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Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.
November 10, 2006
Tomorrow is Remembrance Day here in Canada, the day we remember veterans and those who sacrificed their lives to protect our nation. My son’s school is honoring this day today in the way many schools do: they are inviting veterans to the school and will hold an assembly. I hope my son looks in awe at the veterans as I did when I was his age, though there are fewer and fewer veterans still alive. Yesterday my son’s class made crosses, like those that mark the graves of countless men who fell in battle. My son, who is six, like many boys his age, is intrigued by the Second World War and has tried to learn what he can about it. He decided that the cross he made would be more authentic if it had on it the name of a man who fell in the war. He knows that he has a great great uncle who was a fighter pilot and was shot down, but couldn’t remember his name. He racked his brain and came up with the one name he could remember. So if you happen to be at my son’s school today and are looking at the crosses, you’ll know his by the inscription. His cross says “Hitler” on it.
A few years ago I gave up on Christmas music. I was so tired of the same old songs, sung in the same old way. So many songs with good content and nice tunes were padded with horrible keyboard work and filled with over-the-top orchestral arrangements. Or even worse, they got the “kids choir” treatment! Last year I decided I would cautiously look around and see whether Christmas music is as bad as I remember it. I am glad to say that there are some new entries on the scene that have a lot to offer.
Yesterday morning I received a copy of Savior, the new Sovereign Grace Christmas album. I set it on repeat and listened to it ten times in a row. At 48 minutes long, this means that I listened to the same CD for 8 hours. And I enjoyed it. It is pretty well what we have come to expect from Sovereign Grace in terms of both the quality of the music and of the lyrics. The majority of the songs are new and are written by Sovereign Grace songwriters. There are no traditional Christmas songs on the album. Personal favorites are “Hope Has Come,” “Emmanuel, Emmanuel,” “Glory Be to God,” and “Rejoice.” I guess I tend toward the songs that are a little more up-beat. All of the songs are suitable for personal worship and most are also suitable for corporate worship. If you buy the album right away, you may just be able to learn them on time for this year’s holiday services. As always, lyrics, lead sheets and audio clips are available on Sovereign Grace’s site.
Another album, or series of albums, that caught my eye not too long ago was Sufjan Steven’s “Songs for Christmas.” “As some of you may or may not know, for the past few years, as a holiday tradition, Sufjan has embarked on an extraordinary experiment to record an annual Christmas EP. It started in 2001, the year of Epiphanies, and continued onward (skipping only 2004), culminating into an odd and idiosyncratic catalog of music that has only existed in the Asthmatic Kitty archives (and on a number of file sharing sites).” Like me, Stevens had given up on Christmas music but decided to rediscover it. Unlike me, he had the talent to do so himself. These albums are wonderfully eclectic and offer fresh takes on many of the traditional songs we hear every Christmas. Stevens’ music is usually bit too weird for my tastes (I don’t think I’m smart or artsy enough to figure out a song titled “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! Ahhhh!”), but these albums are different. They are brilliant. I love them and have listened to them repeatedly.
These albums and a few others (every Christmas needs at least a small dose of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, doesn’t it? And of course you’ll need to listen to Handel’s “Messiah” a few times.) have helped me realize that Christmas music isn’t all bad. And I am grateful.
I read a biography of David Livingstone this week and drew out a couple of quotes. The first is taken from a letter he wrote to a friend in which he described his fiancee (soon to be his wife). He described her as “not a romantic. Mine is a matter of fact lady, a little thick black haired girl, sturdy and all I want.” I guess it’s a good thing she was not a romantic for clearly Livingstone was not either!
I found a couple of quotes that were a little more inspiring. “If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?” And a personal favorite is something he often petitioned God in prayer, asking that “we might imitate Christ in all His inimitable perfections.”