Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
In John Stott’s The Cross of Christ he talks about the centrality of Jesus, the Lamb, in the book of Revelation’s account of worship in heaven. He writes:
One cannot fail to notice, or to be impressed by, the seer’s repeated and uninhibited coupling of ‘God and the Lamb’. The person he places on an equality with God is the Savior who died for sinners. He depicts him as mediating God’s salvation, sharing God’s throne, receiving God’s worship (the worship due to him) and diffusing God’s light. And his worthiness, which qualifies him for these unique privileges, is due to the fact that he was slain, and by his death procured our salvation.
That last line is key.
“…his worthiness… is due to the fact that he was slain, and by his death procured our salvation.”
Jesus is worthy of praise because he died for us and saved us.
So if Jesus is worthy of praise because he died for us and saved us, how clear is that fact in the songs we’re singing at church this Christmas season? Are we choosing songs, hymns, and carols that help people celebrate the one who came as the “Savior who died for sinners” or songs, hymns, and carols that help people celebrate the Christmas season?
Worship leaders, worship directors, music leaders, choir directors, whatever other title might be bestowed upon the guy or girl who picks songs at a church, must ensure that the opportunity isn’t wasted this Christmas to point people to the cross of Christ, to the suffering servant, to the one who allows us to sing “God and sinners reconciled!”
It’s not too late this year to make sure the words you put on your congregation’s lips declare the good news and proclaim the reason Jesus is worthy of praise.
From “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
From “Joy to the World”:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found…
From “What Child is This” is this refrain that many hymnals omit:
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
All of heaven worships Jesus as the Lamb that was slain. Let’s make sure we do too.
I’ve had several people email me and/or leave a comment asking for the lyrics and chords to the song I mentioned in my last post, “Beautiful Baby Boy”. I’m happy to offer both below.
I wrote this song last year during the Christmas season. I was (obviously) inspired by our daughter Megan who had just been born, marveling at her beauty and preciousness. When Jesus was born I’m sure Mary marveled at the same things. He was a real baby with a pudgy face and soft little lips, after all!
But he was more than a beautiful baby. He was the perfect Lamb of God who, one day, would be offered as a sacrifice in our place, securing our eternal peace with God.
Beautiful Baby Boy
His tiny little hands will be nailed to a tree
His precious little feet will be pierced through for me
And his soft little lips will bless and forgive
Oh beautiful baby boy
His tiny little chest will be whipped and flogged
His precious little head will be stained with his blood
And his soft little cry will beg for my life
Oh beautiful baby boy
Oh beautiful baby boy. Oh holy Lamb of God Away in a manger lies our perfect sacrifice Oh beautiful baby boy
His tiny little eyes will seek out the poor
His precious little arms will welcome the whore
And his soft pudgy face is the image of grace
Oh beautiful baby boy
And we were dead in our sins, and we were lost on our own
And we were children of wrath, and we were all without hope
But God rich in mercy, but God great in love
But God full of kindness gave us His only Son
UPDATED: 11.27.12. This post details the songs I chose for this service in 2010. I’ve added the changes I made in 2011.
This past weekend at my church, our weekend worship services were services of Lessons and Carols. These might be my favorite services of the year when we hear the story of redemption all the way from the fall of Adam in Genesis 3 to the Word made flesh in John 1. After each reading we either sing a traditional carol or sing a special (not congregational) song.
Here’s how we described this service to our congregation in the leaflet:
The Service of Lessons and Carols had its origin at Truro Cathedral (England) on Christmas Eve, 1880, when the Bishop of Truro, F.W. Benson, developed a service of scripture readings and supporting carols.
Some 38 years later in 1918, this format was adapted for Christmas at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England. The BBC broadcast from King’s College helped to popularize the Service of Lessons and Carols, which Cathedrals and small churches throughout the world quickly duplicated.
The heart of the service continues to this day – that is, the retelling of the Christians’ story of faith from the fall of Adam to the coming of the Word Incarnate.
I thought you might find it helpful/interesting to see the order of this service (we’ve adapted it a bit) and what songs we sang:
Once in Royal David’s City Traditional carol. There are a lot of versions of the wording of this hymn out there. Some good, some not so good. For instance, in some versions, the closing line of the hymn says that one day in heaven, “all in white shall wait around”. Since I don’t think that captures the wonder of heaven, I opted for a different version. I also wrote a middle verse that talks about what Jesus accomplished on the cross. If you want to see the text I used, click here.
Dear People of God: In the season of Advent, it is our responsibility and joy to prepare ourselves to hear once more the message of the Angels, to go to Bethlehem and see the Son of God lying in a manger. Let us hear and heed in Holy Scripture the story of God’s loving purpose from the time of our rebellion against him until the glorious redemption brought to us by his holy Child Jesus, and let us look forward to the early remembrance of his birth with hymns and songs of praise. But first, let us pray for the needs of his whole world, for peace and justice on earth, for the unity and mission of the Church for which he died, and especially for his Church in our country and in this city. And because he particularly loves them, let us remember in his name the poor and helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed, the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and unloved, the aged and little children, as well as all those who do not know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, let us remember before God his pure and lowly Mother, and that whole multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in Jesus, we are one for evermore. And now, to sum up all these petitions, let us pray in the words which Christ himself has taught us, saying:
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Leader: The Almighty God bless us with his grace; Christ give us the joys of everlasting life; and to the fellowship of the citizens above may the King of Angels bring us all. Amen.
Song (2010): So Long Moses In order to fill in the gaps between the Genesis reading and the next (Isaiah 9) reading, I thought singing Andrew Peterson’s song “So Long Moses” would help. This song masterfully tells the story of Israel’s longing for a king, the joy of a good king in David, their longing for another king who would rule with the sword, and the prophecies that told them their true King would actually be “rejected, despised” and be pierced for his people. This is a challenging song with several time signature changes and an alternate tuning on the acoustic guitar. But we practiced, had the help of a click track in our ear monitors that was in time with a video one of our volunteers made to help illustrate the lyrics, and was an effective way of using a non-congregational song to point people to Jesus. You can purchase the song here.
In 2011 I used another song from Andrew Peterson’s CD called “Passover Us”. It fills in the blank between the Genesis reading and the Isaiah reading. Before the song I introduced it by saying that this is a song that helps us hear how even in the next book of Exodus, God was preparing his people for their Messiah, by saving his chosen people through the shed blood of an innocent lamb.
The Second Lesson: Isaiah 9:2-7. Christ’s birth and role of peace and justice are foretold by Isaiah
Song (2010): O Come, O Come Emmanuel
I wrote a new arrangement for this familiar carol that had the first two verses/refrains in a driving 6/8 feel, the third verse in the traditional 4/4 feel, and the final verse and refrains back in 6/8. It seemed to work (it took the congregation about half a verse to get used to it) and was a nice change from how we’ve done this song for years and years.
In 2011 we sang the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”. We gave it a good groove, pretty percussive, with majestic organ at the end, and it really seemed to work. You can see my chord chart for it here.
The Third Lesson: Isaiah 11:1-9. The peace that Christ will bring is foreshown
Song (2010): Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending
I love this hymn. You can read the text I used for this hymn by clicking here, and you can listen to a recording of how we played it below.
In 2011 we sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in this spot.
The Fourth Lesson: Micah 5:2-4. The prophet Micah foretells the glory of little Bethlehem
Song (2010): O Little Town of Bethlehem
We sang verses 1, 3, and 5 of this hymn and you can hear a bit of the feel we gave it below.
In 2011 we sang “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending” in this spot.
Then right to another song, as the service transitions from the Old Testament to the New.
Song (2010): Matthew’s Begats
To help transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament, I sang Andrew Peterson’s musical adaptation of Matthew chapter 1. I gave a short introduction to help people understand why this song could be helpful. I memorized this song a few years ago and have sung it a couple of years at our Lessons and Carols services and it’s actually seemed to be helpful for people. This is the same album, “Behold the Lamb”, that “So Long Moses” is on. Great CD.
In 2011 I wrote an instrumental of “We Three Kings” that we did here. Looking back, it wasn’t the best choice, since that song is more of an Epiphany theme.
The Fifth Lesson: Luke 2:1-7. Saint Luke tells of the birth of Jesus
Song (2010): Beautiful Baby Boy
We sang a special song here that I wrote last year about how the beautiful baby boy, Jesus, would one day be nailed to a tree and crucified in our place. You can listen to it below (or see this post for a chord chart).
In 2011 we used Andrew Peterson’s “Labor of Love” here. This is one of the most beautiful modern Christmas songs ever written.
The Sixth Lesson: Luke 2:8-20. The shepherds go to Bethlehem
Song: Angels We Have Heard on High
We used the same king of feel that Chris Tomlin gave this song on his Christmas album, but sang it much lower than him, using the key of E.
In 2011 we sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” here. I think we did 3 verses.
Song (2010): Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Maybe the best Christmas carol ever written. Such amazing truth captured in three verses: “…mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth”.
In 2011, since we inserted “O Come All Ye Faithful” before the message, we omitted this carol here and went straight into the prayers.
We had a short time of corporate prayer, thanking God the Father for giving his Son, and praying for those who need to hear this good news.
The Offering (2010): My Soul Magnifies the Lord
During the offering we learned this great song from Chris Tomlin’s album and the congregation stood and joined in at the end.
In 2011 we used Bob Kauflin’s “In the First Light”. I took Travis Cottrell’s version of it and made an arrangement that was slightly less complicated.
Song: Joy to the World
We were again inspired this year by Chris Tomlin’s arrangement. We didn’t do the chorus he’s written, and took it down several steps.
In 2011 we sang “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” here.
One reason why I like this service so much is because it’s a challenge each year. How do we help people hear this familiar story like it was the first time? How can we use congregational songs, carols, and special music to underline, fill in, and help people respond to the good news of the Gospel? This is our challenge every week, but particularly at Christmas. Hopefully some of these ideas are helpful to you – and if you’ve ever done services like this, I’d love your ideas too.
Worship leaders face a lot of temptations this time of year.
Sentimentality There’s a great temptation to embrace the sentimental elements of Christmas. Snow falling softly while the fireplace roars and children laugh while eating warm apple pie that Grandma made while singing “Silver Bells” on top of a reindeer. This makes us feel all warm inside but makes no lasting difference to our lives.
Creativity Creativity for the sake of helping people hear and celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ in a fresh way is a good thing. But creativity for the sake of saying we’re creative is most certainly not a good thing.
It can be easy to get carried away with trying to be creative this time of year. A Christmas pageant with a real live baby Jesus, surrounded by live animals, standing on hay, surrounded by a choir of angels suspended from the ceiling illuminated in bright light, while the choir sings a Christmas anthem accompanied by a 16 piece string section while a video plays and dancers dance and everyone in the congregation holds pretty little candles.
This might really impress people, make some people cry, and be more elaborate than any other church in town, but when we place creativity as the highest priority on our lists, it usually comes at the expense of the simple and powerful clarity of the Gospel. If creativity serves the goal of making the Gospel as clear as possible, then go for it. But if it gets in the way, avoid at all costs.
Tradition Christmas can bring out the traditions like no other season. Traditions can be very good and helpful. But they can also be boring and stale and ineffective. Just because your church has always done it a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the best way.
Oh, if it were only so easy as telling people this and convincing them to try something new. I know it’s not.
If you’re serving in a church with a lot of traditions that you think could use some reevaluating, my advice to you is to tread slowly and softly. You’ll probably have to live with a lot of those traditions you’re not crazy about for a long time. But build trust with people and you’ll earn some capital you can spend on convincing people that there might be a better song than “Come On Ring Those Bells” to open a Christmas Eve service.
Satan hates this time of year when Jesus’ birth is being proclaimed around the world and in the songs being played in the department stores. It’s no wonder, then, that those songs are increasingly watered down and Jesus made to seem incidental rather than central. Sadly, the church too often goes with this flow. Let’s push against it and proclaim with boldness the good news – the best news – of the coming of Jesus Christ.
Churches all around the world will meet several times over the next few days – for Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and then the weekend after Christmas. For many worship leaders and music ministries this is one of the busiest times of the whole year. Extra services, concerts, rehearsals, new arrangements, long days, late nights, and a lot of little details.
I’ll be helping to lead the music at a number of services at my church starting tomorrow. I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I try to keep in mind this time of year.
There will be more non-believers in the room than usual
I’ve already received a number of emails from people in the congregation who are bringing their non-Christian family members to our Christmas services. This is incredibly exciting, and my sincere prayer is that these people will not leave the building without having heard the Gospel clearly presented to them through every part of the service.
With a good number of non-believers in the room, I need to be aware as I’m leading that I am going to be looking out at some people who really want to be there, some who don’t want to be there at all, and some who are really nervous about what their brother or sister is thinking of the whole thing. My confidence is not in my ability to change people’s hearts or get a certain reaction – my confidence is in the power of the Gospel and in the work of the Holy Spirit (however obvious or hidden it may be).
We will be singing songs full of rich Gospel truth that people hear while shopping for shoes
“God and sinners reconciled.” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” “Come and behold him, born the King of angels.” “He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found…” Does Wal-Mart have any idea what amazing bible truth it’s playing through its speakers as people shop for the latest flat-screen TV? Probably not. Do most people give a second thought to the idea that God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus as they sing this song for the hundredth time? Probably not.
Do whatever you can to help people see and celebrate the truth we’re singing. Either by you or your pastor saying something very briefly, or more likely through yours and your worship team’s visible and genuine engagement with God as you sing, you can help these great songs not seem so much like harmless little jingles.
People are more emotionally charged at Christmas time than they are the rest of the year Family is flying into town. Where will Uncle Steve sleep? Do we have enough ham? Will it feel less awkward this year than it did last year? Why did I put so much on my credit card?
I wish I had a family. Should I invite myself over to someone’s house? What will I say when people ask what I did for Christmas? No one loves me. Every single person who steps onto this campus tomorrow night will have their own joys, their own sorrows, their own emotions, and their own secrets. I will never know even a fraction of what people are experiencing, whether joyful or difficult.
As a worship leader, it’s good for me to be aware of this for two reasons: First, I’ll lead more effectively and with more sensitivity if I’m seeking to care for and feed my fellow sheep. Secondly, I’ll be more eager to point people to Jesus – Immanuuel – God with us – the one who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.
Keep Jesus central
Shame on any music ministry or worship leader who set out to dazzle with their creativity, impress with their musical polish, delight with their pomp, or entertain with their talent. They’re like a grand canyon tour guide who can’t stop talking about his shiny name badge. He distracts from the main attraction and reveals his own vanity. Compared to the splendor of the grand canyon, his name badge is nothing. People come to the grand canyon to see the grand canyon, not the tour guide. An effective tour guide points people to the main attraction and steps out of the way.
This Christmas, and all year round, point people to the greatness of God as revealed in his Son Jesus Christ, and then step out of the way. O come, let us adore Him.