Christmas In July Might Be Too Late

It’s been said that a great Sunday service starts the Monday before. Maybe a great Christmas service starts before December arrives.

Joey Santos reminds us that you can’t start planning too early:

Back in February, we had our first conference calls to talk about some of the elements and possible stage modifications. At that point we did not yet have a title or song selections, but this conversation was really important because it helped the worship pastor to identify what direction he would take on the song selections and who would sing them. For instance, at this point during our conversations early this year, we considered having the choir in a different formation onstage, separated in groups. As we progressed with our planning, we figured that it would be possible but not needed after the final design was done.

Granted, for smaller churches with fewer pieces to place, February may be a bit premature, but if you’re waiting until after the Black Friday deals to start planning Christmas, you may be waiting too long.

Click here to read Joey’s full post.

Christmas Songs That Are Easy To Sing

This past Friday was our annual Christmas banquet at church. As usual, I did a few Christmas carols for everyone to sing along with. But between taking my wife to the hospital that afternoon, running late at work the night before, and a million other little things, I somehow found myself standing in front of the church without having practiced either song.

I know, I know. I’m terrible.

But as I stood there looking at the lead sheet for “Angels We Have Heard On High,” all I could think was, “Wow, that’s a LOT of chords.”

I got through it. Sure, it’s been almost a year since I’ve done those songs, but I’ve done them plenty of times. Still, I think we can all admit that some Christmas songs are tricky to play or sing.

W. Zachary Taylor has some recommendations for Christmas songs that are easy to sing at Worship Current:

Realizing that you’re the one who chose the songs (that no one knows) is the absolute worst. I’ve been that person. So how do we keep Christmas worship fresh without creating a learning curve that no worshiper wants to encounter? Here’s a list of songs that will inspire your church. They’re familiar enough that people will get their Christmas-carol-fix and still sing a new song.

Go check it out.

Advent Roundup

With Advent underway and Christmas just around the corner, here are some resources for Advent that you may find helpful in your service planning and personal worship.

Advent

My friend and former bandmate Stephen Weaver challenges us to ask ourselves why we celebrate:

The story of how Christians tried to overlay Christmas on Saturnalia is a strange metamorphosis, and again it explains some of what seems like out of place traditions that we still hold on to… You can read more about that here. I guess the real question that needs answered for each of us is… Why do you/I celebrate Christmas?

Josh Poore on the songs of the season and the soundtracks to our lives:

For both parties, both jolly and glum, our Christmas songs must be approached differently… that is to say they shouldn’t be treated strictly as either welcome reminders of good times or painful reminders of bad times. Instead, if we are choosing them wisely, the rich poetry and memorable melodies of Advent hymns should place us, yet again, into glorious scene of the Nativity. There we will encounter the King of Kings being born, despite the infanticidal antics of a lunatic tyrant. There we will encounter a weary Israel sigh with relief, as the burden of longing is lifted at the coming of the Promised one. And there, in the humble arrival of the God-man, we will encounter a foreshadowing of His humble departure.

David Mathis reminds us that we must keep the cross in our minds as we look to the Savior’s birth:

As comfortable as it might be to parse out our celebrations and keep our holiday sentimentals in their own clearly labeled boxes, we cannot keep Bethlehem and Golgotha apart without losing what Christmas really is. There’s a place for focusing on the stable, the shepherds, and the wonder of the incarnation, but to appreciate the depth of what is happening here, we must keep Calvary’s hill on the horizon.

Stacey Gleddiesmith assures us that it’s okay if our Christmas isn’t perfect:

This Christmas, your kids are allowed to yell and be crazy and get dirty. Because kids are kids. Run around with them for a bit. Push them down a hill. Instead of cleaning your bathroom, make a few snow angels and some snow polar-bears OR a snow polar-angel-bear! Instead of washing your dishes, make two forts and pelt each other with snowballs. Let the kids stay up late. Let them help. When people look at you with raised eyebrows because your kids are over-tired and a little ill-behaved and your house is a mess, just tell them it’s my fault. Pick ONE thing to do in a day and throw away that list of “perfect family Christmas memories.” Don’t look at Pinterest.

Aaron Mitchum wrote a series of posts on the emotions of Advent:

Fear is the other part of “how much longer Lord!?”. It’s a feeling of it might not happen. Our anxiety can rise when we see the horror in our world. Fear is okay to bring out in worship. It’s a vulnerable emotion that needs reassurance and safety. To say we’re afraid is to say we trust God to take care of our fear. Anger is the stronger, secondary emotion that often fears produce. We lash out because it is less vulnerable; we are making our own safety that way.

NoiseTrade Worship Roundup

There’s always lots of good worship music on NoiseTrade, and more is being added all the time. Here’s our weekly roundup of the newest worship music available on NoiseTrade.

This week’s NoiseTrade roundup features lots of Christmas music and a chance to support relief efforts in the Philippines.

What great worship music have you found on NoiseTrade lately?

A Day Of Glory

Austin Stone Worship – A Day Of Glory

A Day Of Glory (Songs For Christmas) includes 10 songs from Austin Stone Worship, celebrating the incarnation of Jesus Christ our Savior. A mix of live and studio recordings, classic Christmas hymns and newly composed songs, A Day Of Glory was released on Nov 13, 2012, and features Aaron Ivey, Justin Cofield, Jimmy McNeal, and Todd Agnew.

Tristin Roberts – It Came Upon A Midnight Clear EP

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear EP by Tristin Roberts is an acoustic collection of some of Tristin Roberts favorite Christmas songs including “O Holy Night”, “The First Noel”, with two new original songs” Joy” & “Come Adore Him”. “Your Love” is also an original song of Roberts pointing it all back to the love of God who sent His son to redeem us.

Omaha Collective – Come And Worship: Christmas EP Vol 2

Merry Christmas! Our latest Christmas EP features three brand new arrangements from the Omaha Collective. Many thanks to our producer, Cody Villarreal, for coordinating this year’s effort.

Eternal Worship – Songs Of Advent [EP]

“‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word ‘adventus,’ meaning ‘coming.’ It’s the season where we wait in expectation and prepare for the celebration of the coming Messiah. It all starts here! We celebrate Jesus Christ being born; God coming down to earth and taking on human flesh. Salvation is coming! As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we can look forward to the salvation that has been purchased for us through His life, death, and resurrection here on earth. Christ has come to redeem a people for His own treasured possession, and it began with our Lord and King stepping down from His throne in Heaven and being born in a manger in Bethlehem. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

John Mark McMillan – Baby Son (Single)

John Mark McMillan – Original Christmas Single
100% of the Noisetrade tip proceeds on this song will support World Vision’s relief efforts in the Philippines!

WORDology – More Bible Songs For Kids

Our second album of Bible songs designed to be fun for kids to listen to and sing along with! For our lyrics, we draw from multiple Bible translations, and closely paraphrase key Scripture passages to helps kids become familiar and remember Bible passages. If you enjoy our music, please share with your friends!

The Unanswered Questions Of Christmas

When we think about the mysteries of Christmas, sometimes we can get tripped up in trivia. Like Marty Parks mentions at the beginning of his post Everything I Don’t Know About Christmas:

Like, whatever happened to Joseph? And where’d we ever get the idea that the innkeeper was a cruel, heartless old man? Or that Mary rode a donkey into Bethlehem? And the magi – were they kings? How many of them were there, and when exactly did they arrive in Bethlehem?

I’ve wondered about those things myself. That and why we still insist on including the Magi in the nativity when they clearly were not there.

But I digress.

We know the things about Christmas that ultimately matter the most, as Marty writes:

He is Emmanuel, God with us. Good news in times past and a fresh word of comfort for our world. An ancient promise … a prophecy fulfilled … a reality for today. He is The Word. What God speaks is revealed in what He does. The Word is God’s pronouncement of redemption in action.

That’s what really counts: God took on human form and walked among us, and became a sacrifice for all of us. And that’s a reason to worship!

Advent Roundup

With Advent underway and Christmas just around the corner, here are some resources for Advent that you may find helpful in your service planning and personal worship.

Timothy Paul Jones on why we celebrate Advent:

In a religious milieu that has fixated itself on using Jesus to provide seekers with their most convenient lives here and now, Advent is a particularly awkward intrusion. Advent links our hearts with those of ancient prophets who pined for a long-promised Messiah but who passed away long before his arrival. In the process, Advent reminds us that we too are waiting.

Jamie Brown shared three things we should strive for during Advent:

Some churches make a big deal of Advent and some churches skip over the whole thing and just start singing Christmas carols before people have even had a chance to finish their left-over Turkey. I’d like to make a case, in whatever church/denominational/liturgical setting you lead, that you try to aim for at least three things as you lead in Advent.

Toby Baxley on the frustration and the waiting during Advent:

I read a blog post where an author said that, as he has gotten older, he enjoys the anticipation of Christmas more than the holiday itself. I think that is by God’s design. We are forever yearning for another time, another place, another experience. Those yearnings will not be satisfied until our faith becomes sight and we are face to face with our Savior and Lord.

Cardiphonia has a great list of advent resources, from music to devotionals:

We have found that The Christian Year, particularly seasons such as Advent-Christmas, provides wonderful opportunities for us to rekindle our relationship with God and his people, and especially to focus on the quality of our worship as a church, as families, and as individuals.

Chris Vacher presents a novel idea: a Facebook Advent calendar:

Facebook can deliver this great message of Christmas in a way that people can find and share in a very simple way. I don’t need to tell you how many people from your church have Facebook accounts but stop for a minute and think about how many connections in your region/city/town – people who don’t go to your church – there are through Facebook. How many people in your area are people in your church connected to through Facebook? Probably a very high number. So why not use a great resource like Facebook to help reach those people in a medium they’re already used to engaging? This is what we’re trying at Compass this year.

Thanksgiving Eve Service

Tonight, my church will follow one of its annual traditions: the Thanksgiving Eve Service. Every year, this ends up being an amazing time of sharing and praying together.

It’s not a service that everybody comes to, between holiday preparations and travel plans. We usually end up with about a third of our regular congregation there. But the smaller size adds to the intimacy of the service.

I open the service with a few songs on the theme of thankfulness, then we open the floor for people to share what they’re thankful for. Every year, there are tears and laughter as we reflect on what God’s done in our lives over the past twelve months.

Then we do a few more songs and open the floor again. We close with one more song and then go home to get ready for Thanksgiving Day.

Actually, tonight we’re adding one more thing after the service: an ice cream sundae bar. 🙂

What does your church do for Thanksgiving?

A Thanksgiving Liturgy For Families

Trevor and Bonnie McMaken have put together a Thanksgiving liturgy for families and made it available on their website:

A couple of times my older cousins wrote out verses about being thankful on cards at each place and we read them before eating, but for whatever reason that never caught on. So, a few years ago when my Mom was hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first, Bonnie and I began to put together the liturgy below as a way to pray together as a family and give thanks on Thanksgiving.

This is really cool. It can be tough to know what to do with Thanksgiving, especially with so many other things going on, like meals, football, parades, and fellowship. This liturgy is a great resource for families that really want to take time at Thanksgiving focus on God.

Go check it out here.

Keeping Christmas Music Fresh

Every year at Christmas, many of trot out some of the same songs we’ve done every year. And then we strike the delicate balance between keeping that music fresh and keeping it familiar. Tim Smith has some tips for doing just that:

I know that your average congregation gets glutted with Christmas songs and ‘cheer’ even before Thanksgiving so it makes it difficult to get them to sing it ‘one more time’ at church. And then add in traditions, myths, legends, nostalgia, over-kill, consumerism, bad experiences (and the list goes on and on). These can all get in the way of a truly wonderful and spiritual experience (even though we’re Christians and this should be one of our most exciting moments – God incarnate now comes to earth!. So what does a weary worship pastor do?

He goes on to list three tips to make Christmas music better for everyone, by putting the focus on where it belongs: Jesus Christ. I especially liked this one:

Study the carols and their composers – Find out one significant thing about each carol you sing. Share it you’re your team. Then share it with the congregation before you sing it. For instance, Isaac Watts didn’t write ‘Joy to the World’ as a Christmas carol and probably didn’t sing it at Christmas. He wrote it as a new setting for Psalm 98. Look up and read Psalm 98 out loud before you sing ‘Joy to the World’ next time. In fact, play the music behind it while you read it to the congregation.

Really studying the words to traditional Christmas songs can shine new light on them. As Tim writes, it’s doubtful that Isaac Watts meant for “Joy To The World” to be sung only in December.

Go check out Tim’s post for more tips. Good stuff.