Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More.

Happy Christmas Eve, friends! I don’t have much to talk about today. We are now in the full-court-press of holiday preparation and festivities, getting ready to spend tomorrow morning with my folks. My toddler has been particularly rambunctious and playfully destructive around the house this week. We’re dog-sitting a very young and vocal pup for some friends of ours. All of this means I don’t have any deep or contemplative meditations on the holiday for you this year.

This year, I’ll just leave you with this:

I’m a Christian, which means this holiday is not about Santa Claus and stockings hung with care, talking snowmen and red-nosed reindeer. It’s not even about the fact that Die Hard is most definitely a Christmas movie, or that It’s a Wonderful Life is possible one of the best films ever made, period.

It’s about the fact–the historical fact–that Jesus the Christ was born in Bethlehem. It’s about the cosmic reality that Eternal God took on flesh and tabernacled among us. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God came near. He is with us. And He did so not merely to teach us how to love one another or to encourage peace among men. The baby Jesus grew into the perfect and sinless man Jesus, who laid down His life (no one can take it from Him unless He lays it down) as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all whom He would redeem. Jesus the God-man, the second member of the Trinity, the Messiah of Israel, died for His people, all His people from all the nations. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement that brought us peace was upon him. By His stripes, we are healed.

Jesus bled, Jesus died, and Jesus rose. It is finished. The war is won. The dragon is vanquished. And Jesus the King, the Lamb who was slain and is yet alive, walked triumphantly out of the tomb, carrying the crushed head of the giant He conquered.

Now, in the millenia since that stone rolled away, we must bear with the death rattle and the flailing gasps of a defeated devil. But the prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for Him. His rage we can endure for lo, his doom is sure.

This week, as you “rejoice, rejoice,” you sons and daughters of true Israel, take heart and have peace because Immanuel has come and is here and will return in triumph.

And if you are still reading, and all of this talk of Jesus’ death is strange and awkward and weird to you, know this: my hope and prayer for you this Christmas is that you would meet Jesus, truly meet Jesus, and come to know Him as Savior and Lord this year. If you want to talk to me about that, I would love that. Hit me up on Twitter (@the4thdave) or email me (the4thdave at gmail dot com) with any questions you have. It would be a gift to me to get to talk to you about this.

(Okay, I guess I had more to say than I thought!)

Merry Christmas, fam. God bless you.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

black and gray angel statue decor
Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

Growing up, my family never had any “Advent” traditions. We never went to churches that celebrated or even really acknowledged the season of Advent (other than the pun of “The Christmas ADVENTure” children’s activity event a week or so before Christmas). While my current church doesn’t have any set Advent teaching or programming, we have been singing Christmas songs more regularly during worship over the last month, but that’s about it.

I haven’t been in much of a Christmas mood this year, to be honest. I know the day is just around the corner, but it just hasn’t felt Christmas-y. We hardly decorated around the house this year, and it’s just…I don’t know. We’re busy. Tired. Fighting off winter illnesses. We even missed going to our church’s “Christmas celebration service” because the kiddo was sick and my wife and I were both wiped out as well. On top of that, work has been a bear this season, and it’s just… *shrug* Anyway. No matter how much “holly jolly” music I listen to in the car or around the house, I haven’t felt all that merry and bright–with one exception.

A few weeks ago, we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in church. As soon as I uttered that first line, my heart thrilled and I felt chills up and down my spine. My spirit resonated with that longing. I felt that ache. No, I haven’t suffered under the cruelty of foreign occupation or strained against economic oppression. The circumstances of my life are extremely blessed, and I have it very easy in many respects. But nevertheless, my heart feels weary this year. My mind is taxed. I am longing for the Kingdom of God and the end of the darkness.

And yet.

The Kingdom is here. Now. The wriggling form of a baby in a manger, the agonized moans of an innocent man nailed to a wooden cross, the charged and energized stillness of an empty garden tomb are all evidence of this good news.

The Kingdom invaded earth. The revolution has already begun. And the petty little conflicts I face every day are actually part of a war against the darkness that has already been won, as the Champion of Heaven has slain the bloody giant and redeemed for Himself a people for His own possession.

The good news that I have been given the privilege to proclaim is that God-with-us has ransomed us. Unholy rebels who have sinned against their Creator have been offered forgiveness and adoption as sons and daughters. Because of the great love of God, we who deserve destruction may instead have life.

Sometimes, that proclamation begins by reminding the man in my mirror that there is hope. There is hope. There is hope.

We are not alone. God is with us.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has ransomed you, sons and daughters of the true Israel.

The 4th Dave’s Christmas Music List — Part Two: The “Fa-La-La” List!

As I said previously, I felt it was time to update my list of favorite and least-favorite Christmas music. It’s easy enough to pick out the Christmas songs you love to hate–but what about the really good ones? So here’s my top-five current favorites:

Fa-la-la-la-la!  The4thDave’s Current Favorite Christmas Songs!

5) “O Holy Night”

One of my favorite Christmas “hymns.” I remember a few special occasions of singing this song. It just strikes the right chords in my heart. Here’s an instrumental version of the song performed by jazz musicians who survived Katrina, from the TV show “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” I loved this heart-warming scene in this episode, so I’m including the version with dialogue and cut-aways.

4) “You Gotta Get Up” by Rich Mullins

Not enough people know this song, so any chance to introduce someone to a new Rich Mullins song is worth taking. So here you go: the brilliant Rich Mullins, singing about the joy of Christmas morning.

3) “O Come All Ye Faithful” by the Austin Stone

Christmas is a time to worship, so the most worshipful songs are often my favorites. Here’s a great version by the folks at the Austin Stone church.

2) “I Celebrate the Day” by Relient K

The whole Relient K Christmas album (“Let it Snow, Baby, Let it Rein Deer”) is pretty great–a good balance of serious reverence and playful festiveness. It has its emo moments, but on the whole it’s pretty solid, and I listen to it year after year. This track from the album is my favorite of all, and a great reminder of what matters at Christmas. It’s a song sung to the Savior, playing a bit off of the question structure of “Mary Did You Know” but focusing on what the Christmas child actually came to accomplish.

“I celebrate the day / That you were born to die / So I could one day pray for you to save my life / Pray for you to save my life.”

1) “O Come, O Come Immanuel”

(There are lots of good versions out there–but I really am becoming a fan of the Austin Stone’s worship music–so here you go.)

Probably my favorite Christmas song ever. There’s just so much here; most importantly, it captures the urgency of Advent, of humanity itself, as it yearns for redemption. We didn’t just need a new moral code, another prophet, a new flavor of religion. We needed a savior. We needed redemption. We needed to be made new. Jesus did that. He was “God with us.” And He ransomed His people, captive to sin and death. So, rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel has ransomed us.

The 4th Dave’s Christmas Music List — Part One: The “Bah Humbug” List!

So Aaron Armstrong posted recently about his picks for the best and worst Christmas songs, and that reminded me of some posts I wrote, years ago, on the same subject. So I decided I’d updated my list for this year. For the ones that are staying on my top and bottom five, I’ll just “re-appropriate” what I’ve written previously. And please post your favorites (and least-favorites) in the comments below!

Bah Humbug!  The4thDave’s Least Favorite Christmas Songs!

These are the five songs that I avoid like the plague, every holiday season. Songs that make me turn the radio dial immediately, or off completely if they keep popping up. I’d rather listen to my van engine idle than sit through these things ever again. But maybe it’s just me–your mileage, as they say, may vary.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano

I almost didn’t list this one, because really, it’s harmless. But the sad fact is that this song is the “Margaritaville” of Christmas carols–everyone knows the words, everyone sings along with the song, and then everyone is deeply embarrassed afterwards. No Christmas carol should cause this much shame. And honestly, the lyrics aren’t that inspiring. No magnificent angelic host, no inspiring star, no world laying pining in sin and error, no captive Israel. Just some dude saying Merry Christmas over and over and over. He doesn’t even wish us a prosperous New year “from the bottom of his heart.” What’s up, Jose? Did you run out of sincere sentiment halfway through?

5) “Santa Baby” by anyone who thinks it’s sexy

(It’s nearly impossible to find an appropriate video for this one. So you get LeAnn Rimes’ “NOW…” version with no pictures. I’m really doing you a favor.)

With this song, you get one or two possible outcomes: the singer comes off as trashy and/or just plain sad. Seriously, this is just painful. Memo to everyone singing this song ever: You are neither Cynthia Basinet nor Eartha Kitt. You will never sound like Cynthia Basinet or Eartha Kitt. Attempting to sing this song as if you were Cynthia Basinet or Eartha Kitt only demonstrates how ridiculous and incredibly annoying this song sounds. Plus, it makes you look sad and desperate. Please stop. For the love of Christmas, please stop.

4) “Last Christmas” by Wham!


(Not gonna make jokes about George Michael. Not gonna do it. Nope.)

So let’s just talk about the story of the song. Here’s the big problem: it’s not actually about Christmas. You can substitute any other season or month in place of the word “Christmas” and it doesn’t change the song. It’s a slam song about how a girl broke Georgie’s heart, so he’s going to give it to someone else. Someone who’s actually special. (Hey, girl from last year, you’re nothing to George now.) But he’s also leaving the door open to play with his emotions again.

The timing of this emotional manipulation is incidental.  Think about it: “Last summer, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away.”  Still works, doesn’t it? For me, that’s a *Christmas* song FAIL.

3) “Merry Christmas, Darling” by the Carpenters

I don’t even know what to say about this, except that every time I hear the first few bars of this song, I change it immediately. In terms of songs about missing far-away loved ones, this one is too schmaltzy to be enjoyed. And some of the wording is just awkward. I can’t explain it. But this one just makes me feel weirdly icky.

2) “Happy Birthday Jesus” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Now at this point, you may be taken aback. “C’mon, Dave, really? You’re taking shots at a song sung by sweet little kids?” Yes I am, and I’ll explain why.

The main problem is the age paradox. This song could only be sung by small children, because the thought of adults singing it is ridiculous to the extreme. On the other hand, you suffer from the cloyingly sweet little girl’s voice, with the thlight lithp of mithing teeth–including one point when she ventures into “Junior-Asparagus” land. Then you have the sweeping orchestration over the children’s choir, repeating the EXACT SAME LINES before coming back down into the shaky-voiced (oh, i’m sorry, i meant tender) solo finale.

Obviously, if I were this child’s parent, I would be beaming with pride. But it’s hard to beam with pride at other people’s kids. Have you actually tried going to an elementary school Christmas production lately? It’s painful. You only care, you can only stand it, if you have a stake in the endeavour. I don’t know this little girl. I’m sure she’s a sweetheart. But just like I don’t make a habit of seeking out bootlegged soundtracks to every elementary-school Christmas production starring cherubic little tykes in construction paper and cotton ball costumes, I don’t want to listen to this dear little child sing a birthday song to Jee-ZAHS, makes no difference that the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir produced it.

I’m sorry, that’s just the way I feel.

1) “The Christmas Shoes” by Newsong

If there were ever a tune deserving of criminal prosecution, it’s this one–and I say this with absolutely no exaggeration. I can’t even express how much I loathe this song. Some of these tracks annoy me, or stick in my mind like a burr that I can’t remove. But this one makes me angry, to the point of minor violence. Why? Because it’s expressly created to make you cry. A little boy is buying new shoes for his mother, so she’ll be pretty when she dies and goes to Heaven tonight.

OH. MY. LANTA. And the kid can’t afford the shoes, and a stranger buys them for him. For his mom who’s dying of some unspecified disease. Because apparently Daddy can’t get his butt to the store with his young son to buy the blasted shoes.

The stage-whispery vocals. The telegraphed musical swells at the bridge. The INSUFFERABLE CHILDREN’S CHOIR SINGING THE CHORUS AFTER THE BRIDGE!

AAARRRRRGGGGGGHHH!!! MUST SMASH!!!! MUST SMASH!!!!!!!!

*calming breaths*

I still hate you, Newsong. I still hate you very very much.