I always enjoy exploring new resources that are released each year to help us to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth. This year, I’ve enjoyed reading a new book on The Characters of Christmas from Dan Darling and listening to new albums by two of my favorite artists, Andrew Peterson and Keith and Kristyn Getty.
The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught Up in the Story of Jesus by Daniel Darling. Moody Publishers. 184 pages. 2019
This book reminded me a bit of John MacArthur’s excellent book Twelve Ordinary Men. In that book, MacArthur looks at the apostles, and how they were in many ways just ordinary men. In this book, Darling tells us that there is something wonderfully ordinary about the people who make up the story of Jesus’ birth. He invites us to look afresh at the story of Jesus through the lives of the characters of Christmas who point not to themselves, but to the central figure in the Christmas narrative: Jesus, the One whose birth, life, death, and resurrection change everything.
The author tells us that the good news for us is that Jesus came to bring joy to ordinary people like you and me. A theme throughout the book was what the author refers to as the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God.
This enjoyable book is one that would be good to read and discuss with others this Christmas season. Questions for reflection and suggested Christmas songs are included at the end of each chapter.
The characters of Christmas that the author looks at are:
- Zechariah and Elizabeth
- The Angels
- The Innkeeper
- The Shepherds
- The Wise Men
- Simeon and Anna
- Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba
But the author doesn’t just look at these characters. He also brings in a lot of the biblical story as well to help with the context of how these characters fit in.
Below are ten of my favorite quotes from the book:
- The message of Christmas, then, is not about manufacturing sentimental feelings in vain hopes of a miracle. It’s about believing the reality that God has birthed something new in Jesus and because of this, God will birth something new in you and in me.
- The Christmas story reminds us that God moves in and among those whom society most often leaves behind.
- If you expect Christ, if you seek Him, He will come. If you disbelieve, like the scribes and religious leaders, you will not hear the angels sing.
- We are religious up until the point it costs us something. We want a Jesus who forms Himself around our priorities and who can be sprinkled on top of our agendas. But Jesus invades our lives and disrupts them.
- Where we least expect Him, He comes most fully. He invades our lives; He goes where there is no room so we might find a home in Him.
- Though their vocation was not viewed with respect by their peers, Scripture always portrays shepherding as a high calling, perhaps the most repeated image of leadership in the Bible.
- A temptation for us, this Christmas, is to simply get full of “the feels,” the warm sentimentality of this season, and miss the good news at the heart of the holiday: Christ has come into the world to save you and to save me.
- Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom that prizes power over the vulnerable, but is a kingdom of flourishing, where the last shall be first, a kingdom made up of the weak and the ignoble.
- Jesus has come for outsiders and the sinner, the downcast and the powerless. In a word, He has come for you.
- This is the real meaning of Christmas, that God is in the business of taking sinners like you and me and making us new creations, with new identities and a new purpose.
Andrew Peterson Presents Behold the Lamb of God – Andrew Peterson
Behold the Lamb of God (BTLOG) is a brand-new recording of Andrew Peterson’s 1999 Christmas album, produced by Ben Shive. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his annual BTLOG tour, which I’ve been fortunate to attend twice. In Chapter 4 “Behold the Lamb” of his new book Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling and Mystery of Making, (which Peterson read in his breakout session at the 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference), Peterson writes about the history of the album and tour. He writes:
“What if there was a Christmas concert that was only about Jesus? What if it told a story? And what if it didn’t sound like your usual Christmas songs, but like the music I listened to the rest of the year? In other words, what if it sounded like Nashville, with dobros and hammered dulcimers and fiddles and folk singers, instead of Bing Crosby?”
BTLOG would be a Christmas tour, initially booked before all of the songs for the album were even written. They would not be singing traditional Christmas songs. The songs would tell a story but there wouldn’t be any speaking parts.
BTLOG is a creative concept album telling the Christmas story from both the Old and New Testaments. It was only a few years ago that I heard the original 1999 edition, which was packaged with a live version of the concert in a 2009 10th Anniversary edition.
The new recording is well produced and much like the original, features excellent players, and Peterson sharing the vocal spotlight in community with a few different artists. Peterson indicated that that album was recorded in just two days with about twenty old friends. A few of those friends were:
- Jess Ray, a singer-songwriter from North Carolina, who sings lead on “Passover Us”.
- Scott Mulvahill, a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who I remember playing an incredible upright bass on the 2018 BTLOG tour, sings lead on “Deliver Us”.
- Andy Gullahorn, a singer-songwriter and guitarist sings lead on “It Came to Pass”
- Jill Phillips, a Nashville based singer-songwriter, who is married to Gullahorn, sings lead on “Labor of Love”.
Not many artists go back and completely re-record one of their classic albums. I’m glad that Andrew Peterson has. Check out this new recording and try to catch one of the shows on his BTLOG tour. You won’t regret it.
Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live at The Grand Ole Opry House – Keith and Kristyn Getty and Friends
August 19, 2019 was one of the hottest days of the year in Nashville, with the temperature reaching 96 degrees. The theme of day one of the Sing! Getty Worship Conference was the Incarnation. The finale of that day of the conference was two Christmas concerts at the Grand Ole Opry House that were filmed for a television special. Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live at The Grand Ole Opry House, the Getty’s third Christmas album, includes an hour and 18 minutes of content, and is the audio companion to the television special.
The Getty’s are backed by their incredible band, along with several special guests. The album includes just about everything you might expect from a Getty Christmas album – from instrumentals just as “Sleigh Ride Medley”, classic Christmas carols such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, and “Joy to the World”, a wonderful new song “Elizabeth”, written and performed by Kristyn Getty and Ellie Holcomb – as well as some songs you might not think of as fitting on a Christmas album (“Inoshowen”, “In Christ Alone)
The Getty’s band is excellent throughout. Special guests, in addition to Holcomb, include the joyfully energetic Venezuelan classical flutist Pedro Eustache, rapper Trip Lee, who adds his talent to “O Children Come.” The great guitarist Phil Keaggy is featured on an instrumental version of “Silent Night”, and Matt Boswell and Matt Papa perform their new modern Christmas hymn “Sing We The Song of Emmanuel”, written with Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, from their album His Mercy Is More: The Hymns Of Matt Boswell And Matt Papa.
What resources are you using to help you prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth?