Wow! It's nearly Christmas time, how did that happen? Some familiar songs may be on your lips already. This Sunday you may even sing one... that's right - a Christmas carol. But why do we keep singing them year in, year out? Should we still be singing them in church? This month, Nathan Fellingham asks the question 'Do Christmas Carols count as worship?'
This is the time of year when many service leaders, music directors and worship leaders find their minds full of a different kind of song list to that which tends to be the norm. Themes turn to shepherds and mangers, Kings and stables—and how did we figure out how to rhyme frankincense with presence again?
To consider the question of whether ‘Carols are worship’ is of course not much different to asking ‘How long is a piece of string?’ Nonetheless, pondering the question does allow some fruitful reflection on creativity, the nature of worship and the importance of remembering and telling our story of salvation.
Turning attention to singing carols is a fantastic opportunity for creativity to be unleashed in a broader way than can sometimes be evident in corporate worship. Carols often have more chords than your average contemporary worship song. Rather than seeing this as an inconvenience, it can instead provide opportunity to learn a little more about harmony.
To perhaps learn the more complex chords in verse three of ‘O Come Let us adore Him’ which need to be played if people are singing the descant (the melody doesn’t make much sense if the chords are simplified too much here). Or to be stirred by the mediant diminished chord which can be used when you get to ‘Word of the Father’ in the final verse.
Speaking of the descant, carols provide opportunity for singing in harmony. Those with soprano voices and a dash of courage can float over the top of the rest of the congregation. Or there may be others who know the alto, tenor or bass parts for certain carols. Singing in harmony is, I believe, a powerful enactment of the unity in diversity which is a mark of the triune nature of the God of creation. We as human beings will greatly benefit from not losing the art of how to do this.
As well as drawing from some of these more traditional musical ingredients, creativity can also be shown through trying out fresh arrangements, grooves and instrumentation. Could there be people in your worship team who could be tasked with seeking ways to bring familiar melodies to life in new ways?
Worship is however more than singing songs together, as important as that is. It is the way we conduct ourselves in the whole of our lives lived out to the glory of God. Preparation for carol services or other special Christmas events provides opportunity to give our time, energy and resources in a way that demonstrates how much we love and want to serve our Lord and Saviour.
The hours spent writing parts, the multiple rehearsals and the practising of funny chords are all demonstrations of worship, while doing so with a heart to serve and not complain. It’s true that this is the case all year around, but the additional work that often goes into events and services during this season can emphasise this important aspect of our worship.
One of the first songs recorded in the Bible is Moses recounting God’s miraculous rescue from the pursuit of the Egyptians. Sung worship provides opportunity for his people to sing the songs of salvation. But carols seem to allow for a particularly detailed telling of the story. This is an important reminder of the specificity of our faith.
It’s not just belief in a vague transcendent spirituality. It is belief in the enfleshed son of God, who was born at a specific time of history and whose life, death, resurrection and ascension have massive life altering impact on all who look to Him. As we sing carols, we can ponder these details and allow our hearts to be caught up in the wonder of the story.
The way in which the church worships is also a demonstration to the watching world. At a time in the year where many are looking in and being drawn towards churches, even if for purely sentimental reasons, it’s a moment where the church can demonstrate the deeper reality that many carols articulate and testify to so well.
To sum-up, the singing of carols can facilitate worship of God in a number of different ways. These are just a few, but hopefully these thoughts can help us in a season which can actually leave us rather overwhelmed with busyness and where it’s possible to find ourselves ‘going through the motions.’ And hopefully the singing of carols can help us both remember and proclaim, with a sincere heart and full assurance of faith, that Jesus really is the one in whom all our hope is found and all our fears are stilled.