Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
The text of this hymn is mysterious in its presentation of Christ descending to earth because it is a wonderful use of anamnesis (bringing the past into the present) and prolepsis (bringing the future into the present). The fullness of time is addressed as we acknowledge Christ’s presence with us in the past and when God’s reign comes in fullness upon the earth. Although a powerful hymn on the organ, there are a multitude of ways to embody the mood of the hymn:
- Organ accompaniment, either as written or altered.
- Choral hum on an open D chord (D, A), with a soloist leading the congregation on a unison melody.
- The same hum played as a drone on the organ.
- Even though it is not a plainchant, it could be sung in the same manner, a cappella with unison melody.
Of the Father’s Love Begotten
“Evermore and evermore.” The concluding words of each stanza of this beautiful plainchant melody ring as the continuing praise of the incarnation and the presence of God in flesh through Jesus Christ. This tune, DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, has been used in recent years as a chant that is often set with other tunes — for instance, see the choral work, “Hope For Resolution” (Earthsongs, ES.W-034) — as a statement of praise. The first three phrases move upward, as do our praise and, especially in days of old, the incense that represents prayers rising to heaven. However, the melody returns to the tonic (D) at the end of each stanza. Singing plainchant is made easier by having a confident song leader, and a choir is very helpful as well. When singing, I would recommend a different approach than playing the accompaniment as written in The United Methodist Hymnal. Either use a bass pedalpoint from an organ or other bass-clef instrument with a unison melody, or use an open D chord from any instrument (D,A), whether organ, piano, guitar, or strings. Allow a flute to double the melody on the first stanza, then encourage some basic improvisation on a D scale throughout, especially in transitions between phrases. Read History of Hymns: "Of the Father's Love Begotten" »
Or, should you choose a different approach, here is a setting with the traditional Polish carol tune, W ZLOBIE LEZY:
When Christmas Morn Is Dawning
This sweet German folk tune serves as the perfect setting for this children’s nativity hymn. This hymn, like others written for children, expresses the wonder of being in the presence of the newborn Jesus. If your children were like mine at a very young age, they are fascinated with babies! Allow them this same fascination with the story of Jesus’ birth as sung through this hymn. Though there are three musical phrases in this hymn, the text is quite short, as the second phrase is always repeated. A simple organ or piano accompaniment works well for this selection. If your pianist has some basic improvisation skills, I would recommend an alberti bass accompaniment accompaniment (à la Mozart) in the left hand.
O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright
This hymn has been sung for many years, and the tune has often been used as the central theme for other works (see Mendelssohn, “There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob”). One of the longer hymn texts and tunes in our hymnal, it is an adventure to sing and requires the use of the hymnal for aid. Though the first six-measure phrase is repeated, it is long enough that using a screen may not be helpful in the singing of this particular hymn. However, the setting in the hymnal is also a wonderful four-part choral setting by J. S. Bach, so you may even choose to use this hymn as a choral work in worship. Read History of Hymns: "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright" »
Word of God, Come Down on Earth
I have discovered that most hymns in The United Methodist Hymnal that refer to the “Word” are specifically directed to the “word” as Scripture. This is one of the few hymns that refer to the Word as described in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Though not a “Christmas hymn,” it all depends on how you interpret what is required to be such a text. John 1 is always the lectionary Scripture for Christmas Day, so it seems most appropriate! This chorale is best accompanied by organ or piano. Read History of Hymns: "Word of God, Come Down on Earth" »
Christ Is the World’s Light
This most interesting hymn by Fred Pratt Green presents us with what it takes to confess Christ as Savior, including the fact we cannot “serve him and despise another.” It also uses language not often seen in hymns in regard to Jesus: He was “sold once for silver” and “murdered.” These truths from the gospels can be hard to accept, let alone sing. However, it is important in proclaiming the gospel that we include this as a part of the story.
In the context of Christmas, the first stanza presents us with the reflection on light, and singing stanza 1 only in a medley with the hymn, “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” would be most fitting. Approaching this as a medley will give a little more time to focus on the light imagery. In order for this to be most effective, begin playing the first phrase of “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (in the key of D) on the last note of “Christ Is the World’s Light.” Allow the first two phrases of “I Want to Walk” to serve as the introduction. Whereas the first hymn is more of a chorale (and, thus, effectively accompanied on organ or piano), the second is intended to be a folk hymn and could be accompanied by any number of instruments, including piano, guitar, organ, and/or any combination of string or wind instruments. Read History of Hymn: "Christ Is the World's Light" »
Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light
The text of this chorale is a combination of texts by Johann Rist (translated by John Troutbeck) and Fred Pratt Green. In a chorale setting harmonized by J. S. Bach, this selection would work well as a congregational hymn for those well suited to singing chorales, and it could work for any choir to sing as a four-part choral response. Organ is the recommended accompaniment. History of Hymns: http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-break-forth-o-beauteous-heavenly-light
Found in The Hymnal 1982, this Christopher Idle hymn focuses upon the eternal nature of our relationship with God. Vivid imagery of light is found in the hymn, which may be best sung as a choral response. Jane Marshall, composer of the choral standard, “My Eternal King,” has written the tune, which may be more accessible in some churches than others. Accompaniment is best on organ or piano.
Go, Tell It on the Mountain
One of the most highly anticipated songs to sing at Christmas is this beloved spiritual. Allow the children in your church to come forward and lead the singing! Sometimes adults lack the energy needed to support this energetic hymn of proclamation, and children can help us reclaim that. Bands, choirs, bells, and any other instrumental ensembles certainly have accompaniments for this song, and it works well to sing quickly or slowly. Its versatility makes it accessible to any church, anywhere! History of Hymns: http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-go-tell-it-on-the-mountain
Chord sheet: http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/go-tell-it-on-the-mountain
On Christmas Night
Many people know this traditional English Christmas carol by its tune name, SUSSEX CAROL. The pairing of it here with the focus of “witness” is evident when considering the inclusion of the story of the angels’ news, which is also akin to another carol in the same key and meter, “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” (UMH 224). Though one is English and the other German, the two work very well together if you are searching for a medley of Christmas songs. They both tell of the news of Jesus’ birth and can flow seamlessly from one into the other. “On Christmas Night” also has a great deal of imagery of the light found in John 1. Keep the tempo moving so the melody has a joyous, celebratory mood, but not so fast that the congregation is unable to breathe appropriately between stanzas. There are also a number of instrumental settings of this familiar carol, including a number of options for handbells at handbellworld.com.
Welcome to Our World
Chris Rice has written a touching song of welcome that calls us to address the pain we witness and feel in our community. Jesus comes as the bringer of peace and salvation, and we make room for him in our hearts, in our churches, in our communities, and in our world. Don’t make the accompaniment of this contemporary hymn overly complicated. Simple is better; a guitar or piano best brings out the character of the text and tune.
Light of the World
One of the songs in the modern repertoire that embraces the biblical imagery of John 1, Matt Redman’s “Light of the World” is accessible for many congregations. The chord structure is very simple, but a couple of elements are a bit tricky: (1) The entrance of the melody in the verses on the leading tone (7th degree of the scale), and (2) the presence of a great deal of syncopation. Repetition can be helpful in these sections. I recommend singing and playing this selection in the key of G, at least the first time it is sung. The tessitura (location of the majority of notes) in the chorus remains a bit high if the congregation does not know the song, so lowering it to G is helpful in its teaching.
Sing We Now of Christmas
This French carol has become more popular, and the tune has also been used often with the Easter hymn, “Now the Green Blade Riseth” (UMH 311). We recommend use here with stanzas 1-3 only, since stanzas 4 and 5 specifically address the Epiphany. The tune is bouncy (as it should be!), so don’t let it drag with an accompaniment that is too loud or heavy. There are a number of choral, children’s, and handbell arrangements of this tune, and many are accessible for choirs of any size or ability. There are several options available from the Choristers Guild. Read History of Hymns: "Sing We Now of Christmas" »
Joy to the World, The Lord Has Come
This reimagination of the Isaac Watts text is an effective way to bookend this service with the traditional setting sung at the beginning. The recommended liturgical use in this service is singing the chorus only. It is easily accompanied by piano, guitar, or band. One thing to note: If using CCLI SongSelect as the source, the first beat of the chorus is actually a rest (The “joy” on the first beat is the conclusion of each stanza). Invite the congregation to begin singing on beat 2 of the chorus.
He Is Born
Many children in your congregation and community may know this Christmas carol because of its wide use in children’s choirs, both in churches and in the greater community. Give the men in your choir the ability to serve as the bagpipes by singing a re-enunciated drone on an “O” vowel in open fifths (Basses: F, Tenors C), especially on the refrain. They can even scoop into it a little bit to simulate a bagpipe/drum combination. Hand drum also fits well to accompany this joyful song. However, if you happen to have people in your congregation who actually play bagpipes and/or oboe, put them to work! If your church has a choir, simply instruct them to sing in four parts on the stanzas. You may also choose to put a fermata (brief hold) on the last note of each stanza before returning to the refrain. Keep the tempo lively! Read History of Hymns: "He is Born" »
Love Came Down at Christmas
This hymn would also make a great pairing with “In the Bleak Midwinter” for a two-song set of hymns by Christina Rossetti. Even the rhythms of this Irish melody and the Holst tune of “In the Bleak Midwinter” are very similar. The focus on God’s identity as Love is at the very heart of Wesleyan hymnody, and thus this hymn is a wonderful part of the Methodist repertoire of hymns for this season. Accompany with a simple instrumentation of organ, piano, or guitar, and add other instruments as able. Read History of Hymns: "Love Came Down at Christmas" »
‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
This Christmas carol has risen in prominence because of its importance as an early Native North American nativity carol. The hymn is replete with imagery that originates from the Huron people of North America. It is very singable and can be accompanied in a number of ways. Yes, it may be played on organ or piano, but it is also frequently sung with a hand drum and unaccompanied flute. Care needs to be taken at the transition into the refrain with a long enough pause for breath before the refrain begins. This can be accomplished by slowing slightly in the measure before the refrain and inserting a cutoff at the break in the measure with enough time for a quick breath. Read History of Hymns: "'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" »
It Came upon the Midnight Clear
Having found as much use as an Advent hymn as a Christmas hymn, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” offers a clear sense of anticipation toward a time when peace shall rule over all the earth. The hymn begins with the angels’ song and moves toward text more reminiscent of the biblical language of the reign of God. This would serve as a great addition to the hymn singing of Christmas Day because it is a very well known hymn with themes of hope and peace. The best accompaniment for this hymn is either organ, piano, or unaccompanied SATB choir. Don’t let the tempo lag, however, because the sense of anticipation is enhanced by the busier feel of the 6/8 meter. Read History of Hymns: "It Came upon a Midnight Clear" »