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Carols of Christmas

An Advent Worship Series

Most churches celebrate the season of Advent. But for many pastors and worship committee members, this season can be a challenge. There are, it seems, only a limited number of ways to retell the Christmas story in a way that is fresh and insightful.

With this in mind, we decided to base our Advent worship on the theme of Christmas carols. It was a challenge to select just a handful of songs to focus on during the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, but we chose these five popular carols:

“Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” Medieval, LUYH 98, GtG 132, PsH 355
“Joy to the World” Watts, LUYH 92, GtG 134/266, PsH 337
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” Wade, LUYH 76, GtG 133, PsH 340
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Wesley, LUYH 80, GtG 119, PsH 345
“Away in a Manger” North American, LUYH 86, GtG 114/115, PsH 348/349

Our Advent readings included parts of the stanzas from the carol that was chosen for the week, related Scripture passages, and the overall theme of the carol. Readers were chosen from a representative sample of the congregation and were also asked to light the Advent candles each week.

Each sermon was introduced with a short history of the carol that was chosen for the week. Kenneth Osbeck’s Amazing Grace: 366 Hymn Stories for Personal Devotions (Kregel Publications, 2010) and hymnary.org provided excellent resource material. Each carol served as the applicatory song after the sermon.

First Sunday of Advent

“Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” was not one of the hymns initially chosen for the series. It was added when we decided to extend the series to include the first Sunday after Christmas. It can be used then or be adapted to fit the first Sunday of Advent as it is here.

Christmas Carol: “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” Medieval, LUYH 98, GtG 132, PsH 355

Call to Worship
Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!

For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

—Isaiah 49:13

Scripture: 1 John 1:1–4

Sermon Outline
The Word of Life Is Revealed (v. 1)
The Word of Life Is Experienced (v. 2)
The Word of Life Is Shared (v. 3–4)

Sermon Theme
Like the hymn, the beginning of John’s first letter is in some sense about the accessibility to the Christmas story and how Jesus Christ, the Word of Life, is revealed, experienced, and shared. The Word of Life has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We’ve experienced it. We’ve seen it, heard it, and touched it with the eyes, ears, and hands of faith. We share it in the community of believers. We seek to bring that Word of Life to others. And so we rejoice with heart and soul and voice that the Word of Life has come.

Advent Reading
Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice. Jesus Christ was born today! Christ was born for this! Christ was born to save! As this lively carol reminds us, Christmas should be the most joyous season of the year for Christians. Our lives should be filled with gratitude to God for the immeasurable love shown to us in the gift of his Son. Out of joyous hearts we should be exuberant in “heart and soul and voice!” The festive spirit of Christmas, however, should not fade away as the holiday passes. The joy and peace that Christ brings to our lives should enable us to be continually rejoicing Christians regardless of the circumstances. The blessings that came to us on Christmas morn illuminate our lives forever! This ancient hymn impresses upon us that the birth of Christ won us “endless bliss” by opening the way to heaven and conquering our fear of death through his assurance of eternal life. As we light this first candle of Advent, let us determine by God’s help to maintain the joy of Christmas in our lives. Seek to minister an encouraging word to some lonely person. Share this musical message.

Additional Scripture Readings
Isaiah 40:1–11
Ephesians 1:3–12

Suggested Songs
“How Bright Appears the Morning Star” Nicolai, LUYH 101, PsH 357
“Lord, You Have Lavished on Your Land” Post, LUYH 65, PsH 85
“As with Gladness Men of Old” Dix, LUYH 105, GtG 150, PsH 358
“Savior of the Nations, Come” Ambrose/Luther, LUYH 74, GtG 102, PsH 336 (v. 1–4)
“What Child Is This” Dix, LUYH 95, GtG 145, PH 53
“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” African American Spiritual, LUYH 93, GtG 136, PsH 356

Second Sunday of Advent

Christmas Carol: “Joy to the World” Watts, LUYH 92, GtG 134/266, PsH 337

Call to Worship
Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.
Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
—1 Chronicles 16:23–24, 27–29, 31–34

Scripture: Psalm 98

Sermon Outline
The Lord Is Come as Savior/God Makes His Salvation Known (Psalm 98:1–3)
The Lord Is Come as King/God Receives Joyful Praise (Psalm 98:4–6)
The Lord Is Come as Judge/God Judges the World Fairly (Psalm 98:7–9)

Sermon Theme
The first Christmas was nothing like the Christmas we’ve come to know with its traditions, memories, and legends. The first Christmas was a desperate moment that occurred for a desperate reason. And yet it’s Christ’s very coming that brings us joy. We sing of this joy, too, because the Lord has indeed come, and our desire is that all earth should receive its King. Our wish is that every heart should prepare him room.

Advent Reading
Joy to the world! the Lord is come. This well-known and beloved Christmas hymn calls upon all of creation to make a joyful noise before God, for the Lord has come to judge the earth and restore his creation. In Genesis 3, the greatest tragedy in all of Scripture occurs. Adam and Eve sin against God and are banished from the garden as God puts a curse upon the ground. Yet God is merciful and full of grace. God declares that the woman shall bear offspring that will crush the head of the serpent. Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God, will come to break the curse, to renew the creation, to make whole what now is broken. The coming of Christ into this world marks the beginning of that restoration. Christ brings joy to the world, a light where there is darkness, growth where there is decay. And we, along with all creation, respond with a song of praise. As we light this second candle of Advent, let us remember that our Lord has come, and he will come again. He will reign as King, and all nations will show forth the glories of his righteousness and the wonders of his love.

Additional Scripture Readings
Isaiah 35
1 Peter 1:3–9

Suggested Songs
“Sing a New Song” Schutte, GtG 276, SNC 1 (v. 1, 2, 5)
“Arise, Shine, for Your Light Is Come” Glass, LUYH 103, PsH 198 (v. 1, 2, 5)
“What Child Is This” Dix, LUYH 95, GtG 145, PH 53
“Jesus, Name above All Names” Hearn, SNC 114, WR 177
“Make Way” Kendrick, SNC 98, SWM 86

Third Sunday of Advent

Christmas Carol: “O Come, All Ye Faithful Wade, LUYH 76, GtG 133, PsH 340

Call to Worship
LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
– Isaiah 25:1, 9

Scripture: Hebrews 1:1–6

Sermon Outline
The God Who Speaks (v. 1–2)
The Son Who Is Glorified (v. 3–4)
The Angels Who Worship (v. 5–6)

Sermon Theme
God is a God who speaks. God’s word is effective. And Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is the ultimate means of God’s communication, both in his person and in his work. God still has something to say to us today. That message focuses on the person and work of the exalted Son. So we are invited to sing and worship Christ the Lord.

Advent Reading
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord! In this well-known and beloved Christmas hymn, we are invited as God’s faithful people to go to Bethlehem and adore Christ the Lord. We sing words borrowed from the Nicene Creed to express the Christian faith about the incarnation. After exhorting the angels to sing their praise, we greet Christ on his birthday. There is a sense of urgency to this hymn. Imagine someone dragging you by the hand as you run through a crowd, saying over and over again, “Come!” We are told that patience is a virtue, but who could stand by and wait when all we want to do is worship our Lord and Savior? This hymn takes us by the hand and leads us with triumphant song to Bethlehem, shows us the infant Jesus, and invites us to sing with the angels, sing with our families, sing with our fellow believers, sing with every fiber of our being, and worship Christ the Lord. As we light this third candle of Advent, let us remember who this baby in a manger really is. He is God of God, Light of Light eternal, Son of the Father, Word of the Father in flesh, and Christ the Lord.

Additional Scripture Readings
Jeremiah 33:14–22
Luke 1:67–75

Suggested Songs
“Te exaltaré/I Will Exalt” Cárdenas, LUYH 37
“Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” Doddridge, LUYH 60, PsH 335
“Gloria, Gloria/Glory to God” Taizé, LUYH 83
“Song of the Prophets” Morgan, LUYH 53 (v. 1, 18)
“Blessed Be the God of Israel” Daw, LUYH 67, SNC 104, WR 158 (v. 1–2)
“Arise, Your Light Is Come!” Duck, LUYH 102, GtG 744

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Christmas Carol: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Wesley, LUYH 80, GtG 119, PsH 345

Call to Worship
Christ Jesus, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Hail the incarnate Deity, Jesus, our Immanuel.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. . . .
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.
Glory to the newborn King.
—Philippians 2:5–7; Isaiah 9:6–7; Psalm 145:1–2

Scripture: John 1:1–14

Sermon Outline
The Eternal Creator Who Gives Light and Life (v. 1–5)
The Witness Who Testified Concerning the Light (v. 6–9)
The True Light Who Came into the World (v. 10–14)

Sermon Theme
We sing of the glory that is due to the newborn King who brings mercy and peace on earth and who reconciles God and sinners. Then we summon people of every nation to join together in triumph with all the angelic hosts and proclaim that Christ is born in Bethlehem! We sing of Jesus, the Lord of heaven, who has come to earth, making himself nothing and taking the very nature of a servant. We proclaim in song that God’s very self has come to earth, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man.

Advent Reading
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King; peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” This hymn tells us the entire gospel story simply by describing Christ. The first verse tells the story of the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth and invites us to join them in praise of our newborn King. The second and third verses go on to make it very clear why the angels sang, presenting theological truths concerning Christ. We are told of Christ’s nature, his incarnation, his ministry, and his purpose in salvation. We are also told of our own new birth and the transforming power of Christ in our lives. These teachings produce in us a childlike response of faith. We, too, can sing “Glory to the newborn King!” As we light this candle of Advent, let us rise joyfully with all nations, join the triumph of the skies, and proclaim “Christ is born!” He is the everlasting Lord, God in human flesh, the Prince of Peace, the Sun of Righteousness, light and life to all he brings.

Additional Scripture Readings
Genesis 3:8–9
Romans 5:12–19

Suggested Songs
“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” Wesley, LUYH 56, GtG 82/83, PsH 329
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” Traditional, LUYH 61, GtG 88, PsH 328 (v. 1, 4, 6, 7)
“Gloria, Gloria/Glory to God” Taizé, LUYH 83
“Savior of the Nations, Come” Ambrose/Luther, LUYH 74, GtG 102, PsH 336 (v. 1, 2, 3, 7)
“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” German, LUYH 79, GtG 129, PsH 351
“Angels, From the Realms of Glory” Montgomery, LUYH 81, GtG 143, PsH 354 (v. 1, 4, 5)
“Angels We Have Heard on High” French, LUYH 82, GtG 113, PsH 347 (v. 1, 3)

Christmas Day

Christmas Carol: “Away in a Manger” North American, LUYH 86, GtG 114/115, PsH 348/349

Call to Worship
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Now have come the salvation and the power 
and the kingdom of our God, 
and the authority of his Messiah.

Come, let us adore him.
He is Christ the Lord.
—Galatians 4:4–5; Revelation 12:10

Scripture: Luke 2:8–12

Sermon Outline
The Shepherds (v. 8–9)
The Good News (v. 10–11)
The Sign (v. 12)

Sermon Theme
With the birth of Jesus, God acted decisively to bring new life to individuals and transformation to human cultures. In the person of Jesus, God has extended humanity an invitation to new life. Jesus’ birth offers newness, a life turned around and transformed by the power of God. The story of Jesus is our story, told to us and for us just as if we had been the shepherds in the field that night near Bethlehem. What the angels announced to the shepherds is announced on behalf of all humanity. God comes to ordinary people like the shepherds and even those like us. He offers good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Advent Reading
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, . . . the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. Though obviously a children’s hymn, “Away in a Manger” is a charming favorite of many people regardless of age. Its pleasing melody and gentle message preserve it in our affections all through life. With its simply worded expression of love for the Lord Jesus and trust in his faithful care, this hymn appeals to young and old alike. It is usually one of the first Christmas songs learned in early childhood. How important it is that we take time to help our children see beyond the glitter of the Christmas season and teach them the true meaning of Christ’s birth. It is the most thrilling story ever known. As we light this candle of Advent, let us remember that the baby born in Bethlehem is present with us in his Word and Spirit. He loves us and is preparing a place in heaven for us that we may live with him there.

Additional Scripture Readings
Genesis 3:14–15
Psalm 14:7
Ruth 4:11–12
Numbers 24:15–17
Isaiah 7:14
Isaiah 40:4–5
Malachi 3:1
Isaiah 9:6–7
Micah 5:2, 4–5
Matthew 1:18–23
Luke 2:1–7

Suggested Songs
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” Wade, LUYH 76, GtG 133, PsH 340
“Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” Doddridge, LUYH 60, PsH 335
“Silent Night! Holy Night” Mohr, LUYH 85, GtG 122, PsH 344
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” Brooks, LUYH 88, GtG 121, PH 44
“How Great Our Joy” Traditional, LUYH 90
“Joy to the World” Watts, LUYH 92, GtG 134/266, PsH 337 (v. 1, 4)