Christmas album review

I have fairly recently started doing review of albums for BBC Radio Cornwall’s Sunday morning show and Naomi Rowe, the presenter, asked me to do a Christmas Day reflection. This is what I said … can’t add in the tracks I am afraid.

So this is Christmas and what have you got? Another year over and another season of carols, mince pies and Christmas cards and another year of working out how to tell the story of God becoming flesh in Jesus …

Almost everyone, regardless of who they are, remembers snatches of carols and you couldn’t go shopping without being accompanied by all the pop songs we know and love … and some we don’t.

Well, I am a child of the 70s and I do love most of them. I enjoy shopping to the strains of Jona Lewie, Mud, Paul McCartney and, of course, Slade.

But what about music that carries the real Christmas story?

One teenage memory – I remember in the 1970s listening to Steeleye Span on Top of the Pops singing Gaudete and realising that it was OK to let the Christian story, even in Latin, be a part of a teenager’s Christmas.

The truth is, of course, that the Church is almost trapped. Those people who only worship with us at Christmas expect carols and so we repeat the same dozen or so every year because we like them too. But then where can the new hymns and songs be heard?

As a hymnwriter I’ve found one solution in writing new words that fit well-known tunes so that the tinsel and tradition can be challenged by new thoughts and ideas.

But there are contemporary writers who take this age-old story and weave in new ideas. Graham Kendrick’s stunning CD Rumours of Angels tells the story of Mary and Joseph hearing God and trusting their lives to him.

Just last weekend I used a PowerPoint presentation with one track – Thorns in the Straw – which develops the Bible line about Mary pondering all the events. On the song we ask if Mary saw, in the straw by Jesus’ head, a thorn, symbolising the pain and the Crown that was to follow.

Kendrick’s song does what many modern-day writers do – ties the Nativity to the Cross – because Christians know you can’t have Bethlehem without Calvary. But, from an unusual source, comes a plea not to rush away from the stable so quickly.

Ricky Ross, lead singer of 80s band Deacon Blue, has captivated me during this year with a quite stunning album Pale Rider. It is shot through with Christian reflection and is without doubt my album of the year.

One track, Calvary, is about the birth of Jesus but tells us we need to stop seeing the manger as a quick stop on the way to the cross. It’s a song about getting ready for Christmas but then taking time to let the enormity of this event sink in.

Our Bible readings tell us that this is where Jesus, the living Word of God, became a human being. Ricky Ross sings:

the baby comes, folks don’t sleep
those shepherds keep you up later than you meant to be
one child grows and people notice
he’s breaking chains
and making poor folks’ lives so heavenly
(the way it’s meant to be)

Then the chorus comes in, ending with the line: I’m not even trying to get as far as Calvary.

Well, I’m with Ricky here. Don’t tear yourself away from the stable too soon. Kneel there appreciate the gift and don’t try to get to Calvary … at least, not just yet. Merry Christmas.

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