Music: Here are the inspiring versions of “The First Noel,” “Silent Night,” and other sacred Christmas songs you should listen to today.

While celebrating this Christmas day and searching for music to make you think about spiritual truths as well as provide a beautiful ambiance wherever you are, check out these inspiring versions of holy Christmas songs:

over the Rhine

The poetically Christian-based indie band from Ohio has always been my favorite, and the group’s evocative album “The Darkest Night of the Year” is an album I’ve canceled every year since its 1996 release.

Notable tracks include “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “Greensleeves (What Child Is This)” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” which provide sounds that transport listeners back into the past to old piano halls, horse-drawn carriages, and tranquil snowfields.

Here’s the opening song – an instrumental version of “The First Noel” – that accompanies a solo cello:


first birthday

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Jeff Bjork

Jeff Bjork has been recording piano solos for the past 25 years and has six very impressive albums. One – “The Wonder Gift” – is filled with inspiring interpretations of dozens of religious Christmas songs.

Notable characters include “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”, “Coventry Carol” and “Silent Night”. For an instant example of Bjorck’s style, check out “Silent Night” below. The clip begins with gentle, semi-longing notes and then moves on to the familiar melody – but it’s the unforgettable creative flourish that accompanies the song to new heights:


A quiet night

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keji elephant

A guitarist like no other – always among the best in the world – Phil Keji has released a few Christmas albums during his long career, but for my money his best one is a performance alongside the London Festival Orchestra: “Majesty & Wonder: An Automated Christmas.

Filled with creative approaches to faith-filled Christmas songs, Keaggy takes “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” along with “Good Christian Men Rejoice” among others. Below, check out his version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” that uses entirely new music on his classic guitar along with an old tune:


Or like you like Emmanuel

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Don Perez from Mission of Innocence

The Innocence Mission hit the alternative folk scene in the late ’80s, and years later the band’s guitarist – Don Perez – made a brilliant Christmas album called Brighter Visions Beam Afar which has remained one of my favorite songs ever since.

Simple and unassuming—just like his band from rural Pennsylvania fields—Piris employs a melancholy and gentle finger-picking method that puts the listener in an emotional reflection.

Sure, you can listen to “Away in a Manger,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “The Angels We’ve Heard in Heaven” — which you can listen to right now:


The angels we heard are on high

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Kemper Crab

Kemper Crabb may be familiar to some fans of contemporary Christian music in the early 1980s as the creator of the announced album, “The Vigil.” But Crabb years later also released an album for this season only called “A Medieval Christmas”.

With a sonorous, reverent voice and robotic accompaniment that matches the title’s ambition, Krapp delivers unforgettable versions of “Good King Wenceslaus”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Let All Mortal Flesh”:


Let the whole human body shut up

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the Scorpion

When he was with the police, Sting penned a lesser-known tune for “Synchronize” titled “Oh my God” in which the grumpy, weary hero of the world – probably – shakes his fist in the face of his creator and pleads “Take the space between us/Fill it somehow”. Apparently Sting did not believe that Jesus actually accomplished that miracle.

So it was amazing two decades later to watch Sting’s solo “If on a Winter’s Night…” which features sacred Christmas songs like “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” – a German hymn that debuted centuries ago – And the older “Gabriel Message”:


Gabriel’s message

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Jeff Johnson

Veteran keyboardist and Christian songwriter Jeff Johnson has been producing excellent music in his Celtic style for decades. “Saint Brendan’s Prayers: The Journey Back” is one of my all-time favorites.

On top of that, Johnson may be the king of Christmas music – at least to listeners who rave about the proper focus of the day – and he’s released seven massive Christmas albums over the years.

Inside, it covers the lion’s share of the sacred songs you know, as well as some songs that carolers don’t often sing on snowy street corners — like “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” from “A Quiet Knowing: Christmas” with Brian Dunning and John Fitzpatrick as well as “Once in Royal David’s City” and “Wexford Carol” from “Under the Wonder Sky” with Dunning and Wendy Goodwin:


Wexford Carol

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Bono and Edge U2

As a big fan of U2 for many years – ever since I first read the words “to claim the victory that Jesus won” from the lyrics of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” before I converted to Christ – the band has frustrated me a lot with the 2018 endorsement of the abolition of abortion ban in Ireland.

But perhaps faith in some form remains, especially for lead singer Bono, who has been vocal about his faith in Jesus for many years. Maybe that’s why I got a lump in my throat when I played a video of him with The Edge guitarist performing “O Holy Night” for a Dublin audience on Christmas Eve a few years ago. “Fall on your knees,” indeed.

Merry Christmas, one and all.


Bono and The Edge Oh Holy Night Eve Dublin 2018

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