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8 Advent Hymns and Their Corresponding Biblical Passages

You may not realize it, but as soon as mid-November, your congregation members will start wondering, “When will they start playing Christmas songs and Advent hymns?” So many in your church are ready to use the fireplace, decorate sugar cookies, and plan for annual family traditions.

Your weekend services are often the soundtrack for their Christmas season, providing you with a very unique opportunity to speak the Christmas story into their everyday lives through the tradition of Advent.

Simply singing Christmas songs doesn’t always translate into spiritual impact. You’ve memorized the words and are familiar with the melody. When you make the decision to take your church through Advent, you open up the opportunity to not only sing traditional Advent hymns, but you can also tie the lyrics back to the larger truth of Advent and support your sermon series big idea.

Below is a list of 8 Christmas songs that are directly tied to scripture and feature Advent-centric themes. These songs are born out of scripture and when you can make the connection between the music and the Word for your congregation members it will provide fresh perspective and added meaning to singing the songs in church or hearing them on the radio.

Away In A Manger

Mary with Baby Jesus, "Away In A Manger"
A key scripture reference for Away In A Manger is Luke 2:7.

While Away In A Manger is an incredible theologically rich song pulling in several different references from scripture, the main idea comes from the biblical passage of Luke 2:7 (NLT).

She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

This is a song that has been sung year after year and appears on thousands of Christmas albums. Connecting the lyrics to the tradition of Advent will inject new life to the lyrics and add to the significance of singing the melody for those in your church.

The First Noel

The First Noel is about the shepherds that were keeping watch, saw the star, and went to visit the baby Jesus. The song has a couple of different scripture references, but the main idea behind the song comes from Luke 2:8-15.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Merriam Webster definition of noel
Here is what Merriam Webster had to say about noel, visit here.

Like many Christmas songs, there are stanzas that don’t typically make it into the arrangements we sing in our services. The First Noel is one of those songs. This entire song features Advent-centric messaging and provides you an amazing opportunity to bring clarity to a song that is memorized by many, but truly known by only a few.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem is one of those songs that brings to mind children’s musicals and Christmas plays. When it comes to a scriptural reference, the ironic thing is that it doesn’t really come from the New Testament. Instead, the main scriptural reference for O Little Town of Bethlehem is an Old Testament prophecy in Micah 5:2

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Head-tilting truths such as this offers you the ability to preach from a completely new angle. Average churchgoers associate Christmas as a New Testament story, but Christmas songs show us that Christ’s birth is as much an Old Testament story as it is a New Testament story.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Hark the Herald Angels Sing has been sung by people of all ages since 1739. It’s an upbeat Christmas Hymn that talks about the praise the angels gave to the newborn Christ. The scripture reference for the title would be Luke 2:14.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The Manger Throne

The Manger Throne isn’t one of the more well known Christmas hymns, but it’s one that offers an amazing picture of the birth of Christ. The main idea of the hymn is that the manger that Jesus was lying in was ultimately holding a king. Luke 2:11-12 is the basis for this idea.

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Introducing a new hymn right before you speak gives you an immediate platform for your message and allows you to connect the celebration of Advent with the theology behind advent.

I Saw Three Ships

This Christmas hymn was published in 1833, and many believe the “ships” represent the camels the wise men rode as they were called “ships of the desert.” While not widely known, this hymn is often sung around Christmas time. Matthew 2:1-2 could be the best biblical passage for I Saw Three Ships.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

You could very easily introduce this hymn as one of your Christmas time songs or simply lean on its origins as a sermon illustration you use during your Advent sermon series.

Go Tell It On the Mountain

Sheet music for Go Tell It on the Mountain Hymn
John Wesley Work, Jr didn’t write Go Tell It On the Mountain but was responsible for compiling this Negro spiritual for publishing.

Go Tell It On the Mountain is a Christmas hymn that is sung year round in churches everywhere. It speaks of Jesus bringing Good News that we should share. It’s full of scriptural nuggets and perhaps the best one is the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Just as with Away In A Manager, using Go Tell It On the Mountain as a song to directly connect to Advent can lend immediate relevance to those who are learning the Advent tradition for the first time and provide a new level of meaning to a song that many have memorized.

O Come All Ye Faithful

O Come All Ye Faithful is a family favorite around Christmas time. It’s been sung since it was written in 1743 by John F. Wade. It’s chock full of scripture as well, but the most common biblical reference would be Luke 2:15.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

Tying Advent Hymns and Christmas Carols Back to Your Sermon Series

Man worshipping - Advent Hymns Photo
Connecting an Advent sermon series to Advent hymns brings added meaning to both the music and teaching.

Teaching your congregation about the deeper meaning behind their favorite Advent songs will help to shape their understanding of Scripture as well as the music itself. When you are able, it makes even greater sense to tie your Advent hymns back to your Advent sermon series.

When your teaching and music are working hand in hand you can create greater continuity throughout your service and lean upon the music to help your big idea find a home forever in the hearts of listeners.

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