Lately I’ve seen a lot of people blogging about christmas carols… specifically church leaders weighing in on either the value of, or lack thereof. In our churches there are always going to be people who love carols and desperatly want to sing them (see carols part I), and people who hate them and would be happy to never sing one again. Because both parties (carol lovers and carol haters) are sitting in the seats of our churches each week, I think it is important for us to all evaluate the pros and cons of carols in order to make wise choices – not just default choices. So here are my 2 cents.
1. Carols at their best draw us into the story so that we can begin to relive the miracle of Christmas. The language is descriptive and attention is given to the surroundings. It is classic story telling through song.
2. Carols are a lousy source of theology. Theology in worship music will be a topic for another time; however, I’ve read many blogs this last week saying, “we shouldn’t ditch carols because they have great theology in them”. No they don’t. Sorry, but most carols are kinda dodgy in the whole theology area. And I think we need a better reason to sing them than just “theology”. A lot of modern songs do just as good a job, if not better, of conveying a theology of the incarnation. But again, I think we need more than theology to justify songs especially since no song has ever or will ever paint a complete theological picture. Plus, how can we decide on what “good theology” in a song is if none of us can even agree on what “good theology” is. Sure we may all think that our point of view is right, but what’s good theology for you might be a bit crap for me, and chances are we are both equal measures of “right” and “wrong”. I’m not saying that theology isn’t important, but it can’t be everything… especially if the depth of theology is lost on the medium. Whatever… another time, Shawn, another time.
3. Carols carry a lot of traditional clout and can be a great tool for breaking down barriers, because almost everyone has some wonderful memory attached to carols; memories of childhood, family, and all the wonderful things that Christmas embodies.
4. Carols carry a lot of traditional clout and can be so familiar to people that they disengage as soon as you start singing them. I think almost every worship leader has experienced this at some point. You go into a rousing rendition of Joy to the World, only to look out at the congregation and see a lot of moving mouths and vacant eyes. Carols are often so much a part of the Christmas experience that its easy for the mind to get distracted and the muscle memory of our mouths to go into default mode.
For me, I really like combining carols with modern songs in a set to create a full picture of the journey and epic-ness of Christmas (I also really like rearranging them to make them a little more musically engaging), and to make sure that Jesus is the subject of our praise, not just nostalgia. Then, I’ll do all carols on Christmas Eve because Christmas Eve is a time to reflect and feel warm and happy. It’s a time to remember the story. Also, if you’ve teased people with just a few carols all December, by the time you get to Christmas Eve, they will still be kinda fresh… in that really old kinda fresh way. Here’s an example of my first set in December:
Here I Am To Worship (“Light of the world you stepped down into darkness…” – Christmas in a sentence.)
God of Wonders (nothing is more wondrous than the incarnation)
O Come O Come Emmanuel (my arrangement… I like it)
This Is Our God (This is the one we have waited for… that’s what Christmas is all about – very cool contrast to the waiting expressed in O Come O Come Emmanuel.. I quite like how these two songs interact).
Still (the sermon was about waiting, expectation, and the need to “be still and know”.)
It was a great morning, in my opinion. The songs totally gelled and created a great, overall sense of Christmas without being redundantly redundant… or so I thought.
I’ve also heard the argument that it’s good to work your way up to carols on Christmas Eve in order to really drive home the point of the advent season, which is anticipating the coming of the Christ. It’s hard to create anticipation if you shoot your wad on the first weekend of December.
Anyways, hefty subject. I’m still wrestling through a lot of it. Let me know what you think. I have more great stories that I will share as the days go by. Sorry for being so long-winded.