“Gather ‘round ye children, come, listen to the old, old story of the power of death undone by an infant born of glory…”
I could not go through Advent without introducing you to the album that will be played the most frequently in our house this season. This would be Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, which is the most moving Christmas album I know of.
A storyteller through and through, Andrew Peterson begins with Moses and the Exodus and continues through the sacrificial system, the kings, the prophets and the exile, and Roman occupation before finally arriving at the more traditional telling of the Christmas story. At this point, the album is already at its halfway mark. It is one that deserves a thoughtful listen from start to finish, as it takes you on the journey of a story.
Some may find songs about the Old Testament to be strange in a Christmas album—aren’t we talking about the New Testament, here?—but I find it is the key to its power. It does not let us escape the reality that Jesus came into a long history between Israel and their God. He came in a particular time and place, in a particular cultural and social situation, and in a particular line and history. We can’t fully comprehend or understand what we read in the traditional New Testament Christmas story if we overlook or forget all that had occurred over the millennia before.
Jesus was not born into a vacuum. He was the answer to years of longing and questions, years of prophecy and foreshadowing. Peterson knows this, and he doesn’t let us get to Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem and her no-vacancy inn, or the angel-heralded shepherds until we’ve traced the whole story. I would venture to say it’s the only Christmas album in which you’ll hear a song recording the genealogy from Matthew 1—because the story matters, the history matters, and so we listen to it.
We listen to the prayers for judgment to pass over during the last plague of Egypt. We remember the years of spotless lambs sacrificed by the priests for the atoning covering of blood. We hear the words of the prophets, foretelling a powerful king on his throne, a ruler, ancient and strong. We feel the ache in the cry for deliverance—from foreign rulers, from sin, from God’s silence. We sense the burden of all of these expectations and hopes.
And so we rejoice with the shepherds when they finally hear the glorious announcement of the birth of the new King, a Savior. The centuries-old weight of hope explodes as they receive the announcement—the wait is over. The music always draws me in as it quiets, and I imagine the traditional portrayal of the adoration of the shepherds: tall men squeezed into a tiny shed, forming a protective ring around Mary and Joseph, quietly peering down into the manager where a tiny newborn reaches up at them.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin.
It gets me every time. Even today, as I listened to it for perhaps the hundredth time, my heart swelled within my chest and overflowed in quiet tears slipping down my face. Tears of joy and of wonder—tears which asked, as Mary did, “How can this be?” The Lamb of God, the hope of mankind, in the form of a fresh faced newborn boy.
He was the answer to the years of longing. Deliver us. Let your judgment pass over. See our brokenness. Come to your people, Lord. Carry us home. It was the cry of ancient Israel, and it is our cry today. I hear the echoes of my own heart as I listen to the reprise of all that’s come before. It’s a prayer for deliverance, for justice, for forgiveness, for healing, and for home-coming. This longing is intertwined with hope—a hope grounded in the incredible story of the work of God.
The Son of God, the Son of Man, the hope of the ages has come. Hallelujah.