Roundup: Christmas music, old poems with Grace, and more

ADVENT MEDITATION: “Love is . . .” by the Rev. Jonathan Evens: Evens shared this brief written meditation last week at Advent Night Prayer at St Catherine’s Wickford in England, pondering the love Mary demonstrated at various points along the way from the announcement of Jesus’s conception to her and her family’s resettlement in Egypt.

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SONGS:

>> “I Pray on Christmas” (cover) by the Good Shepherd Collective: This song was written by Harry Connick Jr. and is performed here by Benjamin Kilgore with Terence Clark, Liz Vice, and Charles Jones of the Good Shepherd Collective, an interdenominational group of musicians collaborating across the US. The video is directed by Jeremy Stanley.

>> “Mary Was the First One to Carry the Gospel” by the Gaither Vocal Band: I grew up in a Baptist church in North Carolina, so southern gospel music is a very familiar genre for me! But I hadn’t heard this song before, until my mom sent me a link last week. It was written by Mark Lowry and Bill Gaither (they took the title from a 1978 song by Dottie Rambo), who sing it here with David Phelps and Guy Penrod at the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham in 2000 as part of the Gaithers’ Christmas in the Country concert. It’s about how Mary was the first person to carry the good news enfleshed—first in her womb, and then in her arms.

>> “Late Upon a Starry Night” by David Benjamin Blower: David Benjamin Blower is an “apocalyptic folk musician, poet, writer, theologian, podcaster, and sound artist” from the UK whose work emphasizes the liberative strains of the gospel. He just released this original Christmas song yesterday, and it will be available only through January 5, 2023, on Bandcamp, with 50 percent of proceeds going to Safe Passage UK, an organization working toward safe routes for refugees. Blower said he wrote the song after hearing a friend talk about her experience of Moria refugee camp in Greece.

The stanzas tell the story of the Annunciation to Mary, Mary and Joseph’s Journey to Bethlehem, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the Journey of the Magi, and the Flight to Egypt. The refrain draws a line from the first book of the Bible to the last, referencing God’s prophecy in Eden about the serpent’s head being crushed by a descendant of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15) (the serpent being representative of sin and death) as well as, implicitly, the image in Revelation 12 of the woman in labor and the dragon. Read the lyrics on the song’s Bandcamp page.

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PODCAST SERIES: Advent 2022, Old Books with Grace: I’ve been loving Dr. Grace Hamman’s four-part Advent podcast series, consisting of roughly twenty-minute episodes that discuss seasonal poems. Hamman is a specialist in medieval literature and theology and has the rare gift of being able to translate her extensive knowledge to nonspecialists in engaging and personal ways. She can speak with facility on lit and theology from other eras too. In this series she talks about our status as pilgrims in this world, how Christ carries our prayers in his body, nature-inspired images of the Incarnation, and more. I frequently come away from her podcast with new insight, and always having been spiritually nourished. If you’re traveling for Christmas, queue these up for the car, plane, train, or bus ride! Or work them into your week some other way, perhaps over breakfast, or while you’re doing dishes. Old Books with Grace is available wherever you listen to podcasts. (I use Google Podcasts, but Apple Podcasts or PodBean are the most popular providers.)

  • Episode 1: Were we led all this way for birth or death? (“Journey of the Magi” by T. S. Eliot)
  • Episode 2: Harke! Despair Away (“The Bag” by George Herbert)
  • Episode 3: Heaven Cannot Hold Him (“A Christmas Carol” by Christina Rossetti and excerpt from Piers Plowman by William Langland)
  • Episode 4: Dayspring (releases December 21; will cover an Old English version and Middle English version of one of the O Antiphons)

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DANCING ANGEL: This video from a church Christmas pageant in Porter, Indiana, went viral in 2019, but I’m just now seeing it (thanks to @upworthy!). It shows then-four-year-old Isabella Grace Webb dancing it up freestyle in her angel costume to “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” So adorable!

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