I don’t blame those who dislike Christmas music. Much of what you hear on the radio in December, or over the speakers at the mall, is terrible. But within the vast and diverse genre, there are treasures to be found.
I’ve been encouraged, for example, that in the last few decades there has been a renaissance of Advent–focused Christmas music: music that is theologically rich and, while still joyful, somewhat more somber and serious than pop Christmas radio. This music helps listeners enter into the Advent story in a way that focuses on spiritual contemplation more than tinsel-drenched merriment.
In the last few decades there has been a renaissance of Advent-focused Christmas music that helps listeners enter into the Advent story in a way that focuses on spiritual contemplation more than tinsel-drenched merriment.
As a way to celebrate the abundance of such music released in the 2010s, I’ve listed my 10 favorite Advent albums released in the last 10 years. I also created a 100-song playlist (find it on Spotify or Apple Music) that includes selected songs from each album, as well as a bunch of other great Advent songs released by various artists in the 2010s.
In compiling the list below, I focused on albums that contained both excellent original Advent songs and beautiful covers of familiar carols. Another criteria I considered was richness of lyrical content and appropriate musical mood. Advent of all the Christian seasons has a particular mood, and the albums below capture it well. They beautifully contemplate the key themes of Advent—hope, peace, joy, love, waiting, longing, tension—and do so by engaging Scripture in meaningful ways.
I pray these albums, and the accompanying playlist, will meet you this season in a place of quiet reverence and awestruck worship, as together we pause to ponder the history-altering, mind-bending miracle of Christ’s birth.
1. Future of Forestry, Light Has Come: Christmas (2019) and The Advent Anthology (2015)
The story, scope, and significance of Advent is epic, and few artists capture it as well as Future of Forestry (Eric Owyoung) does. His just-released album and previously released anthology of three Advent EPs contain some of the decade’s best Christmas music. Owyoung’s original Advent songs (like the exquisite “What Beauty”) and reinterpretations of classics (like “Do You Hear What I Hear?”) are second to none—ambitious, soaring, poetic compositions that lead listeners into awe.
2. Young Oceans, Advent (2013)
No other album this decade captures the aching tension and contemplative beauty of Advent as well as this one does. Full of original compositions (many only instrumental), Advent is the sort of album that quiets your soul and stills your busy mind—if you let it slow you down for an hour in a hectic season. Turn the lights out in your room, turn up the volume, light an Advent candle, and weep with hope as you listen to the words of “Come to Us, O Lord”: O Ancient Son; so long foretold / We’re desperate souls; draw near.
3. Melanie Penn, Immanuel (2017)
Featuring songs that tell the Christmas story through the perspective of those who lived it—Mary, Joseph, the magi, the innkeeper, and even the Star of Bethlehem—Penn’s album is truly one of the most original Advent offerings of the decade. It’s also quite lovely, joyful, and theologically rich—an encouraging Advent resource for people of all ages and backgrounds, wherever they are in their faith.
4. Andrew Peterson, Behold the Lamb of God (20th Anniversary) (2019)
For the last 20 years, Andrew Peterson—and an impressive roster of guests—has brought a memorable Advent experience to audiences across the country, with the annual Behold the Lamb of God tour. Now, the beloved narrative folk album (originally recorded in 2004) has been updated and re-recorded, released this fall to bless new audiences with the old glories of “The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ.”
5. Rain for Roots, Waiting Songs (2015)
If you’re looking for an Advent primer for your little ones, this album from Nashville collective Rain for Roots (featuring Sandra McCracken, Flo Paris, Katy Bowser, and Skye Peterson) is a tremendous resource. Bonus: It’s also a great listen for adults. Musically joyful and oft-uptempo, the 10 “waiting songs” on this record are fun, singable, memorable teaching tools for the whole family.
6. Josh Garrells, The Light Came Down (2016)
One of the best Christian artists of the decade, the talented Josh Garrells unsurprisingly released a Christmas album that was quickly recognized as one of the decade’s best. Full of originals (“Gloria,” “Shepherd’s Song”), folk covers (“The Virgin Mary Had One Son”) and updated classics (“What Child Is This,” “O Holy Night”), the album is a buffet of Advent beauty. The opening title track sets the tone for the gorgeous, moody meditation that follows: There is a light / Bright star shining / In the dark night / Old tales come true.
7. The Brilliance, Advent Vol. 1 (2011) and Advent Vol. 2 (2012)
The Brilliance created some of the decade’s best new Advent music with this pair of albums released in 2011 and 2012. If you were lucky enough to attend their Christmas shows back then, you know how powerful the songs—which often feel like mini orchestral symphonies—play live. For those who struggle in December and desperately cling to that one flickering light of hope in what feels like a world of overwhelming darkness, these songs are for you.
8. The Oh Hellos, The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album (2014)
This singular album from Texas folk duo The Oh Hellos (siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath) is like nothing else on this list. Call it a four-movement folk rock opera. Call it a hipster Christmas pageant for the Sufjan set. However you label it, the album’s zany carol medleys undoubtedly work. At times mournful, at times jubilant, at times crazy, it’s an album that perfectly captures the melodrama of Christ’s birth.
9. Sovereign Grace Music, Prepare Him Room (2014)
Some of the best new Christmas original songs of the decade can be found on this album: “God Made Low,” “Who Would Have Dreamed?” and “Prepare Him Room” are singable, readymade new carols for your church’s Advent worship. But Prepare Him Room also contains beautiful versions of tried-and-true classics—the album’s version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is particularly gorgeous.
10. Ordinary Time, Good News (2016)
The second Advent album from Americana trio Ordinary Time (their 2006 album In the Town of David is also worth checking out), Good News is an understated work of art. The album contains updated interpretations of classic carols (e.g., a bluegrass/banjo rendition of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”), but its standout tracks are its lyrically and theologically rich originals, including “How You Choose to Come,” “With Death in Mind,” and “All Shall Be Well.”
Sufjan Stevens, Silver and Gold (2012); Page CXVI, Advent to Christmas (2013); Shane and Shane, A Worship Initiative Christmas Vol. 1 (2014) and Vol. 2 (2018); Sister Sinjin, Incarnation (2016); Poor Bishop Hooper, Firstborn (2018); Steve Thorngate, After the Longest Night (2018); The Choir of King’s College, 100 Years of Nine Lessons & Carols (2018); 116, The Gift: A Christmas Compilation (2018); Liturgical Folk, Advent (2019); Sandra McCracken, Christmas (2019).