Originally published December 13, 2019
Christmas – there’s no other holiday in which music plays such a major role. And what a blessing that so much of the music of Christmas centers around the incarnation of our Savior! At no other time of the year are you likely to turn on a secular radio station or walk into a store and hear songs about Jesus. It’s one of the things that makes Christmas music so special.
You’ve heard my picks for the ten worst Christmas songs (and volume 2!) and my top ten favorites, and you’ve asked for more! So, here, in no particular order, and according to nothing other than my own preferences, is my next round of nominations for the ten best Christmas songs ever.
Need a playlist? Here you go!
(Note: I do not necessarily endorse all of the songwriters or performers listed below, the churches/organizations they represent, any other songs they may have written or performed, or their theology. If you decide to follow any of these people or groups, check out their theology first to make sure it’s biblical.)
Joy to the World
As Christians, many things in this life bring us sadness and discouragement: grief over our sin, prodigal children, death of loved ones, persecution, suffering. There is no better antidote to our sorrows than to focus on the joy we have in Christ. This is a beautiful, classical-style rendition of Joy to the World.
Light of the Stable
I love this song’s upbeat focus on Jesus as Light, King, and Savior. I can almost imagine myself in Bethlehem, bowing down before my infant King.
What Christmas music collective would be complete without Silent Night? Does your congregation sing this hymn at your Christmas Eve service or other special worship times? Grace Community Church does, and they sound just lovely.
Come on Ring those Bells
Were you even a Christian in the 80’s if you didn’t have Evie’s Christmas album? This song probably sounds cheesy to younger ears today, but approaching the birth of Christ as “the greatest celebration of them all” definitely has a nice ring to it. (Yes, I went there. :0)
There’s an undeniable evangelism motif in the story of Christ’s birth. Gabriel told Mary about Jesus. The angels told the shepherds the good news. And the shepherds…well they told everyone what they’d witnessed. That’s the theme of this Great Commission toe-tapper: GO. TELL.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
In the eyes of the world, Bethlehem was nothing special. It wasn’t the center of commerce or the seat of governmental power. It was just a little town of no consequence. Until…Jesus. This song, sung so delightfully by these four brothers in Christ, reminds us that Jesus is what makes the ordinary… extraordinary.
Beautiful Star of Bethlehem
In a magnificent use of metaphor, this song casts Jesus Himself as the beautiful “star” of Bethlehem. And indeed, for Believers, Jesus is that “star divine,” lighting and guiding the way “unto the land of perfect day,” when we finally see Him, in all of His glory, face to face.
Jesus was fully God, but sometimes we forget that He was also fully man. And not just fully man, but an ordinary, nondescript man. He was approachable, not elite. Personable, not intimidating. Accessible to kings and paupers alike. The Erwin siblings deliver this simple song with smooth and mellow charm.
We Are the Reason
The tradition of Christmas time gift giving is an homage to the gifts the wise men gave Jesus. But what about the “greatest gift of our lives” that Jesus gave us? He gave all He could give to us: His life, forgiveness of sin, salvation. Avalon handily dusts off this CCM classic and freshens it up for a 21st century audience.
O Holy Night
Christ, the thrill of hope, entered our darkened world on that holy night so long ago. As the soft, plaintive melody gradually swells into a great and glorious crescendo, we are reminded of how long the world pined away in sin and error, punctuated by the resplendent arrival of her Savior and King, much the same way we await His second coming today.
Bonus Nomination: Best Christmas Album
This is largely a nostalgic, rather than theological, nomination. My favorite Christmas record album growing up was Have a Happy Holiday with Lorne Greene. If you appreciate a classic, masculine baritone, you’ll want to grab a copy. (I still have mine!)
In part 1 of the album – The Stories of Christmas – Lorne reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and The Gift of the Magi. Part 2 – The Songs of Christmas – includes Home for the Holidays, Jingle Bells, Christmas Is A-Comin’, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Part 3 – The Holy Night: A Christmas Cantata – (below) is a reading of the birth narrative from the gospels interspersed with various Christmas carols. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I still do.