Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Meditations

Posted by Ben

Cultivating the right moods and attitudes about the upcoming Christmas season and the Advent season is difficult. This past week, I was busy preaching a sermon on Sunday, completing a writing assignment (that consumed the Thanksgiving holidays) on Monday, preparing progress reports and teaching classes, taking 2 kids to Upward basketball practices, and attending three Christmas music programs (with a piano recital this afternoon).

There is hardly a time to sit back and relax and enjoy the season. Life in a fallen world is busy; life with 4 children and a wife is busy; God has called us to labor. So meditation, thought, relaxed time with family, books, and music are all difficult to cultivate.

I love the music of the season. I love the traditional songs, the classic renditions done by Bing Crosby, Louie Armstrong, and others, the hymns, the wintery songs, the silly songs, the sentimental songs, the instrumentals, the choral productions, the name artists performing traditional songs, etc. And yet, I find myself frequently bored with the Sappy Claus songs. Some of that is fine for the radio while negotiating Texarkana's traffic clogs, but at home, with coffee and a book, I want a sound that is comforting, largely acoustic, with an older feel, and a seasonal warmth (not a confrontation).

That is why I am enjoying the two albums featured below so much.

A Midwinter's Eve by Nathan Clark George & Mark Stoffel

First featured last week on this blog, this CD has the relaxing feel pictured on the album cover.  The music consists of George playing guitar and vocals and Stoffel playing mandolin with occasional vocals.  Several of the 14 songs are instrumentals. Some of the songs are traditional advent hymns, such as "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night," "Silent Night," and "What Child Is This?"  Then there some of the songs that are truly the greatest for the beginning of Advent, such as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and the hallowing "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence."  A song I really love is Christina Rossetti's "In the Bleak Mid-Winter."  (Rossetti is one of our greatest Christian poets.) There are other songs brought in from the greater traditions of Christendom, such as "Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa."  This instrumental,  the title translated as "It will soon be dark,"  is a traditional Christmas folk song from the Southern Tyrolian Alps.  Also, in the "not familiar category," is "O Little Sweet One," which is an old German melody whose lyrics and harmony are by Johann S. Bach.  Perhaps my favorite on the CD is "Remember, O Thou Man," which is by Thomas Ravenscroft, from "Melismata" (1611).  Consider the verse from this song given below:
Remember, O thou man, O thou man, O thou man,
Remember, O thou man, that God above,
Long before time began knew of the sin of man,
And laid Redemption's plan, for He is love. 
Watch this blog (or Houseblog) for a great upcoming offer to WIN a copy of Nathan Clark George's newest Christmas CD, Still.  Or, if you cannot wait, rush over to Nathan Clark George's website (linked above and on the side bar) and cyber shop, picking up several of George's CDs.

I am also enjoying listening to If On a Winter's Night by Sting.  Last year, my friend and our school librarian, Becky Ramsey, loaned me and Nick her copy of this CD.  We all--the whole House family--fell in love with this music and had to buy our own copy.  This album also consists of soft, largely acoustic songs with a strongly Medieval feel.

From the back of the CD case: 
"Inspired by Sting's favorite season, If On a Winter's Night... takes traditional music from the British Isles as its starting point and evolves into a compelling and personal journey with music spanning over five centuries (including 2 of Sting's own songs). An evocative collection of lullabies, carols and songs, Sting's new album celebrates the many facets of winter--before the snow melts and the cycle of the seasons begin once more."

Time would fail me at the moment to comment on all the songs.  "Soul Cake" and "Gabriel's Message" are just two of the powerful and moving renditions on this collection.  Nick will probably be adding a more thorough review of this great collection soon.

Coming Soon:  More Advent favorites,  Christmas Bluegrass selections,  Christmas Bluegrass and Country selections to find in your stocking on Christmas morning, and more.

Readers:  Let us know of some of your favorite Advent music and especially of music that is similar to the titles listed above.


  1. Do you know anything about Sufjan Stevens' "Songs for Christmas" 5 CD box set? I am considering buying it from Amazon for $13.99. I have heard his rendition of "Holy, Holy, Holy" (from CD #5) and it is beautiful. It looks to have a variety of songs. Lots of great traditional Christian songs, with some originals mixed in. I like his voice and musical talent.

  2. Katy,
    I have consulted with Nick, who is the resident Sufjan Stevens expert and I have looked at the Amazon site. First, it is 5 CDs for $13.99. Hard to go wrong there, and Nick says that SS is a genius. I would only be qualified to comment on a Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, or John R. Cash Christmas CD.