Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Favorite Christmas Songs/Hymns

Well, I've covered musical Christmas annoyances...it's only right that we should address that Christmas is the subject of some of the most beautiful music ever written. Honestly, I think that's what annoys me about BAD Christmas music...it's like, there's so much GOOD stuff out there, why did you have to go write and/or sing this crap? My Christmas musical taste generally covers two extremes, which maybe mirrors the two theological extremes that converge in the Christmas event. In reflecting, I love big, powerful Christmas music, and I love quiet, simple Christmas music. Much of the stuff in between is fine too, but those are definitely my two preferences. And in a way, maybe that does mirror what happened at Christmas...we have the Lord of the universe coming with choirs of angels...but we also have a relatively anonymous teenaged mother giving birth in a barn. And both perspectives describe the same event. The post-modernist in me LOVES that kind of juxtaposition. So, on to the music (again, in no particular order):

Oh Holy Night: A couple of caveats here. First, ya gotta include all 3 verses. The first verse is nice and all, but the other 2 verses are such treasures...and far too often we don't get to hear them. There's some good, meaty theology of the cross to chew on in there. The third verse in particular is my favorite. Here's the text of the whole hymn for those who may not be aware of the other verses:

Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices,
Oh night divine! Oh night when Christ was born!
Oh night divine!
Oh night divine!

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King, before him lowly bend!
Behold your King, before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name!

Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!

The second caveat is almost as important. This hymn HAS to be done right. Strong and powerful in the appropriate places, soft and subdued in other places. This isn't one that you can just belt it out for all it's worth (like say, Joy to the World) and it's not one that you can sing as a lullabye (like Silent Night). It's a little of both. And when done right, it will raise the hairs on the nape of your neck and bring tears of joy and wonder to your eyes. As far as versions you hear on the radio, there's actually very few that I'd classify as very good. Faith Hill does a good job with the nuances between strong and soft, but if I remember correctly she only sings the first verse. Most versions only sing the first verse, which is really too bad. I think musically my favorite version is Michael Crawford's. I haven't heard it yet this year and I don't remember offhand if he uses more than one verse, but I think he does. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

What Child Is This? First, I love the hymn. I love that it addresses both the humanity and divinity of Christ. The humility and the exaltation. I love that there is a verse that also points to the cross: "Nails, spear, shall pierce him through; the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail, the Word made flesh; the Babe, the son of Mary." And I love, just simply have fallen in love with the gorgeously simple arrangement John Denver did of this beautiful song. For me, his is the definitive rendition.

What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born, the Babe, the Son of Mary.


Mary, Did You Know? A relatively new song that also points to the cross as well as addresses the humanity and divinity of Christ. It was originally written by Mark Lowry, who is well known in many Christian circles (though not by many Lutherans) as part of Bill Gaither's band and a funny, though hyper Christian comedian. Frankly, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I first found out he had written this. It's been recorded by a number of folks, but I have yet to hear the recording that does full justice to this beautiful song:

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm the storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you've kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the Great I Am!


Joseph's Song Maybe it's because I'm a daddy now...but this beautiful song by Michael Card gets me every time. Just imagine Joseph holding his baby, eyes closed, asking God "how could it be? How can a man be father to the Son of God? Lord, for all my life I've been a simple carpenter--how can I raise a King? How can I raise a King?" Doggone it, I'm getting all teary-eyed just TYPING about this song. I know how completely unworthy I felt when my own son was born...this song really drives home how Joseph must have felt. Whenever I accompany myself on this song, after the final "how could it be?" I always go up an octave and play the "sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace" ending from Silent Night. It seems to fit well, both thematically and musically, even though it's not part of the original arrangement.

If you've never heard this song before, do me a favor. Go out and purchase a copy of Michael Card's The Life, and listen to Joseph's Song. While you're at it, listen to the rest of the double-album as well--it goes through the life of Jesus, and Michael Card is an incredible songwriter. Here's the lyrics for Joseph's Song:

How could it be, this baby in my arms
Sleeping now so peacefully?
"The Son of God," the angel said--how could it be?

Lord, I know he's not my own.
Not of my flesh, not of my bones.
Still Father let this baby be the son of my love.

Father show me where I fit into This plan of Yours.
How can a man be father to the Son of God?
Lord, for all my life I've been a simple carpenter.
How can I raise a king? How can I raise a king?

He looks so small, his face and hands so fair.
And when he cries the sun just seems to disappear.
But when he laughs, it shines again.
How could it be?

Father show me where I fit into this plan of Yours.
How can a man be father to the Son of God?
Lord, for all my life I've been a simple carpenter.
How can I raise a king? How can I raise a king?

How could it be, this baby in my arms
Sleeping now so peacefully?
"The Son of God," the angel said--
How could it be?

For Unto Us a Child Is Born That's right, an oldie but a goodie by our old friend George Fredric Handel. Rich text, lifted straight from the prophecy in the 9th chapter of Isaiah, beautiful and memorable melody, and when done well by a chorus and orchestra, an amazing experience. Not to mention the fact that I always think of my sister, who when she was young was convinced that the song was about a "Wonderful Constable."

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

T.A.(P)D.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Okay...this needs to be set straight. The girl next to me in Nebraska Children's chorus was convinced it was "Wonderful Constable" and I was TOTALLY annoyed that she couldn't get it right!! :)

The Anonymous (Pipe)Dreamer said...

That's RIGHT!!!!!! I totally remember it now! Thanks for setting the record straight. I'll still smile when I hear the piece, but for a slightly different reason now. =)