The Top 5 Most Moving Christmas Songs I Listen To

The Top 5 Most Moving Christmas Songs I Listen To December 7, 2014

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 It’s almost Christmas! With that, comes Christmas music– music is one of those things for me that can make or break my holiday spirit. This year I was determined to have a good holiday season, so I started listening to Christmas music a bit earlier than most years.

 Of course, when it comes to Christmas music there’s all the traditional songs that tend to make the holiday special and remind us of timeless tradition. But then, there’s some lesser known Christmas songs that I believe can really enhance your Christmas spirit– because they certainly do mine.

While I love traditional Christmas music, there are 5 songs that I absolutely need to listen to over the holidays, and they aren’t the traditional go-to Christmas songs. For me however, they’ve become part of my own personal tradition- and really have a way of moving something deep inside me. In case you aren’t familiar with these, I wanted to introduce you to my top 5 favorite Christmas songs in hopes that they’ll make your Christmas brighter too.

 

5. Our God Is With Us (Steven Curtis Chapman)

This song comes from one of my favorite all-time Christmas albums, and is one that I find profoundly moving as it reminds me of the of the implications of the incarnation:

“But for all of us who journey through the dark abyss of loneliness,

There comes a great announcement: we are never alone!

For the maker of each heart that breaks, the giver of each breath we take

Has come to earth, and given hope its birth.”

I’ll often find myself singing this song in the car and mediating on the truth that we are never alone because of that first Christmas, and will usually be overcome with emotion as that truth sinks in. This is why it’ll always be in my top 5: I need that reminder.

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4. Heirlooms  (Amy Grant)

This song comes from the single Christmas album that I just couldn’t do without– send me to a desert island and allow me to bring one Christmas album, and this one is it. It’s special to me because growing up this was one of the only albums (and I actually mean “album”) we had, and I’ll always remember my mom breaking it out at Christmas and putting it on the record player. My favorite song from that album is called “Heirlooms” and is a reminder that family and faith are among the most important things in life– and should be at Christmas as well.

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3. Magnificat / Mary’s Song: (Christy Nockles)

This song is one that has only come to me in recent years, and has quickly made the list of songs I absolutely need to listen to at Christmas. What I love about this song is that it’s really just scripture set to music. When The Blessed Mary finds out that she will be the mother of the Messiah, scripture records for us her response– and it’s a beautiful poem with countless gems that we have often failed to see. I’d invite you to open your Bible to the Magnificat (starting in in Luke 1:46) and listen to the song as you read the original words of Mary– it’s a powerful, powerful passage of liberation– which is  the central theme throughout the entire Bible, reaching its climax with the incarnation of Christ:

“He has filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich he has sent empty away.

He has remember his servant, Israel,

And we will remember him always. Always.

Praise the Almighty God, He’s done great things for us!

His mercy is free for those who fear his justice,

May generation to generation loudly proclaim his fame.”

So, listen to this beautiful song and spend some time thinking about how Mary saw this child in her belly as the promised liberation of the lowly:

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2. This Is All I Have To Give (Todd Agnew)

This song actually comes from the same album as #3, and reveals part of the incarnation story from the position of the man who adopted Jesus– a perspective we rarely consider or talk about. But what about Joseph? This uses beautiful imagination to help us wonder what that moment must have been like for the man often standing in the shadows of the Christmas story– it’s a beautiful song that I, as a dad via adoption, find especially powerful:

“I always hoped you’d have my eyes,

Maybe a bit of skill of my hands…

But as I look into your eyes,

I see that your hands created mine.

This is all I have to give:

You can share my home and bear my name.

This is not how you should live,

The Song of God has become the Son of Man,

And this is all I have to give.”

Have a listen, and consider this alternate perspective of what must have gone through Joseph’s mind:

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1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

For some reason, I was completely unfamiliar with this song growing up– maybe it’s a new one for you too. What I love about it beyond the message is that it is steeped in rich history before it was turned into a Christmas hymn set to melody. The song is astoundingly beautiful in Latin (Veni, Veni, Emmanuel) and equally beautiful in English. Perhaps the most powerful versions of this song are those of Celtic flavor, which is why Enya’s is one of my absolute favorites– a mix of English and Latin. However, I’d really recommend checking out some other versions on YouTube, as this song has many beautiful renditions. The key reasons why this makes the top of my list are: (a) the rich history of the text (b) the stirring melody that often accompanies it, and (c) it expresses this central theme of liberation which is absolutely crucial to understanding the story of the Bible:

“O come, o come, Emmanuel,

To free your captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Oh, Israel,

To you shall come Emmanuel.”

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Those are the top 5 Christmas songs that I absolutely need to listen to at Christmas– songs that get me in the spirit to not only enjoy the season but more importantly, facilitate a spirit of worship as I prepare to celebrate the moment where God became flesh and walked among us.

I hope listening to them will enhance your holidays as well, as together we celebrate the incarnation.

Continuing in the comments: what are some of the songs that you find especially powerful at Christmas?

 

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  • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

    Your number 1 and mine are the same. Adore that one. It’s like it’s reaching out from the past for me.

  • Procrastin8er

    Well known, but maybe taken for granted is O Holy Night… “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease” (drops mic, walks off stage)

  • Herm

    Thank you Ben, for sharing these everlasting gifts! They now grace my computer and will be passed on. Love you!

  • I probably listen to more of Enya’s music than any other artist, so I definitely agree with your #1 choice.

    I was just introduced to this Christmas song last year and it has become one of my favorite top five’s: “Lo How a Rose E’re Blooming,” as sung by Cynthia Clawson, but from her “Carols & Chant” CD and not from “Carol Singer,” which produces an entirely different arrangement. http://cynthiaclawson.com/album/100339/carols-chant

  • Trev

    Yes, I agree that Veni Veni Emmanuel is fantastic, but it is properly an Advent chant. Blast it now as loud as you can. Sufjan Stevens also does a great rendition but the Latin is the best.

    The Magnificat is also great chanted in Latin. http://youtu.be/Y9QtEb8XNr4

  • Michael Brian Woywood

    Yesterday, I was driving home from visiting a friend who is unresponsive in the hospital after a stroke. I stopped by a used book store and purchased a few Christmas CDs. On the way home, as I was already struggling to keep it together, The Irish Tenors sang “What Child Is This”, followed immediately by “O Holy Night.” I could not hold the tears back any longer.

  • Gary Lieberman

    Thanks for sharing, these are a blessing.

  • I’ve never much liked the tune of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – too somber. Until two days ago, that is, when a friend introduced me to Enya’s version. And suddenly, with so much pain and injustice raging on, I think this song captures the longing many of us feel.

  • Elizabeth

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy_B84xrCiQ

    Born to Die, so powerful!!
    And for traditional, O Holy Night!
    We just came home from caroling in nursing homes and I love seeing the joy Christmas songs brings to people!

  • Except «O Come Emmanuel» and the Magnificat, I had never heared about the others. I like especially the antiphons which are the basis of the «O Come Emmanuel».

    As for myself, my favorite are:

    1. «Adeste fideles/O Come All Ye Faithful». It has passages from the Nicæne Creed and from the Te Deum in it. Christologically powerful.

    2. «Hark! The Herald Angels Sing». Christologically powerful.

    3. «Lo! he comes with clouds descending» / «Lo! he cometh, countless trumpets».

    4. «Înaintea iestor curti». Romanian eschatological carol.

    5. «Bondjoû, mårene». Walloon carol.

  • Jon Altman

    I came up in the pre-CCM Southern Baptist tradition. I don’t know the first four you mentioned and only found “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in college at United Methodist and Roman Catholic worship services. I think Brother Charles Wesley’s “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” is pretty hard to beat, as is Issac Watts’ “Joy to the World.”

  • John A. C. Kelley

    Traditionally speaking O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is my favorite.

    The song I have to listen to every Christmas is The Wind by Demon Hunter. I can’t exactly explain why; I’m just drawn to it for some reason.

  • Brandon Roberts

    I I have heard all of these songs but the ones I did I love. I don’t really listen to a lot of overtly christian songs don’t get me wrong I don’t hate them just their’s a lot of other songs I listen to that I like better

  • Oh Come Emmanuel is my all time favorite – I’m eternally moved by it. I wrote this related piece last year.
    http://fordswords.net/2013/12/17/an-advent-reflection-on-reconciliation/

  • My other favorite traditional carol is “Little Town of Bethlehem” especially this: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

  • Guy Norred

    I guess I have always rather liked somber music so having always like this song is not surprising. That said, the most beautiful version I have ever heard of it was the opening voluntary at church yesterday. The pianist has been doing improvisations on hymn tunes of late and within a note and half, without actually coming close to the melody, I knew what it was (though it took me a minute or two to actually be sure). He did spend most of the time in the minor keys, but he increasingly wove in bright moments, first quite subtly, then with more pronunciation. It seemed to acknowledge the pain all around but bring hope.

  • Oh Come Emmanuel is the perfect Christmas Song for me right now. My father died one week ago and it more than any song I can think captures the hope and sadness I feel this Christmas.

  • Amaryllis

    That’s my mother’s favorite Christmas song, and as I got older I could see her point: it’s so peaceful and hopeful.

  • Amaryllis

    “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is an old favorite– as a kid growing up Catholic, I loved its mysterious melancholy– even better in Latin!

    Since it is an Advent song, can I suggest my top 5 for Advent? I won’t include links, as Disqus takes up the whole page with embedded images, but they’re all easily found on youtube.

    Angelus ad Virginem– properly an Annunciation carol, but often heard in Advent. A carol with a long lineage and a great rhythm. There are a lot of good versions available, of both the Latin original and various English-language descendents.

    Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending –it’s’ such a wonderfully impressive melody.

    What Is the Crying at the Jordan? — a modern hymn for a dark time.
    Who then shall stir in this darkness,
    prepare for joy in the winter night?

    For a secular welcome to the season, there’s the Renaissance carol “All Hail to the Days,” sometimes known by its refrain line, “To Drive the Cold Winter Away.” Loreena McKennit’s version is probably the best-known, but I prefer something more upbeat myself; The Owl Service does a nice cover.

    Finally, from the “Wolcum Yule” CD, Anonymous 4’s version of Peter Maxwell Davies’ setting of George McKay Brown’s A Calendar of Kings. Which I suppose is really an Epiphany poem, but I love the theme of traveling through the year to Christmas.

    A midwinter inn.
    Here they unload their treasures.

  • Amaryllis

    Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
    And open wide our heav’nly home…

    I am sorry for your loss. And I understand how it feels to lose a parent during a holiday season.

  • Really sorry to hear that, James. Peace be with you this Christmas.

  • jtenebrae

    Neil Diamond does a great performance of O Come O Come Emmanuel.
    My favorite is O Holy Night. Michael Crawford’s version is fantastic, saw it on TV with The Trans Siberian Orchestra’s special, but haven’t been able to get it on their album or on I-tunes.

  • Alana

    What, no Messiah? Or what about “I Wonder as I Wander”? Though granted, as a classical musician, I do tend to have a bias against CCM. ;-)

    However, I definitely agree with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. It really reflects what Advent is all about. (As a side note, I wish there were more love for Advent. Christmas doesn’t mean as much without it)

  • Alana

    I have always tended to prefer minor keys, so I totally understand what you are saying here. I sometimes feel like the church focuses so much on happy, “yay Jesus” music that it kind of misses the fact that this doesn’t always reflect the way the musicians or congregation feel. There is kind of a weird pressure to look happy even when you aren’t, even in otherwise healthy churches.

  • Dan Whitmarsh

    Chris Rice’s Welcome to our World, Michael W. Smith’s All is Well, and the ancient Of the Father’s Love Begotten.

  • paganheart

    Great list! My top 5:

    5) “O Come O Come Emmanuel” – This carol has been one of my favorites since I first sang it with my college choir and I do love Enya’s version, but I’m a bit partial to the version on Mannheim Steamroller’s “A Fresh Aire Christmas” album, which features the Cambridge Singers choir conducted by John Rutter. That whole album, in fact, is a favorite of mine. It takes me back to my college days when I listened to it on my Walkman as I walked across campus to rehearsals for our annual Christmas concerts.

    4) “Joy To The World” – My favorite of the “traditional” Christmas carols, mainly because it is so jubilant and fun to sing (especially accompanied by organ, brass, strings and/or tympani!) It is widely believed that the melody for this carol came from George Frideric Handel (of “Messiah” fame) and it definitely has that strong Baroque influence (the choral singer in me loves Baroque music.)

    3) “I Wonder As I Wander” – another one I’ve had the privilege to sing a few times. This carol has Appalachian roots, and I’ve often wondered why it is not more popular in the US. But it is a bit on the melancholy side and as someone else here noted, “melancholy” is not something we do well in our Christmas celebrations.

    2) “Breath Of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” – The first time I heard Amy Grant’s version of this, it gave me chills. Still does. Another song that has a melancholy streak but is ultimately full of hope. I think what I love about it is the way it humanizes Mary; giving the sense that perhaps, like any of us, she had her doubts and fears about the enormous task she was given, but ultimately, she trusted God to carry her through. “Breath Of Heaven, hold me together….” that’s a prayer I’ve repeated under my breath a few times when I was on the verge of flying apart….

    1) “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen – Not strictly a Christmas piece, but one that is often performed by choirs this time of year. This one is on my “bucket list” of things I want to sing someday. Every time I listen to it, I’m in tears by the time it is over. And this version by the King’s College Choir is particularly beautiful….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7ch7uottHU

  • Th

    1) Veni Veni Emmanuel, especially Enya’s version, played the first day of Advent
    2) “Thankful Heart” from Muppet Christmas Carol
    3) Transiberian Orchestra’s first album, Christmas Eve and other Stories.
    4) Manheimm Steamroller: A Fresh Aire Christmas
    5) One Wintry Night: Jerry Read Smith

  • Th

    Thanks for reminding me of this line. As a kid I sang O Holy in church and this line is the one that still holds meaning.

  • Thank you! I think you would have liked my dad who was an officially retired minister but never retired as a pastor. Everyone knew him as Biff and he lived the Gospel more than any one I have ever met.

  • Thank you, your kind words are a great comfort.

  • Realist1234

    I lost my dad about a year and a half ago and still feel sad when I think about it. No wonder Jesus experienced a mixture of sadness and anger when He learned his friend Lazarus had died. But take heart, your father is now with his Father.

  • Realist1234

    This is not exactly a Christmas song, but it does come from one of the Narnia films which I always associate with Christmas – ‘There’s a place for us’ by Carrie Underwood. I listened to it last night and the tears came. Praise Aslan!

  • Dan Russell
  • Jonathan Lucas

    Completely agree with O Come, O Come Emmanuel…I never really understood it growing up, but the melody always drew me in. Now, I can engage with the tune on a completely different level. We are signing it as the opening hymn in church tomorrow, and I’m probably going just for that.

  • Alana

    Actually, O Magnum Mysterium is a Christmas piece– the great mystery mentioned in the text is that something as wondrous as the birth of Christ would happen in an ordinary stable, witnessed by farm animals. But it is a gorgeous piece, no matter what. :-)

    I am also seconding “I Wonder as I Wander”. The text and melody are both so simple, yet so moving. As a choral singer and soloist, I have noticed that a lot of Christians really don’t like their music to be anything less than bright and peppy, even when it doesn’t reflect either the season or the feelings one is actually experiencing. I am not saying that we have to be gloomy all the time, but contrast is nice sometimes.

  • Ed Swart

    O Holy Night sung by Celine Dion (These are Special Times) is especially moving and climactic.

  • Ray

    It’s a bit late for this, but I would love to recommend this record: http://cardiphonia.bandcamp.com/album/by-all-adored

    There are a few re-purposed hymns along with some original songs. It’s become one of my Advent/Christmas/Epiphany favorites.

  • Daniel Danrich

    How about the one I did, very moving and why I made it

    http://youtu.be/oydZCviFwzs
    Thanks for watching and maybe ad to your list :)