Monday, December 24, 2007

Music for the Holidays

A blessed Christmas to one and all. May your Christmas be a spirit-reviving celebration of our Lord and Savior's nativity. Setting secular "holiday greetings" and commercial jingles aside, may the angels of Christmas brighten your night with the joyful tidings that God has become flesh for you, the Almighty has become weak for you, the Lord of all has become poor for you. The little child tightly bound in strips of cloth and laid in a rude manger has become your Liberty and your Rest from sin, the terrors of death, and the anguish of hell.

On such a night as this, take notice of the wonderful gift of music . . . and what is done with it, whether to raise up the name of Jesus or to push it down and out of the way. Let us have no "Santa Claus is coming to town" songs with their chilling rhetoric of being judged for our works, no "I'll be home for Christmasses" with their "if the fates allow" sentiments, not even "It came upon the midnight clear" hymns that spin platitudes about peace on earth that have nothing to do with our peace with God in Christ Jesus.

Here are the alternatives I would suggest: first, the magnificent CD "Praetorius Mass for Christmas Morning" from Archiv, with the Gabrieli Consort & Players directed by Paul McCreesh - an awesome reenactment of a 17th-century Lutheran nativity celebration, with some of the most powerful singing I have ever heard. Second, as an alternative to the usual Handel's Messiah (which, after all, is only partly related to Christmas), why not try Bach's equally scintillating Christmas Oratorio, which is all Christmas. Yes, it's in German; but the world that celebrates Christmas is much bigger than the bit that loves Handel's Messiah because it happens to speak English. Besides, the liner notes will provide a translation that you can follow track-by-track.

If you don't have these pieces this year, think about buying them in time for next Christmas...and if you listen to them early enough, you may suddenly discover the perfect gift for many people on your Christmas list!

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