Singing the Christmas story: a service of carols from around the world

Instrumental Prelude (carol arrangements for organ and flute)

Processional: "Once in Royal Davids City" (English)
[PsH 346, PH 49, RL 201, TH 225, UMH 250, WC 161]

Welcome and Prayer

[Leader to improvise words of welcome to the congregation; then to lead in prayer:]

Let us pray. Eternal God, this night is radiant with the brilliance of your one true light, Jesus Christ. As we have come together to hear again, in readings, hymns, and carols, the story of Christmas, we want to thank you for your gift of Jesus, born in Bethlehem to be our Savior. We pray that you will accept and sanctify our worship, and that your Holy Spirit will help us hear afresh the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.


Anthem: "I Wonder as I Wander" (Appalachian)
[For soloist and/ or children's choir; WC 165]<.p>

First Reading

As we heard in this Appalachian carol, Jesus was born to save ordinary people like you and me. That is the good news of Christmas! But that good news began long ago already when God promised a Savior to Adam and Eve. It's a cruel irony that the story of God's gift of salvation began with the sin of our first parents who, when tempted by Satan, disobeyed God.

[Reader then reads Genesis 3:8-15.]

Hymn: "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" (Swiss; Isaiah 40)
[PsH 194, PH 3, RL 169, TH 197, WC 132]

Carol: "'Twos in the Moon of Wintertime" (Huron/French)
[PH 61, UMH 244]


Carol: "Joyful Christmas Day" (Japanese)
[Two-part round, preferably with handbells; PH 39]

Second Reading

The salvation that God promised, made necessary by disobedience, was to be accomplished through its opposite— obedience: the obedience of Abraham, the obedience of the Hebrew nation, the obedience of the Virgin Mary and, most importantly, the obedience of Christ. When Abraham proved obedient in his willingness to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice, God promised him that through his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

[Reader then reads Genesis 22:16-18.]

Hymn: "Hark, the Glad Sound!" (English; Isaiah 61)
[PsH 335, RL 251]

Carol: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" (Polish)
[PsH 353, PH 37, RL 221, TH 216, UMH 229, WC 169]

Third Reading

God kept that promise. Abrahams offspring became a large nation—-the Jews, God's chosen people. But time and again they fell into disobedience and sin. So through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, God promised again to send the Savior.

[Reader then reads Isaiah 9:2,6-7]

Carol: "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" (German)
[PsH 351, PH 48, RL 204, TH 221, UMH 216, WC 163]

Carol: "He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child" (French)
[UMH 228, WC 177]

Fourth Reading

So far we have heard how the story of salvation began with God's promise of a Savior in the garden of Eden and how God said the Messiah would come from Abraham's children. Next, God announced the place where the Savior would be born. And, characteristically, God did not choose the capital city of a world empire, nor even Jerusalem, but a little village in Judea.

[Reader then reads Micah 5:2-4.]

Carol: "That Boy-Child of Mary" (African)
[PsH 352, PH55, UMH 241]

Hymn: "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" (English/German)
[PsH 345, PH 31-32, RL 196, TH 203, UMH 240, WC 171]

Fifth Reading

In the fullness of time, God made the final preparations for the birth of the promised Savior. God sent the angel Gabriel to tell the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

[Reader then reads Luke 1:26-33.]

Though undoubtedly quite shocked at the announcement, Mary accepted her task and soon broke out in song: "Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!"

Canticle: "Tell Out, My Soul" (English; Song of Mary)
[PsH 478, RL 182, TH 26, UMH 200, WC 350]

Sixth Reading

The preparations that God had made for the restoration of his disobedient creatures had taken centuries. The Lord had formed a nation from which the Savior was to come. The Lord had chosen the place where the Messiah would be born and had prepared the woman who would be the mother of the Savior. Now, at last, the time had come: the Savior promised long ago was born!

[Reader then reads Matthew 1:18-25.]

Carol: "Silent Night, Holy Night" (Austrian)
[PsH 344, PH 60, RL 216, TH 210, UMH 239, WC 164]

Carol: "O Sleep, Dear Holy Baby" (Spanish)
[PH 45]


Carol: "Child So Lovely" (Spanish)
[UMH 222 (also see p. 30)]

Seventh Reading

God's plan for the salvation of sinful people had taken a great step forward in the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

The child who would one day make the sacrifice of perfect obedience had been born at last. And just as God achieved the plan of salvation through people of little importance, God now revealed the birth of the Messiah to shepherd people of little importance.

[Reader then reads Luke 2:8-13; verse 14 is sung by a choir in a four-part Take round ("Gloria", PH 576); the reading then concludes with Luke 2:15-20.]

Carol: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" (Latin / German)
[PsH 355, PH 28, RL 218, TH 207, UMH 224, WC 157]

Carol: "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" (African-American spiritual)
[PH 50]

Eighth Reading

Some time after the shepherds returned to their work, wise men appeared from the East. They followed a star to Jerusalem and then found out from King Herod that they needed to go to Bethlehem.

[Reader then reads Matthew 2:9-12.]

But not everyone worshiped the newborn Son of God. Contrary to the clean and tidy pictures on many of our Christmas cards, we read in the Bible that Jesus' birth involved mass murder.

[Reader then reads Matthew 2:16, after which the choir could sing the "Coventry Carol" (Carols for Choirs, Book 1, Oxford University Press); then the reading continues:]

But God saved his Son from Herod's demonic plan so that later Jesus could die and live again to save God's people from their sin-—to fulfill the promise made ages ago.

Hymn: "Joy to the World!" (American [USA]; Psalm 98)
[PsH 337, PH 40, RL 198, TH 195, UMH 246, WC 146]

[An offering may be received during this hymn.]

Prayer for Peace

Lord God, you are glorious in the highest heavens. You send peace on earth among those whom you favor. As we have heard again your plan of salvation and the good news of Jesus' birth, we pray: give peace to your church, peace among the nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.


Carol: "Go, Tell It on the Mountain (African-American, spiritual)
[PsH 356, PH 29, TH 224, RL 224, UMH 251, WC 151 ]

Organ Postlude



  • In preparation for this service, have candles lit on the Advent wreath and throughout the church.
  • If possible, display some Christmas art from other nations throughout the sanctuary.
  • Try to select a variety of women, men, and children to serve as readers.
  • You may want to consider adding a meditation to one of the readings.
  • Add some variety by inviting the choir and/or a soloist(s) to perform one of the hymns or carols associated with each reading.
  • You need not include all the hymns and carols suggested. For some of them you may want to substitute another song or use a choral arrangement.
  • The hymns in this service were selected from the most recent editions of the following hymnals: The Psalter Hymnal (PsH), The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), the Trinity Hymnal (TH), the United Methodist Hymnal (UMH), and the Worshiping Church (WC).

Some of the introductions to the Scripture readings in litis service were adapted from The Story of Christmas by Richard Tatlock and Desmond Ratctiffe (Novello, 1973).

Bert Polman was a hymnologist, professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He passed away in July 2013. 

Reformed Worship 29 © September 1993, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.