matthew 1:23

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, based on Isaiah 7, was translated into English in the 19th century by Reverend John Mason Neale. But the origins of this hymn reach back to 15th century France and may have been written as early as the 8th century.“This is who Jesus is,” preaches John Piper, “This is what he already achieved and will complete. And so with every verse, the refrain reaches down musically into our weak hears and pulls us up, in faith, to see the certainty of the end.” We sing this song during the Advent season because it reflects upon the importance of Jesus restoring us into the presence of God. Because of Adam’s sin in the garden, we are separated from our holy God, until we come to Him through salvation in Christ. Immanuel represents who Jesus is, the Word with God in the beginning, as John clarifies at the introduction to his Gospel. Jesus is God with us. A powerful realization arriving from heaven to earth on Christmas Day.

Excerpt from O Come, O Come, Emmanuel:

“O Come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go."

Click here to listen to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

scenic night sky with wise men graphic by mountain

7. Go Tell It on the Mountain

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2

Go Tell It on the Mountain is a classic Advent hymn. When my daughters were young, we led a children’s worship team at our church. Every year, we all dressed in our jammies to sing Advent songs of praise to celebrate the coming of Jesus. The innocent voices smiled and danced to choreographed moves. Joy abounded from that sweet group! This classic Advent hymn excites our hearts and motivates us to move, go, and tell of Jesus’ coming! Written by John Wesley Work, Jr. in 1865, Go Tell It on the Mountain is an African-American spiritual song.

Excerpt from Go Tell It on the Mountain:

Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
Our Jesus Christ is born

Click here to listen to Go Tell It on the Mountain.

A Prayer for Celebrating Advent

God,

Father, Abba, Yahweh. Messiah Jesus, Savior, Light. Holy Spirit, Advocate, and Strength. One True, Triune, God. Glory to You, whom we struggle to grasp with our limited humanity. Always One God in Three, Son of God You chose to come down to earth for us. Father God, these Advent Hymns sing of Your love for us, Your redeeming plan for us. Spirit of God You ignite these hymns in our souls, especially at Advent, as we recall and learn of all the different channels, pens, and people You have chosen to deliver Your messages of reminder and encouragement. Pieces of Your Word sung and celebrated, we hang on every note as we anticipate the coming of Jesus, God with us! Bless these Advent anthems to our hearts, and motivate us to go tell them! To sing them, share them, and embrace their song of the love of our Mighty God.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/kevron2001

Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as an author, freelance writer, and blogger at Sunny&80. Her first book, “Friends with Everyone,”  is available on amazon.com. She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters. Besides writing, she leads a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. She lives in Northern Ohio with her husband, Jim, and two daughters.


This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

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The History and Meaning of the Advent Calendar

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