This is the first part in what (I hope) will be a many-part series over the next 2.5 months which strives to place Christ’s birth within its context, demonstrating how powerful his story is – especially when viewed in the cultural context in which God placed it.
Living in America, particularly, we often get a very ’sanitized’ version of the Christmas story, which primarily deals with the Christmas story from Luke. Where we ‘miss out’, just from this fundamental standpoint, is that the story begins long before Jesus arrives on the scene to an unwed teenage girl in Bethlehem.
Fundamentally, the story begins in Genesis 1:1, with the creation of the world and the birth of the Hebrew nation in Abraham and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
If Genesis is the prologue, Chapter One begins with the story of Moses. It is the type to the archetype in Jesus’ story – it is God redeeming a people who can do nothing to save themselves. In Moses, it is also the story of a people’s journey in struggling to follow God and the gods of this world, which leads to dispair and failure.
When you bring in the entire story arch from Exodus through Malachi – following the Children of Israel through their dispair, captivity and return to Israel, you have set the stage such that, when you read the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, blessing the child Messiah, and the declaration of John the Baptizer “Behold the Lamb of God”, tears should be streaming down your face from the epic weight of the story and the triumph of the coming of the Messiah.
It is in this moment that their story becomes our story, that their hope becomes our hope. Without the backstory, the story of Jesus’ birth is absent the overarching conflict of the world, and it sets up an individualized story of salvation, rather than the salvation of the world.
As musical works go, I hold few out-and-out ‘favorites’ (and 90+% of those belong to Rich Mullins). However, someone whose musical influence and style is similar to Rich’s, Andrew Peterson, has a work which I put at the top of my ‘love it and recommend it’ lists, which fits into this discussion.
Peterson tells the Christmas story from Moses to John the Baptist’s proclamation of Jesus as the Lamb of God through song, in music that is not traditional Christmas fare (aside from two brief instrumentals), and is good listening year-round. This entire work, Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ, tracks the rescue and plight of God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures, bridges it to the Christian Testament through Matthew’s Begats (the only song I’d wager you’ll hear from Matthew 1), and then pulls it together with the blessed arrival of the Messiah.*
In other words, he covers the whole story of the coming of Jesus, avoiding the modern “Christmas” trappings and the myopic view that Christmas is covered in the first chapters of Luke and Matthew.
*For those of you who are interested, Peterson goes on tour each year with Derek Webb and other down-to-earth Christian singers between Thanksgiving and Christmas to perform Behold the Lamb of God. It is amazing to see and hear, if you can get there. If not, it was released on DVD last year.
Link: Fishing the Abyss