15 Christmas Carols That Give Worship to Jesus

Christmas sheet music with decorations, Christmas carols to give worship

When we think about the Christmas season, music plays a big part in our memories, experiences, and celebrations of the holiday. After all, what is a Christmas church service without Christmas songs being joyfully sung? What is a Christmas party without Christmas tunes playing away in the background? Some holiday songs can tend to distract us from the true meaning of Christmas, but thankfully there are a wide array of Christmas carols that give worship to Jesus and direct our hearts toward gratitude for His coming to dwell among us as Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).  

Christians have sung songs about the incarnation of Christ since the early centuries of the Church, but they were more widely sung after the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther even wrote several carols himself!). Starting in the 1800’s, the publication of books of Christmas songs made them even more popular with people who sung them from house to house or in church (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_carol). 

The ancient practice of Advent--the pre-Christmas season in the liturgical year--has recently had a resurgence among Protestants, who are discovering the beauty of lesser-known, minor-key, melancholy songs expressing the hearts of people who walk in darkness while waiting in hope for the light of Christ (Isaiah 9:2). In recent years, modern Christian songwriters have also made efforts to compose beautiful Christmas worship songs that feel timeless but still give new perspective on the well-known story of Jesus’ birth.

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Here are five classic carols, five less well-known songs, and five fresh new hymns celebrating the coming of Christ:

5 Classic Christmas Carols

christmas decoration joy mary joseph and star at first noel

1. Joy to the World

“Joy to the World” is a song all about worship. It was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, who was also responsible for writing hundreds of hymns, many of which are still sung in churches around the world. Interestingly, “Joy to the World” was not originally written as a Christmas song but was simply a meditation on Psalm 98. The lyrics urge the earth to “receive her King” and to sing about “the glories of His righteousness,” which can equally apply to Christ’s first coming as a baby or to his second coming in power at the end of time. The “wonders of His love”—past, present, and future—fill our hearts with blessings, joy, and worship (Source: Christmascarols.us)

2. O Come Let Us Adore Him 

“O Come Let Us Adore Him” serves as a clarion call to worship “Christ the Lord” who is both “God of God” and “light of light.” The fourth verse declares: “Jesus, to thee be all glory given!” Though only four verses are commonly sung, there are a total of eight verses speaking of the shepherds, the Magi, Jesus’ connection with God the Father, the frailty of His humanity, and the choirs of angels adoring Him with us. These extra verses are worth looking up and pondering! (Source: Wikipedia)

3. Angels We Have Heard on High

“Angels We Have Heard on High” is an invitation to join angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph in giving glory to “Christ the Lord, the newborn King.” The song was originally written in French and loosely translated into English in the 1800s. However, the song of the angels, traditionally sung in a beautifully drawn-out fashion by carolers, is written in Latin (the language in which the Bible was most available for much of the history of Western civilization): “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” means “Glory to God in the highest!” (Source: Wikipedia)

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4. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was written by a preacher struggling with depression and news of wars close by and far away. His poem--only later turned into a song--was an attempt to redirect the hearts of believers towards the “golden” things of God even in the midst of the “weary world.” He focused on the good news that angels are singing even now, just as they were when Jesus was born, and that they will sing again “when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.” (Source: Wikipedia). 

5. Hark the Herald Angels Sing

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was originally written by Charles Wesley (who also authored over 6,000 more hymns!) in 1739 and was later adapted by evangelist George Whitfield. Beautiful expressions regarding the mystery of Jesus the God-Man abound in this song: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity!” We are urged to “Join the triumph of the skies, with the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” and “Glory to the newborn King!” (Source: Wikipedia

5 Less Well-Known Songs:

Photo credit: Unsplash/AaronBurden

1. In the Bleak Midwinter

“In the Bleak Midwinter” is based on a poem by Christina Rosetti and is a contemplative meditation on the paradox that though “Our God, heaven cannot hold Him,” yet “a stable-lace sufficed” for Him when He came to earth. We are urged to offer Him our very selves in worship: “What can I give Him, poor as I am? — If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man I would do my part,—Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.” (Wikipedia

2. Angels from the Realms of Glory

“Angels from the Realms of Glory,” penned by a Scottish poet named James Montgomery, proclaims a full picture of the Gospel: “Sinners, wrung with true repentance, doomed for guilt to endless pains, Justice now revokes the sentence, mercy calls you--break your chains.” Other verses are also filled with theological richness, leading carolers to joyful contemplation as they “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.” (Source: Wikipedia)

3. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” was written by Charles Wesley in 1744 after considering the plight of orphans in his community in light of Haggai 2:7. The hymn was popularized when Charles Spurgeon mentioned it in a Christmas sermon in 1855. The hymn adores Jesus as the one who was “born to set thy people free” and who is “the joy of every longing heart.” (Source: Wikipedia). 

4. O Come, Divine Messiah

“O Come, Divine Messiah” is a lovely and lilting hymn of longing for the day “when hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away.” Translated from the original French, the amazing contrast of Jesus’ glory stooping to enter humanity’s pain is beautifully expressed: “All clothed in human weakness, shall we your Godhead see.” This song is a cry of those who wait in darkness: “Dispel the night and show your face, and bid us hail the dawn of grace.” (Source: Hymnary.org). 

5. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Contemplative and reverent, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is based upon ancient writings in Greek on Habakkuk 2:20. We are exhorted to “ponder nothing earthly minded” because “Christ our God to earth descendeth” as the “Lord of lords in human vesture.” And, as in so many Christmas songs, we are rightly inspired to sing with the angels: “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia Lord Most High.” (Source: Wikipedia.org

5 Fresh New Hymns Celebrating the Coming of Christ:

advent hymns

1. Advent Hymn

In her worshipful “Advent Hymn,” Christy Nockels prays in a posture of waiting for Emmanuel: “So here I wait in hope of You, all my soul’s longing through and through, and Day-Star from on high, bear near, and Day-Star in my heart appear.” This is one of many Advent and Christmas songs on Nockels’ album entitled The Thrill of Hope. (Praisecharts.com

2. All the World Awaits (Hosanna)

Written by the prolific modern songwriter Chris Tomlin, “All the World Waits (Hosanna)” celebrates “Our Savior here to dwell, the King of every King, our Emmanuel.” The chorus looks forward to who this baby will come to be for us—”Hosanna” means “Save!” We rejoice that he was “born that we may live, and in Him never die.” For more Christmas songs from Chris Tomlin, check out the new release Miracle of Love: Christmas Songs of Worship (Praisecharts.com

3. Gather Round, Ye Children, Come

In this song, Andrew Peterson joyfully invites believers to “come, listen to the old, old story, of the power of death undone, by an infant born of glory, Son of God, Son of Man.” This is the first song in a collaborative album of original Christmas songs called Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tale of the Coming of Christ (Wikipedia.org). 

4. Light of the World

In this song, Lauren Daigle imagines the response of the angels to a child’s prayer of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” She asks, “And can you hear the angels singing, “Glory, glory to the Light of the World’...it is here.” The song also looks beyond Jesus’ birth towards His saving work as our Lord and Savior: “Behold your King, behold Messiah, Emmanuel, Emmanuel.” (Praisecharts.com

5. His Name is Jesus (Heaven’s Hope)

Travis Cottrell’s “His Name is Jesus” focuses on the fact that the realities at the first Christmas are still true now: “The song heard at the manger, the angel anthem raised, still echoes through the ages today.” We are invited into communal worship with believers throughout the ages, singing, “They worshipped then, and we do still, His Name is Jesus.” For more Christmas music from Travis Cottrell, check out the album Heaven’s Hope (Praisecharts.com). 

Whether you favor time-honored classics, prefer seeking out little-known songs for a change of pace, or love listening to the newest release, there are plenty of Christ-honoring Christmas songs to fill your seasonal playlist. Let the music of this season draw your heart towards worship of the newborn King who now reigns in glory. May you have a wonderful, meaningful Christmas focused on Him!

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Jessica Udall author photoJessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.

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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