Podcast: Modern Christmas Hymns


Daniel: Welcome to Tomorrow’s Hymns, a podcast and website promoting theologically rich songs, deeply rooted in scripture. I’m Daniel Mount, a Christian author and songwriter, and this evening I am joined in the studio for the first time by my brother Michael Mount. How’s it going tonight?

Michael: Very well, thank you.

Daniel: Good! It’s kind of an exciting moment for me. Last time we did this through an internet service—we’re actually doing it face to face. We’re not exactly looking at each other, but we have two microphones set up in the same room, so that’s a step in the right direction.

Michael: Yeah!

Daniel: Well, thanks for being here tonight.

Michael: No problem.

Daniel: So, what we’re looking at today is, I created a playlist that we’re going to include in the show notes of this podcast that lists out some of the best modern Christmas hymns. Now some of these hymns are by people you recognize as modern hymn writers, people like Keith and Kristyn Getty and the writers of Sovereign Grace Music and Stuart Townend—they have some excellent Christmas hymns—but there’s also some from writers you might never have heard of in this list. Some that were a surprise to us as we put this list together. And we’re going to go through a couple of these songs, spotlight a few, and spotlight a few also at the end that, you know, some songs work better for congregational singing, other songs are a little more challenging to sing, or maybe lyrically they aren’t quite as good for a whole congregation to sing, and they work better as a solo. So, we’ll start off by spotlighting a couple of really strong modern congregational Christmas songs, and then we’ll move from that, talk about a couple of solos you could work in this season or in a future season. So, Michael, why don’t you lead us off.

Michael: Sure. We’ll start with “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery.” Now I don’t usually think of this one as a Christmas song, but like many of the Christmas hymns of old, it starts with the birth of Christ. And it carries through with the story of the gospel, through our resurrection. Both the melody and lyrics are simple and easy for a congregation to grasp. All around, I think it’s a very well-written song.

Daniel: Yes, I really like the way this song is structured. It starts with Jesus’ first coming, the incarnation, and then the second verse, his living a sinless life in our place, moves on to the cross, moves on to the resurrection. It’s a great hymn all around to sing any season of the year, but it’s a great hymn to sing in this season too.

So, there are a couple I wanted to spotlight that are faster. “Sing Me the Song of Emmanuel” by Matt Boswell, “How Suddenly a Baby Cries” by Keith and Kristyn Getty, in any season, whether its Christmas or any other season, churches usually don’t want to sing only slow songs and, realistically, a lot of hymns, and a lot of modern hymns, and a lot of Christmas songs are kind of slow. These are two of the best of the faster modern Christmas hymns. Michael, what do you have up next?

Michael: “There Blooms a Rose in Bethlehem.” The greatest advent hymns have a lot in common, including beautiful and distinctive music, and lyrical imagery. This song covers all the bases and has the potential to become a classic.

Daniel: Yeah, I thought that since the first time I heard it, and as you saw as we were preparing our notes for this, that song’s on my top three also. It’s based on an old hymn, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” That’s a nice hymn, and I have to admit, I’m a little biased against rewrites of classic hymns. I think they almost never improve on the original, but this one does. It’s rare, but it does, and it develops the imagery of the rose so well through the story of our redemption all the way to the closing two lines are just—they deserve to be classics: “So those who place their faith in Him, Shall blossom from the grave.” That’s just richly poetic and richly theological.

Michael: Yes.

Daniel: So another one I wanted to spotlight is one we both like and as a matter of fact, just a couple minutes ago, we were practicing this song to introduce in our own church’s December 23 Christmas program. And this song is “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable” by Stuart Townend. You’ll also see it sometimes listed as “Immanuel.”

Isaiah 7:14 says “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” So this song develops that concept so well. There have been a number of songs—the Bob McGee’s praise hymn, Michael Card’s wonderful song—I’ve heard a number of good songs on the topic and theme of Immanuel, God with us, but this song develops the theme of Immanuel as well as any song I’ve ever heard address this theme, because it builds it verse to verse.

Verse 1, Immanuel, God with us at his birth. Verse 2, Immanuel, God with us as he walked our roads and he felt our pain. Verse 3, we have Immanuel, God with us as he bore our sin in our place, and then verse 4, we have the second coming, his glorious appearing, Immanuel, God with us for eternity.

It’s profound theology, but it’s also exquisite craftsmanship.

Michael: Yes, I agree.

Daniel: It’s just a great song.

Daniel: So we thought we’d also spotlight a few songs that might be a little too complicated to sing as a congregation, or maybe the lyrics fit a soloist better than a corporate setting, and so I have a couple; you have a couple. One I really like is a song called “Grace Has a Face.” It’s hope has hands, grace has a face, talking about the incarnation. It was originally recorded by a group called the Hoppers back in 2001, been done by a couple of other groups since, one of the easiest versions to find is Greater Vision’s version a couple of years ago. Sometimes you’ll see it titled “Hope Has Hands,” sometimes you’ll see it titled “Grace Has a Face.”

Then from another style of music, Selah’s song, “Mystery,” has a soaring melody, a richly theological, beautiful lyric.

Finally, I’ll mention a song called “Getting Ready for a Baby,” which has a country-style lyric, in a modern hymn structure, which is an odd combination, but once you understand the writers who are involved, makes perfect sense. Lee Black who was involved in writing this song is a modern hymn writer through and through, he writes other styles, but he’s excellent at writing modern hymns, and you have, Sue C. Smith was involved, an excellent songwriter in a number of styles of music, and Jerry Salley who is a great country songwriter. So you see Jerry’s influence on the lyric, Lee’s influence on the hymn structure, and especially the bridge—really powerful words. Michael, I think you had a few that stood out to you too.

Michael: Yes. “Welcome to Our World” by Chris Rice.

Daniel: Oh, I love that.

Michael: It’s a beautiful song. “Who Would Have Dreamed” by Sovereign Grace, this one’s more in the range you could potentially sing it as a congregation…

Daniel: Yes…

Michael: But I feel it’s probably better as a special. And then “Isaiah 11” by Rain For Roots.

Daniel: That song really surprised me a couple of days ago. I was doing some research, looking around on Spotify for songs to put in the playlist that we’ll be including in the show notes, came across this song, and I couldn’t stop playing it—I played it the rest of the day, pretty much.

Michael: Yeah, same here, I hadn’t heard it until just a few days ago when you sent it over to me. It’s pretty, really a catchy song.

Daniel: It’s catchy, it’s straight from scripture. It’s theological. It’s a good song.

Michael: Yeah.

Daniel: Alright. Well, there’s actually quite a few more songs than these on the playlist, so whether you’re checking the playlist out in the show notes, on your favorite podcast app, or whether you’re checking them out on tomorrowshymns.com you can take a listen. There’s quite a few modern Christmas hymns we think you’ll enjoy this season.

Daniel: Thank you for listening to the Tomorrow’s Hymns podcast. You can follow us at tomorrowshymns.com or on your favorite podcast app. And if you have questions or ideas, things you’d like us to cover, you can reach me at [email protected].


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