Make Christmas special

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]

Christmas this year falls on a Sunday — make it Special with a song-list that is totally different to the usual Sunday’s Praise and Worship selection. Seize the opportunity to sing Christmassy songs about the birth of Jesus and what this means to our sin-ravaged world. 

Songs that explain the incarnation, the en-fleshment of God who entered humanity on that first Christmas: The Word who is God became flesh and pitched His tent among us for  When Christ came into the world He said (to His Father) A body You prepared for Me… I have come to do Your will… and by that will we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all — John 1:1,14; Hebrews 10:5-10.

I suggest you find and sing songs that meet the standard Colossians 3:16 criteria, but this time in the context of Christmas:

1) The lyrics present and apply the Christmas Message — “the word of Christ”.  Songs that praise and worship Jesus in Christmas incarnational terms. Songs that “teach one another in all wisdom” about the deeper meaning of Christmas. Songs that “admonish”, rebuke and correct our unChristmassy selfishness and materialism.

2) Singability. Find and sing songs that are easy for the congregation to sing “to one another”. Avoid congregational songs with long instrumental riffs, quirky tunes and irregular rhythms — these are best left to performers on the platform.

Christmas carols provide tried and tested examples of “singable songs”, examples that can set the standard for all congregational songs throughout the year.  Remember that  “congregational singing” is a special genre of song, as distinct from other genres as hip-hop is from Handel’s Messiah.

“Congregational singing” is not the preserve of professional musicians. It belongs to the ordinary people who make up the average congregation.  Outside the Church, it thrives in many forms.  I list five of these:   Camp-fire singalongs … Folk songs … Nursery rhyme songs … Struggle songs and … yes, Christmas carols.

Pick ‘n Pay is not a Church! Yet this Christmas their promotional theme song is an adaptation of a popular Christmas Carol Little Drummer Boy. They title it Pa rum pum pum. They have brought the world-renowned singing group  Ladysmith Black Mambazo on board, and snatches of their singing are heard in their stores and in TV adverts. I haven’t been able to locate their adapted lyric, but here are the lyrics of the original carol, written by  Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958 (* = pa rum pum pum):

“Come”, they told me * “a new-born King to see”. * Our finest gifts we bring * to lay before the King. *** Little baby, * I am a poor boy too. * I have no gift to bring * that’s fit to give our King. *** Shall I play for You * on my drum? Mary nodded. * The ox and lamb kept time. * I played my drum for Him, * I played my best for Him. *** Then He smiled at me * me and my drum.

Pick n Pay invites the public to listen to the song on You-tube, and then to submit a video of them singing along with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  If this isn’t a Singable Song, there isn’t one!  Singable par excellence!

What makes it singable?  Its easy flowing tune and its regular rhythm. Any song that follows these two criteria will be easily, readily sung by the average congregation. But songs that do not meet these criteria will not be easy for ordinary people to sing.

They may become award-winning hits, and have good CD sales-figures, but they don’t go down well on the lips of congregations. By all means, enjoy them when sung by practiced platform performers up front, but don’t expect congregations to sing-along with robust enthusiasm.

And does Little Drummer Boy meet that first criterion: 1) The lyrics present and apply the Christmas Message – “the word of Christ”???  I believe it does: The magi presented gifts to the new-born King Jesus (Matt 2:11). Jesus himself taught It is more blessed to give than to receive — Acts 20: 35. It illustrates  Romans 12:4-8, where we are urged to use, with enthusiasm, whatever ability we have in the service of Jesus.

So, as you prepare for good congregational singing “to one another” and with “gratitude in your hearts to God” on Christmas Sunday, avoid the every-Sunday songs, and make Christmas special” with a special selection of quality Christmas carols that are rich in God’s Word, and singable by the whole congregation!  Then sing-along with enthusiastic hearts in a uniquely Christmas way!

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