Almost all of us enjoy music during the Christmas season (as long as it doesn't start to early). For me, music has been a vehicle for personal meditation on the theological and thematic richness of the Messiah's birth. Every year I look forward to pressing play on several unique musical projects and individual songs that have impacted me over the years. Leading up to Christmas I'll share one of these resources each week with you!
Andrew Peterson is one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in Christian music. Andrew's skill as a writer and storyteller has been put to use beyond the the realm of music in his epic young adult novel series The Wingfeather Saga
. But in his Christmas album, Behold the Lamb,
that same love for story is on display as Andrew uses song to tell God's redemptive story. The album is an integrated project, not just a collection of songs. Everything ties together to tell the unfolding tale of what God is doing in history in and through a baby in a manger.
The album opens with an invitation to "Gather 'Round" and listen to the "old, old story / of the power of death undone / by an infant born of glory." The story itself begins through the eyes of Israel in bondage in Egypt. In Track 2, Israel cries out for God's judgment to pass over them. "So Long Moses" follows Israel out of Egypt, through the Exodus, and into the Promised Land. Through Joshua and the Monarchy and into exile, Israel longs for a king "full of power, with a sword in his fist." A King is coming like this, but unexpectedly Isaiah declares that "he'll bear no beauty or glory" but instead will be "crushed for our evils / our punishment feel / by his wounds / we will be healed."
As Israel returns from exile, they are back in their land but still under foreign powers. Track 4 highlights this: "Imprisoned here / we dwell in our own land." Peterson does an incredible job painting the biblical story of Israel through their return from exile all the way to the beginning of the New Testament. Israel was back in the land, the temple was rebuilt, but nothing was as they expected it. It seem like God had forgotten the promises he'd spoken through the prophets. Israel was still waiting for God's promised deliverance.
This moment of tension and transition in the biblical story is bridged in the album by an amazing instrumental arrangement of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The guitar playing is fabulous on this track and is a unique take on a traditional carol repurposed as an intermission between the Old and New Testament stories.
The second half of the Behold the Lamb opens in track 6 with "Matthew's Begats". The song is a fun, folksly rendition of Matthew's genealogy. It's amazing that Andrew is even able to pronounce all the names in this song! "It Came To Pass" (Track 7) begins to tell the story of Jesus' birth through Luke's gospel. The following song, "Labor of Love" is one of my personal favorites on the album and gives a gritty authenticity to Mary's experience in the birth of the Messiah. "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." The shepherds follow in the story with "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks".
The album ends with two tracks that bring to a conclusion the meaning of the Christmas story. The album's title track "Behold the Lamb of God" poetically parallels the "sin of man" with the "Lamb of God" who takes away that sin. The final song, "The Theme of My Song" brings a fitting end to the album, drawing together pieces from many of the album's previous tracks. Where the call as the album opened was to "gather 'round, ye children, come." Here, as the story ties together, it is, "rejoice, ye children, sing.... for the brave little boy is our Savior."
Andrew Peterson performs this Christmas project as a complete concert each year in Nashville, and I would love to go see it one year. This album is by far my favorite Christmas album to listen to, but it's not something you just turn on in the background while you're opening presents, or that you can listen to only one or two songs from. The album truly is a complete work and is best listened to that way. Peterson's ability to draw together the entire biblical story of God's saving work through a baby in a manger is amazing. I hope in listening to this project you will be as blessed and encouraged as I have been. I pray you too will "behold the Lamb" in all his glory.