Media Review: Christmas Albums

Media Review: Christmas Albums

by / 0 Comments / 33 View / December 2, 2011

A Very She & Him Christmas

By She & Him

www.sheandhim.com

Behold the Lamb: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ

By Andrew Peterson

www.andrewpeterson.com

Well, it is the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas time! Well, technically, it is Advent for you Lutherans out there (Christmas comes after December 25th!), but you know what I am talking about. Around this time every year the culture wars seem to rage! Christians become furious because they are not allowed to say Merry Christmas at work. Starbucks baristas receive the stink eye every time they say, “Happy Holidays.” We hear sermons bemoaning the trappings of the season that distract us from the birth of Jesus. The season where we are supposed to celebrate the Prince of Peace seems to cause His followers a tremendous amount of consternation! We feel like we are living in a Peanuts Christmas Special.

While I must admit that I have preached sermons decrying the distractions of the season, I have to confess that I love the Christmas season! I love the lights, I love the decorations, I love the parties, I even love the holiday cups from Starbucks! But most of all, I love Christmas music. Two albums I would recommend to you this year are AVery She & Him Christmas by She & Him and Behold the Lamb: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ by Andrew Peterson. These two albums are wonderful additions to this year’s Christmas music catalog. But, it must be noted that these two albums have very different purposes. One might go so far as to say that they celebrate entirely different holidays. Just ask CS Lewis.

In his marvelous essay, “Xmas and Christmas” (found in God in the Dock), Lewis poses as an ancient explorer named Herodotus giving a report on his journey to the land of Niatirb (Britain spelled backward) where he has observed the customs of the people. Speaking to their holiday activities, he compares two festivals that are celebrated on December 25th: Xmas and Christmas. Xmas is marked by stress, pointless cards, and gluttony. Christmas is marked by faithful worship and solemn devotion to Jesus. Herodotus wonders why both are celebrated on the same day, as they are clearly different holidays.

Now, I don’t take as negative a view of the so-called Xmas holiday as CS Lewis does. However, I think the distinction is helpful. There seem to be two different focuses this time of year. There is the Xmas focus that emphasizes parties, decorations, and shopping. And, there is the Christmas focus that celebrates the birth of our incarnate God.

This distinction will help us as we consider the value of the two albums being reviewed. If you are looking for a great Xmas album, then A Very She & Him Christmas is for you. Zooey Deschanel (of New Girl and Elf fame) and M. Ward have put together a simply joyful collection of Christmas classics that would make an excellent addition to any Christmas (or Xmas) party. Listening to this album conjures up images of sitting by a fire-place with friends and hot cocoa while taking part in a sing-along. Song for song this album is highly enjoyable. The only low-point is their rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside in which it seems the duo is in a dead-sprint to end the song. I prefer the version Deschanel sings with Will Ferrell in Elf (also, the version she sings with Leon Redbone on the soundtrack of Elf is great.)

The best part of this album? It is pure Xmas! There is not a single Christmas hymn. Wait, you say, how can that be a good thing? The great danger of many Christmas albums is that they place songs about the incarnation of God alongside songs about cold weather and decorated trees. The result is that the birth of Jesus is just another part of the season. God’s saving activity is made to be no more important than chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Christmas is confused with Xmas, or worse, just another part of our Xmas nostalgia. Now, I am not against all the Xmas trappings. I am just suggesting that it is wrong to make Jesus merely another partof our seasonal celebrations. He’s just not the kind of God who can share the spotlight with warm, fuzzy feelings.

Now, if you are looking for a true Christmas album that doesn’t sing the same old Christmas (or Xmas) songs, then you will be thrilled with Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb. Last year marked the 10th anniversary of this brilliant concept album on which Peterson sings redemptive history right from the pages of Scripture. Peterson is a master story-teller who puts his talents to music and breathes new life into the too often familiarized story of Christ’s coming. After inviting the listener to sit, join in hearing the old, old story in Gather ‘Round, Ye Children Come, Peterson recounts how the entire Old Testament story anticipates a Savior beginning with the Exodus (Passover Us), throughout the life of Israel as they conquer the Promised Land and desire a king (So Long, Moses), and as they mourn in exile (Deliver Us). After an exciting instrumental version of Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel, Peterson opens the New Testament era by putting the genealogy of Matthew 1 to song. The rest of the album consists of songs surrounding the birth of Christ and the joy and salvation He brings. Jill Philips offers an incredibly powerful song called Labor of Love in which the whole notion of Christ’s birth being a serene, wintery Hallmark card is shattered. Get this opening line, “It was not a silent night. There was blood on the ground.” Perhaps my personal favorite part of the album is at the very end when Peterson has little children say the popular poem “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” This powerful truth in the mouths of giggling children truly captures the truth of the Christmas, the almighty God was a giggly, crying baby lying in a manger.

So, to recap this incredibly long blog review: if you are looking for a fun, Xmas album that is great at parties, A Very She & Him Christmas will make your seasons bright. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more devotional celebration of our God who put on flesh in the womb of the virgin to take on the hopes and fears of all the years, then Behold the Lamb will give you a richer, more faithful understanding of the God we worship and celebrate this time of year. Merry Christmas! (And yes, happy Xmas too!)

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