Behold the Lamb of God/The Theme of My Song/Reprise – Andrew Peterson (2004, Behold the Lamb of God)

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I make no apologies for coming back to this album for the third time this month.  By now, faithful readers will understand that it is my favorite Christmas album.  It is, in fact, an impressive effort to clothe the entire Christmas story with Scripture and musical adornment in a way that presents us with a very good view of both the core and the whole of what Jesus’ birth means to us all.

So, I close these Christmas sessions with the finale of songs from this very album that brings emotion welling up inside of me, literally every time I hear them.

When you click on the image to listen, start with the second to last song and listen on through to the end of the song list.  The first song, “Behold the Lamb of God”, is a call to respond to the summation of the Christmas story.  The active verb of this tune fits perfectly within the heart’s natural response to such a magical and mighty event.  The dictionary defines beholding as “to perceive through sight or apprehension; to gaze upon.”  This is what John the Baptist called out to the gathering crowd when he saw Jesus approaching.  In John 1:29, he literally says, “Look!” or “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

Here are the lyrics to the first song:                                                                                         Behold, the Lamb of God
Who takes away our sin
Behold the Lamb of God
The life and light of men
Behold the Lamb of God
Who died and rose again
Behold the Lamb of God who comes
To take away our sin
Broken hearts–behold our broken hearts
Fallen far–we need you
Behold the Lamb of God
Son of God–Emmanuel
Son of Man–we need you
Behold the Lamb
The hope of man
Behold the Lamb of God

Then the music blends into the final song, a medley of the entire album.  Snapshot lines from several songs are sung in harmony as these lyrics are chanted in the background:

Glory to Jesus, ancient and strong
Giver of love and the theme of my song
Glory to Jesus, ancient and strong
Come to your people, carry us home
Glory to Jesus, ancient and strong
Ancient and strong

Then the singers align to close with the reprise from the first song, “Gather Round Ye Children” :

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
Well He gave up His pride and He came here to die like a man                                         So rejoice ye children sing and remember now His mercy                                               And sing out for joy for the brave little boy is our Savior                                                    Son of God, Son of Man                                                                                          Hallelujah!  Sing Hallelujah!

As the song ends, you can hear two amazing things: first, a chorus singing the familiar refrain, “O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”  And the last thing you hear is two children singing the old kid’s praise song:

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.              The mountains are His, the rivers are His, the stars are His, too.                                     My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.

The reason why these songs win my heart each time I hear them is because of how they reflect the “children’s fairy-tale story” side of Christmas and the Bible.  Let me explain by quoting Sally Lloyd-Jones from the first chapter of her book, “Jesus Storybook Bible” :

The Bible is most of all a Story.  It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back His lost treasure.  It’s a love story about a brave Prince whole leaves His palace, His throne – everything – to rescue the ones He loves.  Its like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!  You see, the best thing about this Story is – it’s true.  There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story.  The Story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them.  It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby.  Every Story in the Bible whispers His name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.  And this is no ordinary baby.  This is the Child upon whom everything would depend.  This is the Child who one day would…[jumping to a later chapter]…rescue us because of His never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever LOVE!…It had taken centuries for God’s people to be ready, but now the time had come for the best part of God’s Plan.  God Himself was going to come.  Not to punish His people – but to rescue them.  God was getting ready to wipe away every tear from every eye.  And the true party was just about ti begin…

Listening to those children at the end of the song declare the greatness of God so simply and clear, then beholding the biblical fact that God’s intention and will has always been to rescue us and save us from sin and death – how could anything be more wonderful to behold?!  If you are still reading this and you are willing to place your life into the hands of your Rescuer, Jesus Christ; then this IS your story, too!  And it is absolutely real and true!

This Christmas, let go.  Let go of the anger, grief, and sorrow.  Let go of the debates, frustrations, grudges and scorn.  Let go of the things that you have no control over and the things that are never too big for God to handle.  Let go of everything in your heart and make room to behold the Lamb of God who takes away all of these things and replaces the empty space with His infinite, perfect love!  Behold!

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Hallelujah Chorus – George Frederic Handel (1741, Messiah)

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There are going to be classical music experts who loathe my feeble attempt to honor this great masterpiece, but I will have to live with that.  I simply cannot honestly do a devotional blog about truth in tunes without delving into the classics.  And I certainly cannot spend an entire month on Christmas songs and leave out the greatest musical composition of all time about Christ’s birth .  Ever.  Period.  Not even close to anything else.

This song (and the whole three hour oratorio) is the clearest example of what music can do to vivify truth.  So when one of the most gifted men in all of history was inspirationally graced with this particular piece concerning salvation history’s greatest moment (aside from the cross) all of humanity was blessed for centuries to come with something that transcends age, musical style, and any other boundary you might think of.

George Frederic Handel, we are told, completed the original score of the “Messiah” in less than a month!  24 days to be exact (which is superhumanly fast, if you know anything about it).  His servants said of him that when he was composing during those 24 days, Handel was either praying, weeping, or he was staring into eternity. At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters “SDG”—Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory”.  Handel, himself, was not a remarkable Christian person; but God chose him as a vessel – almost as if God wrote this music Himself (if so, imagine what Heaven will be like!).

The popularity of the “Messiah” grew immensely over the years.  When the King of England first heard it performed, he was so moved by it, that he stood at the Hallelujah chorus.  This traditional ovation carried on throughout the entire opera house and on into every formal performance of this great work performed ever since then.  Here are the lyrics:

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
For the lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
The kingdom of this world;
is become
the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ
And He shall reign forever and ever
King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
and lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
And he shall reign
And he shall reign forever and ever
King of kings and lord of lords
Forever and ever and ever and ever
Hallelujah

Of course, I left out most of the repetitions, just so that you can see the plain text, which comes directly from Revelation 11:15 and 19:16.  These two passages reflect the angelic and triumphant declaration of who our Lord was, is and will be when He returns – Lord over all.

What I like best about this song is that for a few minutes we get to let go of our embellishing of the humble mode of Christ’s first arrival to earth as a baby; only to embrace the glorious, unbridled magnificence of the fact that GOD was/is that child!  The Lord and Ruler of everything came to us and His sovereignty and place among us has always been first and prime – even though He humbled Himself as a man.  He did it all!  He became like us, to know us and feel like us, so that He could live sinless for us and die for us, BUT He is still and always will be GOD!  This song also reminds me of Philippians 2:5-11.

I get excited, because the song stirs up these truths within me in ways that only it can.  I pray that all of us find a moment this Christmas to see the Incarnation of Christ through the lens of Handel’s art.  And when we feel it in our marrow, may we all stand together and cry out to the heavens, “Hallelujah!”

Labor of Love – Andrew Peterson/Jill Phillips (2004, Behold the Lamb of God)

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We return today to our collection of Advent songs, focusing in on the dear duo that served as Jesus’ human parents for a short while.  Mary and Joseph have a story unlike any other in all of history, and it is a beautiful piece of the Nativity majesty.

We also return to the well of Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God Christmas album, which features the perfect song for our subjects.  This song is delivered vocally by another excellent musical artist, Jill Phillips.  This tune expresses logical, yet emotional realities of the story of Mary and Joseph that are not explicitly stated in Scripture, but they are certainties for us to cling to as we try to relate to this unique story.

Labor of Love:                                                                                                                          It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face

It is poetry put to strings of endearment that accomplishes something special, from my perspective.  Most other Christmas songs can carry along a more formal, or at least gleeful, response to Advent.  There are very few that hold together in good balance the messy chaos of the logistics of that night along with the holy, awesome reverence of what that night signified.

Luke 2 records the events for us from where we derive many of these assumed conditions for Mary and Joseph: such as the discomfort of the stable, isolation of a young, ostracized  couple, difficulties of any child birth (let alone one occurring outdoors), and the expected overwhelming emotions of being the human parents of God!  Sometimes we sing our well known carols and retell the biblical account without really meditating on the gravity of these features for Mary and Joseph.

It really was a labor of love!  And Joseph didn’t even get to see the fruits of his labor, in terms of being around Jesus’ adult life/ministry and work on the Cross.  So often, we are expected to serve God in ways that challenge us.  And sometimes we don’t experience the fruit of that work, at least here in this life.  And yet, we are called to serve for the sake of our love for God and what He has already done for us out of unmeasurable love and grace.

This is a season where we are asked to give or donate more often than other times of the year.  I hope that whatever giving spirit comes over us as we engage these opportunities this December are born out of a genuine love for God and His ways – instead of trying to help our year-end tax status or feeling the generic peer-pressure from the ringing bells in front of stores and receiving massive amounts of support-request letters.

Give because God gave first and gave most.  Give because you recognize the understandably difficult nature of love – that it should cost something.  It cost God everything.  It cost Mary and Joseph more than we could comprehend, but as much as we should be able to relate to.  Let your December be marked by inspired labors of love; for you never know what the seeds you sow may lead to.  After all, that baby Jesus was/is
the Maker of the moon, He was the Author of the faith, that could make the mountains move.”

The Gifts They Gave – Johnny Cash (1963, The Christmas Spirit)

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This is the Christmas post that is all about the Nativity side of Christmas music.  All of us see the manger scene with it’s regular characters every year; and if you’re parents of young children like me you smirk at the “reinterpretations” of history that the kids make to that iconic stable.

However, it isn’t very often that we sit down and think about what that night was actually like for Mary, Joseph and cast of furry loiterers.  “The Gifts They Gave” (or “The Friendly Beasts”) is a classic Christmas song that helps our imagination with a few features that may have been present on that first Christmas night.  There are not many versions of this tune to choose from (unlike so many other Christmas carols that have been covered by everyone and their brothers), but I’m convinced that we only needed this one anyway.

Johnny Cash is not someone who needs an introduction, except to say that his music and style is a perfect fit to highlighting the humble, earthly side of the Nativity story.  Here are the lyrics to “The Gifts They Gave”:

Jesus our King, kind and good                                                                                          Was humbly born in a stable of wood                                                                                 And the lowly beasts around Him stood                                                                          Jesus our King, kind and good

 “I” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,                                                                                   “I carried His mother up and down                                                                                            I carried His mother to Bethlehem town”                                                                               “I” said the donkey, shaggy and brown

 “I” said the ox, “This was my hay                                                                                            I gave Him my manger ’twas here that He lay                                                                        I gave Him my manger ’twas here that He lay”                                                                      “I” said the ox, “This was my hay”

“I” said the sheep with pearly horn                                                                                          “I gave Him my wool for a blanket warm                                                                              He wore my coat on Christmas morn”                                                                                  “I” said the sheep with pearly horn

“I” said the dove from the rafters high                                                                                     “I sang Him to sleep that He would not cry                                                                          We sang Him to sleep my love and I”                                                                                    “I” said the dove from the rafters high

And so every heart by some good spell                                                                                 In the stable dark was glad to tell                                                                                          Of the gift that he gave to Emmanuel                                                                                    Of the gift that he gave to Emmanuel

In some sense, this is a silly song.  For who really knows what animals were present that night, what they really did or even if they felt anything at all about the significance of Christ being born.  It is a comforting thought, perhaps, to believe that God’s creation noticed what God was doing that night.  But it is also just as plausible to think that the stable was really more of a cold cave and the animals fussed and smelled, frustrating the young family who had invaded their space.  Hardly the peaceful picture of a manger scene centered on a quietly content newborn with perfectly behaved creatures all around him – but who knows what it was really like, right? (something tells me it was probably not a silent night)

And yet, in another sense, this song is simply priceless.  Not priceless, in the “Precious Moments” sort of way, but priceless in the holiest of holy ways.  Jesus our King, kind and good was humbly born in a stable of wood.  The manner of God’s incarnation was incredibly humble and, therefore, incredibly sacred and profound.  The One True Creator nestled His earthly arrival among the simple beasts of His work.  The Almighty Power of the universe self-restrained His glory and might for the sake of being amidst the feeble and the weak.  The Transcendent Being put on flesh and blood…for you.

And now the moment has arrived.  He is here.  And the question has become, “What is your gift for Him?”  According to the song, the animals gave of their essence and uniqueness: a sheep it’s wool and a dove it’s song, etc.  So what of our essence and uniqueness could we possibly offer to the God-made-man?

The answer lies within the design of salvation history.  God made humankind different from the animal kingdom in that we were fashioned in His image (Genesis 1:26-28).  We think and reason, we feel and moralize, we have souls.  We were made by God in such a way that we would deeply desire to connect with God at a heart/soul level that no other being could possibly do…not even the angels (Hebrews 1&2).  So, when we ask ourselves, “What could we possibly give to the new born King, Jesus Christ?”; the best answer is always the simple yet profound, deep yet childlike, answer: our hearts.

Here is a bonus song for today’s post that beautifully imagines this conclusion in a winter scene where each snowflake is individually unique and special, AND together billions of snowflakes unite to reflect the entire beauty of God.  Meaning, when we all choose to give our hearts and lives to Christ, we give the only gift that God would especially consider worthy on both a personal and corporate level.  This song is by a group called Rue Royale and it is called “Snow On Snow.”  I am sure that I will blog more about them later, but for now let this song along with Johnny Cash’s number remind us all of this important Christmas formula:

Humility is defined by what Christ did for us.  Humility allows us to see our best gift for the Christ King: our heart of hearts.  Let it be said that this was truly the gifts that they we gave!

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Let All Mortal Flesh Keep SIlence – Red Mountain Music (2008, Silent Night)

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This is my second dip into the well that is Red Mountain Music, first time during this Christmas season.  If I end up doing this form of a blog for a long enough time, I will probably use every song that Red Mountain has ever made…they are that good.

However, this song is not just another Christmas song and I would guess that many of you have never heard of it before.  In my humble opinion, it is the complete package of what a Christmas song should be: rich content, intimate cadence, and majestic focus.  And this is the best version of the ancient hymn by far.

True to it’s stated purpose, Red Mountain has resurrected a forgotten classic with vibrant, new sounds.  “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is very old, originating from an offertory hymn/chant in the 4th century AD of the Divine Liturgy of St. James.  It was later translated from Greek and put to melody during medieval times.  The title is taken from Habakkuk 2:20, but here is the verse in context, starting from verse 18:

“What good is an idol carved by man, or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—a god that can’t even talk!
What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols, ‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say, ‘Rise up and teach us!’
Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver, but they are lifeless inside.
But the Lord is in His holy Temple.  Let all the earth be silent before Him.”

The Bible is full of talk like this where the author mocks the ridiculousness of worshiping inanimate objects.  But in this text, the smack talk is backed by a reference to God’s answer to empty idol worship.  For the people of Israel, God met with them through His very presence within the holy temple.  A supernatural answer to “rival” idolatries.  But salvation history was utterly defined by what God did in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago.

Let our song selection describe the historical union between deity and mortal flesh:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

I honestly cannot think of a better way to call attention to the incarnation of Christ than with these lyrics.  Note, specifically, how the last verse recalls the ark of the covenant and the sculpted cherubim that “guarded” the holy of holies – where God’s presence would reside, visited by the Jewish high priest once a year.  What is great about this picture is realizing how drastically different it is from seeing God lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes – accessible to human parents, animals, shepherds and other bystanders.  From extreme limitation to awesome incarnation!

When you consider how big of a deal it is that God…supreme Being in all the universe…God came down to earth as a babe, it is unfathomable to comprehend.  The only and best response is twofold: be silent and then say, “Alleluia!”

Perhaps, this Christmas season is getting a little hairy for you.  That is understandable.  My challenge to you and to myself is simply this: take ten minutes in silence, just one time over the next couple of weeks, find ten minutes to be still and meditate upon the unbelievable reality that God came to us as flesh and blood.  Then, when those ten minutes are over, simply whisper in adoration to Him, “Alleluia…Praise Yahweh!”

Zechariah and the Least Expected Places – Ben Thomas (2008, The Bewildering Light)

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This selection is a beautiful, short transition piece from an anticipatory focus of Christ’ arrival to the mode of His incarnation.  We have spent time dwelling much on the expectation and need for a savior.  Now it is time to examine how God chose to send this Mighty Warrior to our rescue.

Of course, our discoveries will prove that it was an unexpected, unpopular and unlikely plan with humble beginnings and indirect routes.  God came not as a soldier, but as a helpless baby.  He came not into royalty, but peasantry (even though royal blood was in His veins).  He came with no fanfare, except for one bright star that only foreigners picked up on, and angels that only appeared to a select few – mainly socially out-casted shepherds.  But before all of these elements are revealed, our Christmas tale begins with a small story about a minor character named Zechariah.

Ben Thomas (also goes by the band name, So Elated) is the creative arts director at The Orchard Community in Naperville, Illinois.  He has a couple of albums that came out after this Christmas album, which was recorded in six days six years ago.  This song is the only one I know of that highlights the journey of Zechariah (a Jewish priest) and Elizabeth, parents to John the Baptist, forerunner to Jesus of Nazareth:

Jerusalem and the holy temple filled with smoke,                                                    Zechariah shuns the news from the angel of hope,                                                         stuck behind an incense cloud of religion and disappointment,                                         God keeps slippin’ out from underneath rocks and alleys off the beaten path,               open both your eyes

Prophets and kings and poets can contribute their work,                                                   just like eggs in a nest are alive with the promise of birds,                                                  but the Lord of creation will not be suggested to expectation,                                            God keeps slippin’ out from underneath rocks and alleys off the beaten path,               open both your eyes

Elizabeth barren, her knees black and dirty like coal,                                                         her consistent prayers float to the sky and revive her soul,                                             God, we will wait though we don’t understand Your redemptive story,                                God keeps slippin’ out from underneath rocks and alleys off the beaten path,                 open both your eyes

Luke 1 tells the story about Zechariah’s disbelief when the angel visits him bringing the news of a son to be born to his barren wife, Elizabeth.  Here is a Jewish religious leader, someone who should know the prophesies about a Messiah to come, and he is visited by a heavenly being.  Yet, his eyes are closed to the truth God had prepared especially for him.  So God closed his mouth for a time.

The song takes this event and brings out the resounding theme of the Nativity – that God comes to us in unusual and unexpected ways – therefore let us open both of our eyes to what God is doing around us.  Another John, who came later and closed the Written Word, records Jesus’ final instruction to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3.  Here God repeats the familiar refrain to all seven groups, “He who has ears to hear must listen.”

The principle is the same: Don’t look for God in earthly ways.  Look for God in godly ways, according to His nature and preference – not our own.  So many times, we want God to show up in our lives in a certain way, a way that we think would be best.  God came to us in the least expected way possible and the people who should have been ready to receive Him shunned and crucified Him instead.

There are too many “versions” of Christmas out there for us NOT to get easily tangled up in something fraudulent, erroneous and less than what Christmas really is.  Let us adhere to the lesson of Zechariah and join the chorus, “God, we will wait, though we don’t understand Your redemptive story…”  Dear Lord, open both our eyes!

O Come O Come Emmanuel – Rosie Thomas (2008, A Very Rosie Christmas)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

Click on image to listen to song for free.

Today, we look at our first traditional Christmas song and my favorite version of the holiday carol.  Each time I do this, I hope to provide some insightful background to the origin and intention of these classics.

First, about our featured artist, Rosie Thomas.  Thomas is a singer/song writer originally from Michigan.  She has a peculiar mixture of talents including music, comedy and film.  My draw to this version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” will be explained a little later.  I’m not incredibly familiar with her other work, but for me this rendition has out shined the test of so many other takes on one of the most well known Christmas songs.

“O Come O Come Emmanuel” has long ancestral roots, that it is unclear how far back it goes.  Guesses range the 8th to 15th century AD, and most assume a Latin origin.  It’s nearly impossible to put an author/composer to it’s ownership.  Historically, it has been often used during the last week of Advent, but we are taking a look at it during the first week of Advent.  My reason for this is to continue with the anticipatory approach to this season.  I hope to present Christmas songs in a certain order, so that we listen first to the expectation and need for Christ, then the path of arrival of the Christ, and finally the triumphant announcement of Christ’s coming.

“O Come O Come Emmanuel” deals mainly with the prophetic prologue concerning the nation of Israel and God’s plan to rescue them through His Son.  Isaiah 7:14 is used as the primary prophesy for this tune: “the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”  The context of the lyrics in the Christmas carol reflect a call upon God to rescue Israel from oppression, wondering and sorrow.  Here are all seven verses, although our selection only sings 1, 3, & 6.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

The power of this hymn is found in how it is entirely written in future tense, perfectly capturing the anticipation of salvation history’s greatest event – as if it hasn’t happened yet.  What this accomplishes is showing the ache and longing of God’s people  who were desperate for revival and rebirth.  Generations of waiting, suffering, forgetting and then painfully remembering, once again, that God chose them as His very own nation – but they refused to honor God in return.  Centuries of trying to find answers to all of their problems, but never staying close enough to God and the path that He had set for them so long ago.

Nevertheless, God would not abandon His own – even they had earned such a fate.  Listen to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ paraphrase of Malachi 1, 3, & 4 (the last prophet book in the Old Testament before Jesus arrives):

God said to Israel, “I can’t stop loving you.  You are My heart’s treasure.  But I lost you.  Now I am coming back for you.  I am like the sun that gently shines on you, chasing away the darkness and fear and death.  You’ll be so happy – you’ll be like little calves running free in an open field.  I am going to send a Messenger – The Promised One.  The One you have been waiting for.  The Rescuer.  He is coming.  So, get ready!”

This Christmas song resembles someone being underwater for minutes and then coming up for air.  There is such a yearning in each verse, particularly from the vantage point of a lost people, God’s lost sheep.  But each stanza includes such a declaration of faith and joy in the promise of Emmanuel – God with us!

Rosie Thomas’ voice presents just the right balance between deep longing and quiet faith/joy.  I prefer the softer version of this song as well, which helps to facilitate a focus on anticipation and desire for God to come.

Before we get too excited that Jesus has arrived, let us remember how much we need Him, how long this world has waited for a Rescuer, and how faithful God was/is in delivering on His many and glorious promises!  O! Come, Emmanuel!  God, come be with us!

This Is War – Dustin Kensrue (2008, This Good Night Is Still Everywhere)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

Click on image to listen to song for free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have many plans for posting about Christmas songs this month, and I’m excited to get started on this theme.  I plan to include several new songs as well my favorite renditions of old ones, so keep an eye out for Truth In Tunes this month.  My hope is that it enhances your worship of our “New Born King” this Christmas season.

Dustin Kensrue is best known for leading worship at Mars Hill Orange County and writing songs for the hard rock, Christian band Thrice.  His solo efforts are a rare gem of gritty, Springstein-esque folk rock that plays into the theme of this song perfectly.

“This Is War” doesn’t sound like a very good Christmas song title.  And when you here it (if you haven’t already) it won’t include the usual harmonies, bells and chorale background that you might be accustomed to.  However, it is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time because it captures the essence of why this holiday means something.

Christmas always feels like a warm, cozy event – once you get past the crazy shopping/travel secularization part.  That is a tall order in and of itself; but, even then the picture is of a quiet, solemn gathering with loved ones where candles, hot drinks, gifts and laughter hopefully abound.  You’re probably doing really well if you get this far.   So, then if you include a Christmas devotional time with the retelling of the story of sweet baby Jesus arriving on a Silent Night by humble means, then Christmas is truly a success, right?  Well, all of this is well and good (trust me, I try to include all of the above), BUT it leaves out one loud, crucial element: the abrupt, in-your-face assault by God in the epic campaign against Satan and sin.

This is the only Christmas song that I know which attempts to deliver a gloves-off version of this important Christmas truth (please tell me if you know about others!).  God coming to earth as a man was the war strategy that the devil could not possibly counter or prevail against.  He tried, but failed!  For Jesus came with truth and grace – the two weapons in the ultimate spiritual warfare of salvation history that could not be defended against.  It’s ironic and beautifully holy to see this weapon of war clothed as a soft infant born to peasants in a small hick town.  But do not underestimate what this event really meant and probably felt like to the enemy of God.  For Jesus’ birth was the all-time game-changer that rewrote the world’s entire destiny.

Having said all of that to set up this song and these lyrics, consider letting this anthem become a regular part of your holiday listening experience – because it is, after all, our victory cry and the pivotal core of the what Christmas is worth to all who believe:

This is war like you ain’t seen.
This winter’s long, it’s cold and mean.
With hangdog hearts we stood condemned,
But the tide turns now at Bethlehem.

This is war and born tonight,
The Word as flesh, the Lord of Light,
The Son of God, the low-born king;
Who demons fear, of whom angels sing.

This is war on sin and death;
The dark will take it’s final breath.
It shakes the earth, confounds all plans;
The mystery of God as man.

It’s probably not as eloquent and rich as other carols, but that’s because its a soldier’s song.  Simple, accurate, bottom line truth – in a tune that reflects the spirit of an everyday, common man’s theology.  The Gospel is born and charged with energy through this song in a way that I hope kindles your fire well beyond holiday sentiment.  God came to us as a man – and by that act declared all out war against sin and death and Satan – so that we could be rescued and join the battle as God’s warriors.

Life is full of moments where we are still and calm, so as to reflect on truth and beauty.  Christmas is certainly a good time for these things.  Life also provides moments that call our guts to well up and roar against the forces of evil.  Christmas fits within these moments, too.  Christ gave up everything for us to be able to have confidence within these moments, knowing that the battle has already been won by Him.  Live life like the Baby is your War Hero and Victor.  This is December…and this is war!

So Long, Moses/Deliver Us – Andrew Peterson (2004, Behold the Lamb of God)

Click image to listen to song for free.

I have already explained that I will be taking the next several weeks doing posts on Christmas songs.  The reason for this effort is that I firmly believe God uses some of the most beautiful and significant truth in some of our treasured holiday tunes in order to change our lives for the better.

We begin a full season of Christmas posts with my first repeat artist, Andrew Peterson.  In addition, this will be a double dip into Peterson’s only Christmas album and it may not be the only time I post from it over the next month.  It is that good and it has become an essential part of my Advent experience.

“Behold the Lamb of God” is a unique Christmas record and it is a fantastic live experience.  Every year, Andrew gets a few other artists together for a holiday concert tour where this album is performed sequentially and in full.  He has done this with the likes of Phil Keaggy, Alison Krauss, Bebo Norman, Sara Groves, Derek Webb and many others.  You can find a list of stops for this year’s tour here.

The album is a musical journey through the entire Christmas story, which according to the Bible, really starts way back in the Old Testament with Israel and the prophets.  It is a beautiful build up to the history and the reasons why God sent His Son to us as a baby. Listen to some of the lyrics from the two songs that I have selected for today:

So Long Moses:                                                                                                                     So long, Moses, Hello, Promised Land
It was a long, long road but your people are home
Hello, Saul, First king of Israel
You were foolish and strong so you didn’t last long
Hail, King David shepherd from Bethlehem
Set the temple of God in mighty Jerusalem
You were a king on a throne
Full of power, with a sword in his fist
Has there ever been, ever been a king like this?
Hello, prophets, The kingdom is broken now
The people of God have been scattered abroad
How long, O Lord?
So speak, Isaiah, prophet of Judah
Can you tell of the One this king who’s going to come
Will he be a king on a throne
Full of power with a sword in his fist?
Prophet, tell us will there be another king like this?
Full of wisdom, full of strength, the hearts of the people are his
Prophet, tell us will there be another king like this?
“He’ll bear no beauty or glory, rejected, despised
A man of such sorrow, we’ll cover our eyes
He’ll take up our sickness, carry our tears
For his people He will be pierced
He’ll be crushed for our evils
Our punishment feel by his wounds we will be healed.”
“From you, O Bethlehem, small among Judah
A ruler will come, ancient and strong.”

Deliver Us:                                                                                                                           Our enemy, our captor is no pharaoh on the Nile
Our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand
Our ankles bear no calluses from chains, yet Lord, we’re bound
Imprisoned here, we dwell in our own land
Deliver us, deliver us
Oh Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight
Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay
These shackles they were made with our own hands
Our toil is our atonement and our freedom yours to give
So Yahweh, break your silence if you can
‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem
How often I have longed
To gather you beneath my gentle wings’

These songs and this album help us tremendously.  Sometimes we sing the old carols and hymns and the richness that passes out of our lips floats away without comprehension or appreciation.  The Advent services we attend are intimate and warm, but our minds are elsewhere.  The hustle and bustle of this season can be toxic and our information intake focuses too much on trivial things and not enough on legendary truths.

The anticipation of a savior and a king for the nation of Israel (and the world for that matter) was an historical pregnancy unlike anything we can really relate to today.  How can we fathom centuries of wandering, oppression and strife – waiting for deliverance?  How can hear the groans of the earth, yearning for God to finally say, “It is time to send my Son, the Rescuer”?  We need to begin these weeks of reflection and celebration by looking back.  Back before the manger and the angels.  Back before the donkey ride and a Roman census.  Even back before the vision of Mary and the manly decisions of Joseph, her mate.

Let your worship of Jesus this Christmas include the Reason for the Season – which is not just that Christmas is about the coming of Christ.  It is the reason of all reasons: that the world was sick and dying from the self-inflicted pains of total depravity.  It is that we, human-kind, spat in the face of a loving God, and yet He opened His arms to us once again in the most sacrificial, powerful and perfect way by giving us Himself.

Search the Scriptures and remember.  Reflect on your own journey, for those of you who have Jesus in your hearts as Lord and Savior, and recall the significance and meaning of what this life would be like if God had never acted mercifully on your behalf.  We all need perspective on the value of this event we call Christmas.  Let Peterson’s creative flashback of Old Testament times add to your perspective of how God has truly come to deliver us!