Inspired by our own Amanda Osheim’s earlier post on “All I Want for Christmas is an Advent Playlist,” I’d like to offer two Christmas songs to add to your repertoire. I know, I know…who needs new Christmas songs? Hopefully these will surprise you both in genre and meaning.
First, as a sort of Catholic disclaimer: both these songs come from the world of Contemporary Christian Music, which for many Catholics–especially the academic types–is to music as the Left Behind series is to literature: protestant, cheesy, and theologically unscrupulous. However, in defense of the CCM industry, I ask only this: let they who have never found fault in a choral hymn cast the first stone.
1. TobyMac, “This Christmas (Father of the Fatherless)” (feat. Nirva Ready), 2002
TobyMac is like Eminem of Christian Music except without all the personal issues. “This Christmas” is unabashedly hip-hop, as is all of TobyMac’s work. First of all, I like it because it’s a fun play off “Joy to the World” and just a well-written song. It has a nice hook, tight mixing, sweet vocals (thanks to Nirva Ready), and solid lyrics. Secondly, I like it because it does what very few Christmas songs do: it talks about the message of Jesus to the least of society as integral to the Christmas message. The story of the song revolves around an orphan boy who was adopted for Christmas through the Big Brother program. In the end, he ends up adopting the child:
Big Brother turned dad in a couple weeks // Some gifts give more than you could ever dream
Started out as a plan just to do my part // But that little man went and stole my heart
If the lyrics seem a bit, well, obvious, I can’t deny how much I appreciate them. Including, of course, the necessarily catchy refrain/hook:
Father of the fatherless // be with your sons and daughters this Christmas // This Christmas
The message of the song represents a rare piece of true Christianity, as Kevin Ahern wrote, in the midst of Christmas songs that do little to dislodge us from the comfort of our luxurious hearth. In the end, of course, the musicality is excellent–if you’re down with the genre. Enjoy!
2. Jennifer Knapp, Sing Mary Sing, 2002.
Two years ago, I wrote an Advent post entitled “Two Lonely Pregnant Women Rejoicing,” which attempted to shift our focus towards Mary and Elizabeth as the first to reveal the Gospel. In Sing Mary Sing, Jennifer Knapp writes a Christmas song which brings to life Mary’s voice in a unique and moving way. Consider, for starters, the presentation of Mary in the much more popular Mary Did You Know?, originally written by Mark Lowry in 1981. The entire premise of the song is based on an assumed ignorance of Mary as to Jesus’ true nature, and the singer questions the Mother of Jesus so often that you wonder if she knew much at all:
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am
This seems to fly directly in the face of the Gospel story, where Mary is not a passive birth canal, but an active prophetess for a new world (see Luke 1:46-56).
In Knapp’s Contemporary Christian folk-rock style, Sing Mary Sing gives the blessed mother not only wisdom, but a voice:
Sing Mary, sing lullaby the King
Born to be our pardon
No longer shall we weep
Come soften what was hardened
Sing Mary, sing
Knapp transforms Mary from a passive mother to her rightful place as an active participant in Jesus life and divine ministry. Knapp prefigures in her song both the pain of childbirth and the pain of watching Jesus die on the Cross many years later:
Mary in your mourning
Turn now as you weep
Look to see a Savior
O sing Mary, sing
Sing Mary, sing
What I like most of all in this song, however, is the musicality of the refrain. Beyond the words themselves, Knapp’s stirring refrain of “sing Mary sing” evokes an image of Mary that seems far closer to the Gospel narrative than many songs we sing or listen to this time of year. Mary’s focus is on Jesus, of course, but she is not silent, she is not still. There is no hint of a romanticized notion that “all is calm” during the natural childbirth by a peasant girl some two thousand years ago.
Mary is strong. Mary is vocal. Mary sings, and Knapp welcomes us to sing with her as her words soothe the newborn child between (frequent) nursings, as her rhymes and melodies bring life into the fragile and helpless babe. Jennifer Knapp–herself no stranger to singing amidst difficulty–invites us, with Mary, in this wonderful song, to continue to bring about the glory of her Son.
[As a side note, if you enjoy either song, please support the artist by purchasing the single or album through your favorite online retailer! Oh, and Merry Christmas!]