As a kid, my brother and I were forbidden to listen to music that fell outside of the realm of "Christian." Consequently, my brother and I are now complete music "freaks." He has a vinyl record collection that continues to grow daily and I have a CD collection that is ever inching towards the three millenium mark. Both of us have grown to be "music snobs" in some ways and I think that we are comfortable enough to be willing to admit that.
The best musicians that I have encountered are ones who are fairly diverse in their taste. I always enjoy asking people what they listen to and hearing the response, "Anything." I take that as a challenge! Do they like metal? Rap? Hip hop? Classical? I usually find out that "anything" means, "anything but that." I truly listen to a wide array of music: classical, soundtracks, Broadway, folk, rock, folk-rock, classic rock, heavy metal, hip hop, and the list continues.
When I was growing up, music was a big part of who I was. My mom introduced me to the Carpenters who got me through a lot of difficult times in my freshman year of college. I loved listening to the Andrews Sisters sing "Mr. Sandman." Although my mom's collection wasn't vast, it introduced me to some classic music which I still embrace.
As my love for music grew, I was particularly moved every Christmas at the sheer volume of music that was available. Everyone who was anyone had released a Christmas album, which is not to say that they were all good, but they were there nonetheless. Because of the sheer volume of music that was available, it was easy to get sidetracked into some pretty bad releases. Looking at my Christmas music collection, people who know me would not be surprised to find Bob Dylan's Christmas album or the Carpenters Christmas album. But there are some gems in there like Kenny Loggins' "December" and the soundtrack for "The Muppet Christmas Carol."
I pretty much start listening to Christmas music in July or August. It again goes back to the nature of my job in that if I don't get a jump on Christmas during the summer, I'm pretty much going to be "winging it" during the months of Fall. In fact, one of the songs that we are working on for Christmas this year is a song that I discovered a few weeks before Christmas last year. Music is always on my mind and while I love the classics, I am always anxious and interested in hearing something that's new and different.
When my wife and I lived in Asheville, North Carolina, we had friends from Connecticut who had migrated to Charlotte. My wife was finishing her Master's degree in counseling at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Charlotte, so we would spend a good deal of time in Charlotte for my wife to take classes and for me to spend time with our friends, searching the used CD stores around Charlotte for deals.
As my friend, John, and I were driving one night to the store, he had a CD in his car that we were listening to. Now John is not a singer (sorry, John) but this CD had him wanting to belt out the music. As I waded past my friend's slightly off-key singing, I listened closely to the music and was struck by the sheer musicianship of the artist. John is pretty critical, like me, and I knew that if this was something that he embraced, it might require a second look. So, I asked him who it was and he told me that it was an album called "Behold the Lamb of God" by Andrew Peterson. It was a song cycle about the birth of Christ.
Like me, Peterson is a pastor's kid. So, I feel a connection to him immediately. I went home and ordered the CD. When it arrived, I listened to it from start to finish (unheard of in these days of iPods and MP3 players). After I finished it, I listened to it again, and again, and again. I was captivated by the power of story and how Peterson had weaved the story of Jesus together, incorporating the Old and New Testaments. I'm fairly critical of music (although some would question that as I am a Bob Dylan fan....but whatever!) and beginning to end, this album was superb. The lyrics and melodies were well-crafted, the songs all connected with each other and with me. The album immediately became a staple in my Christmas music collection.
I eventually found out that every year, Peterson tours the country and as Christmas approaches, he plays through the entire song cycle of "Behold the Lamb of God." He also plays at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville with special guests. I purchased a DVD of one of his Ryman concerts and watched in awe with tears coming to my eyes, moved by the sheer power of story, especially the life-altering and world-changing story of Jesus.
Tomorrow night I get the opportunity to experience "Behold the Lamb of God" with some friends. I hope that I have not talked it up too much, but if it has near the impact on them that it has had on me, then I expect nothing less than transformation for the Christmas season for all of them. Aside from the lyrics, music, and incredible talent of all who play and sing, the most important part of this album is that it helps me to remember why I am celebrating Christmas. It's not to get lots of presents, to make sure that my kids get everything they want, or to see some fat guy in a red suit. I celebrate because God saw fit to bring Shalom into my world by offering his son, Jesus, as the greatest gift that anyone could receive. A baby was born, and that baby changed the world. "Behold the Lamb of God" is all about that baby, but more importantly, about how that baby turned everything upside down when he became a man.
As you go into this Christmas season, if you are a lover of music, I would seriously encourage you to check out "Behold the Lamb of God." I would be very surprised if it didn't have an impact on you. After all, it's not necessarily about the music, it's about Jesus!
Here's the link to the album: