According to industry publication Billboard, a list of the top 50 Christmas songs this week doesn’t include a single traditional Christmas carol or hymn. Plenty of songs about Santa and Rudolph, but precious few about Jesus. Nat King Cole’s “O Come All Ye Faithful” was the top entry from the traditional Christmas canon. This song, recorded more than a half-century ago, came in at number 58.
Keith Getty wants to shake up this list.
The singer-songwriter may be best known for the hymn “In Christ Alone,” but this time of year, Keith and his wife Kristyn are probably most recognized for their Irish Christmas concerts going on around the country. Last night the Gettys performed to a sold-out crowd of more than 3000 people at New York’s Carnegie Hall. It’s one of more than a dozen shows they will perform this month that feature new and traditional Christmas hymns and carols. The shows are a part of Keith Getty’s mission to restore “deep theology, musical excellence, and intergenerational congregational singing” to the life of the church.
He believes that the Christmas season offers unique opportunities to take the Gospel both to a nominal church, and to the culture at large.
“Great art is the greatest apologetic,” Keith Getty said. “So I’m saying to Christians, fill your homes with the great carols of the faith. If you take the great carols of the faith, and fill your home up with them, your children will understand the gospel.” He says these songs are powerful discipleship tools and great witnesses to those who do not yet believe because they remind the world that Jesus is God’s great gift to the world, and – motivated by Jesus – Christians have given the world much beauty, truth, and goodness through the ages.
Getty also believes it is important for children, parents, and grandparents to sing the same songs, and Christmas hymns and carols allow that to happen. “It may be part nostalgia,” Getty admits, “but we know these songs. We should take advantage of that cultural memory and use it to a good end.”
He understands that tastes come and go, and certain songs that our parents enjoyed might not have the same resonance today. His response to that fact is simple. Don’t sing the bad songs of the past. Sing the great songs of the past. Use the passage of time as a tool to help sort out the good from the bad. He says that many of the great hymns and carols of the faith are those whose musical and lyrical excellence have held up over the years.
“If you fill your churches with the great carols of the faith, the great Christmas hymns of the faith, then the old generation are going to be united with the young generation,” he said. And not only that, but “the pastoral teaching ministry is going to be united with the music ministry. And those who have faith will have a unique connection to those who are yet to believe.”
One of the reasons that hymns that are hundreds of years old still have the power to believe is this: They often come from the greatest composers of all time. “Composers like Handel, like Mendelssohn, like Gustav Holst,” Getty said. “These guys wrote the melodies” to some of our greatest hymns. “These are the masterworks of the Christian faith,” he added. “So I encourage people to plunge in. These songs are a gift to us from the greatest musicians in history.”
The Carnegie Hall performance last night featured guest performers Phil Keaggy and jazz legend John Pattitucci, among others. Pastor and best-selling author Tim Keller delivered a short sermon. A choir of more than 150 volunteers, some of whom flew in from around the country at their own expense to participate, helped turn the event into a celebration. Getty said that atmosphere is by design. “I often tell people that Kristyn and I are just Irish party organizers,” he said. “We have been blessed by enormously talented friends who want to be a part of this movement. The best music is done in community.”
In other cities, guest artists include Allison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Trip Lee, and Sierra Hull. Speakers will include David Platt, Joni Eareckson Tada, Paul Tripp, and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. The tour continues tomorrow night in Washington, D.C., at the Kennedy Center. It concludes next week with performances in St. Louis and Nashville.
This article is one in a series based on the ideas in the book Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan To Change The World Through Everyday People by Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet. To see all the articles in this series, click here. If you know of an individual or ministry that might make a good “Restoring All Things” profile, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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