10 Powerful Hymns to Help Prepare Your Heart for Christmas

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
10 Powerful Hymns to Help Prepare Your Heart for Christmas

Hymns and carols have long been a part of Christmas. Hymns, in general, are written to praise God for who He is or what He has done, and Christmas hymns are created to help the church express faith during Advent.

Carols are typically in a more festive style with various Christmas or winter themes. Then there are some Christmas songs that are neither hymns nor carols. There are reportedly almost 10,000 songs on the subject of Christmas, but not all are Christian or biblically accurate. Listening to Christmas hymns is one of the beautiful traditions of Christmas, and singing along to the music fills our hearts with joy and helps us focus on the true meaning of Christmas. 

Here are some suggested Christmas hymns and Christian songs to listen to this holiday season. Because musical tastes vary so widely, both traditional and more contemporary suggestions are included.

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Nativity scene

1. Silent Night

The words of this treasured hymn were written in 1816 by a young country priest in what would be present-day Austria. Joseph Mohr wrote the song when people longed for peace and calm, not long after the Napoleonic wars. The melody was composed by schoolmaster and organist Franz Xaver Gruber. According to legend, it was first performed with guitar — because the organ was broken — on Christmas Eve in 1818 at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf as “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” 

The hymn describes the birth of Jesus: the nativity scene, the shepherds, and the heavenly host proclaiming the birth of the Savior on the night “love’s pure light” entered our dark, sinful world. It invites us to picture that holy night, bright with the angel’s light, but also wonderfully calm. 

The Winchester Cathedral Choir in Winchester, England, sings a beautiful traditional version of the hymn. Click here to listen.

A more contemporary but equally reflective version is by the group Pentatonix. Click here to listen.

Also, for those who find themselves brokenhearted or struggling during the Christmas season, a poignant but lovely song is “Somewhere in Your Silent Night,” written by Mark Hall, Bernie Herms and Matthew West, and sung by Casting Crowns. Click here to listen.

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manger or creche on hay in evening fog

2. Away in a Manger

The origins of this Christmas song are controversial, with some attributing it to Martin Luther, and others saying it is a product of German Lutherans in Pennsylvania about 1885. In another controversy, some people point to a phrase in the song about Jesus — “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” — saying it is poor theology, since all babies cry and to suggest otherwise of Jesus is a nod toward Gnosticism. 

Yet “Away in a Manger” continues as a comforting song for children at Christmas. It includes prayers for God’s protection of His “dear children” and that Jesus would “fit us for heaven” to live with Him there. Christmas is a good time to consider how our Lord is doing that in the hearts of His followers.

Two versions of the song (American and British) appear in one video sung by the ensemble Creative Trio —  three Australian children of British, Chinese, and Indonesian ethnicity. Click here to listen. 

A more contemporary version by Phil Wickham, “Away in a Manger (Forever Amen)” reminds us that the King of Heaven is “forever with us.” Click here to listen.

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Christmas decoration, letters spelling noel

3. The First Noel

The traditional classic English carol is thought to have originated in Cornwall, southwest England, as part of the “Miracle Plays” — early religious theater in the 13th or 14th century. The song was revived from a 1823 Christmas carols publication, with new lyrics by Davies Gilbert and a new arrangement by William Sandys. The word “noel” comes from the Latin word natalis, which means “birthday.” The word “noel” is the “early modern” synonym for Christmas.

The song expresses the excitement and wonder of that first Christmas, but doesn’t stop at the manger. It also reminds us that our mighty heavenly Lord who “hath made heaven and earth of nought” (from nothing) also redeemed mankind “with His blood.” 

An old, traditional version was sung by the amazing Mahalia Jackson in 1968 and it is worth listening to. Click here to listen.

A more modern version, titled simply “Noel,” was written by Chris Tomlin and sung by Lauren Daigle. Click here to listen.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Caroline Hernandez

Christmas angel ornament

4. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

The lyrics to this song first appeared in 1739 in a book of hymns and sacred poems. The poem was adapted in 1753 by preacher George Whitefield, a friend to John and Charles Wesley; and Charles Wesley created the hymn as we know it today. 

The profound message of Jesus’ nativity is timeless and hope-filled, and the song offers at least two other theological concepts: Jesus emptying Himself to become the God-man — “the incarnate Deity” — and reconciliation with God through the second birth. Jesus was “born that man no more may die.”

Keith and Kristyn Getty performed a traditional, decidedly Irish-sounding version of the song — complete with Irish reel dancing — as part of a Christmas broadcast. Click here to listen.

For a contemporary take on the song, “Hark the Herald (Sing Out Loud),” listen to The Spirituals Choir, who reimagined the carol. Click here to listen.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Irina Chernysh

starry night sky with clouds and crescent moon

5. O Holy Night

In 1847, the French song “Cantique de Noel” was written by Adolphe Adam, and a decade later, an American minister, John Sullivan Dwight, translated the lyrics into English. Dwight was an abolitionist, and he was struck by the powerful lyrics in the second verse: “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother. . . . And in his name, all oppression shall cease.” The song was first played on the radio in 1906 on Christmas Eve. Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden read the nativity story and then played “O Holy Night” on his violin. 

Beyond imagining the nativity scene on that holy night, Christians love and are thankful for the truth that, in Jesus, we have a Rescuer who can break the power of sin and pave the way for all oppression to cease in His name.

A wonderful representation of this hymn is by American singer and songwriter Josh Groban. Click here to listen.

Another inspiring version is by The McClures with a large choir gathering. Click here to listen.

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Jeweled crown on a Bible

6. O Come All Ye Faithful

A number of people reportedly contributed to this hymn, but seven manuscripts containing the Latin hymn appear to be written and signed by John Francis Wade. The song appeared in the Hymnal for Use in the English Church in 1852 under the long title “Let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass (Luke 2:15).” 

The song calls believers to come and behold the “King of angels” — the King of Heaven — to celebrate His wondrous birth. Christ-followers today still come into the presence of Jesus to adore and worship Him as Savior and Lord.

An entertaining traditional version, to view as well as hear, is performed by The Five Strings in a sweet “epic flash mob” at several family’s homes. Click here to listen

A worshipful version, “O Come All Ye Faithful (His Name Shall Be)” is sung by Passion, featuring Melodie Malone. Click here to listen.

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Mary and Baby Jesus

7. Mary, Did You Know?

“Mary, Did You Know?” is a more recent Christmas song. The lyrics were written by Mark Lowry in 1984 as a script for a church Christmas play. It includes a series of questions Lowry said he would like to ask Mary, Jesus’ mother. In 1991, Buddy Greene wrote the music for the song. 

Mary pondered much in her heart, but this song reveals there was more to the nativity than the baby in her arms. Jesus is “the great I AM,” and the “Lord of all creation” who will one day rule the nations. At Christmas, we might rightly ask, “Am I allowing Jesus to rule in my heart?”

Although the song has been performed by more than thirty artists, Mark Lowry sang it powerfully with the Gaither Vocal Band. Click here to listen.

A sweet version is sung by the One Voice Children’s Choir, children from many countries. Click here to listen.

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Christmas sheet music for o come o come emmanuel with jingle bells

8. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

This haunting 9th-century hymn, originally in Latin, harkens back to the monastic chants as an antiphon, a short song or recitation before or after a psalm or canticle. “O Emmanuel” — which was sung on Christmas Eve — was one of the “O antiphons” designed to help Christians focus on the meaning of Christmas. The modern version was translated by J. M. Neale, and hymnals have employed many textual variations.

The word “Emmanuel” (some versions say “Immanuel”) is found in both Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23, and it means “God with us.” The hymn serves as a prayer about the Messiah’s birth and His second coming. The lyrics remind us of many messianic promises, alluded to by the concepts “wisdom from on high,” the “mighty” God, the Branch of Jesse, the key of David, the “Bright and Morning Star,” the “King of nations,” and the “King of Peace.” In our sin-ravaged world, Christians long for Emmanuel’s return.

A traditional version, slow and reflective with violin and mandolin, is by Rosemary Siemens and Kristen Bearfield. Click here to listen.

Danny Gokey presents a Motown Gospel version that begins quietly and then erupts into an anthem of rejoicing as he sings, “God is with us!” Click here to listen.

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Excited woman outside at Christmastime

9. Joy to the World

English minister and hymnist Isaac Watts wrote this song in 1719, based on his interpretation of Psalm 98, a song of praise and joy. He said verse four stirred his soul: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.”

However, though this song is sung at Christmas, it’s actually not about the incarnation of Christ. It’s about the second coming. At the first coming, sin and sorrow ruled and Jesus was rejected, not received by the world. At the second coming, all the world will see the mighty King and bow before Him (Philippians 2:9-10). The truth is, without the first coming, there would not be a second coming — hence, the Christmas connection in the song.

This hymn stirs our hearts, encouraging us to express our joyful gratitude, live in anticipation of the Lord’s soon return, and prepare our hearts for His coming.

A traditional version by The Bach Choir sounds a bit like Handel’s creations. Click here to listen.

One & All Worship has a rendition titled “Joy to the World (Joyful, Joyful)” that will get your toes tapping and your heart soaring. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNYPuVU2uAE 

Photo credit: Pixabay

Angel blowing a golden trumpet

10. Hallelujah from Messiah

Handel’s Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel as an Easter oratorio in 1740. Since the early 19th century, its “Christmas section,” which includes the jubilant “Hallelujah” chorus, has been co-opted by church choirs and concert halls for Christmas programs. 

Although Handel’s total work has great emotional impact and includes many solos, the “Hallelujah” invites Christians everywhere to join in as a testimony to the majesty of the Lord, the Messiah. As people remember Jesus will triumph over evil, they cannot help but sing praises to Him.

An entire work, The New Young Messiah, keys off of Handel’s work; but a beautiful version of the traditional “Hallelujah Chorus” was recorded by the Gramophone Chorus from Gramophone Ghana Academy. Click here to listen.

For another song that points to the Messiah, consider this lyric video of Francesca Battistelli’s emotionally-stirring “Messiah.” Click here to listen

Christmas is a wonderful time to purposefully expand our music list. Skyline Chill Music created a powerful compilation of Christmas hymns in one video that summons deep emotions. More than 1,000 people came together to sing in the video, featuring The Piano Guys. Be sure to check it out and be blessed! Click here to listen.

Whatever your musical taste, allow the music of Christmas to fill your thoughts and heart, and renew your grateful praises to the One who was sent to be our wonderful Savior!

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Dawn Wilson 1200x1200Dawn Wilson has served in revival ministry and missions for more than 50 years. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com.