my wife and i, along with two of our good friends drove to nashville wednesday night to the ryman auditorium to see andrew peterson’s christmas show, “behold the lamb of god” . this was the third time i had been, the second for christi, and the first for our friends.
the first half of the show is an “artists in the round” setting, where various artists such as derek webb, sandra mccracken, andrew osenga, as well as peterson himself and others perform one of their own songs, and then take a seat and watch the others do the same. that is always a great way to start the evenings, and often introduces those unfamiliar with their music to a taste of what they are about.
the second half of the evening is the actual “christmas show”, with all of the performers from the first half, as well as others. sometimes there will be special guest performers. past guests have included, nickel creek, alison krauss, and phil keaggy.

now, remove any thoughts of singing christmas trees, young boys in their father’s bathrobes, and extravagant sets. this is not that kind of christmas show.

there are no sets, no scene changes, no narration or dialouge. it is simply the singing and playing of songs (all written by peterson) by andrew peterson and friends of “the true tall tale” of christmas, telling the christmas story from a historical redemption standpoint. his christmas show actually starts with moses and the israelites before the exodus, and traces the history of god redeeming his people from the bondage of pharaoh, rebellion, and sin; from egypt, the wilderness, and a divided kingdom; from the leadership of moses, joshua, king saul and david, and all of the prophets. the actual “manger” song doesnt occur until more than halfway through.

this is important, because we often fail to contemplate the entire relevance of the christmas story. we tend to think from the manger forward, when in fact, all of history has revolved around the coming of the messiah, the redeemer of mankind.

we forget that from the garden on, god’s people were repeatedly making sacrifices because there was no final sacrifice for sin. we forget that the people of israel, after demanding to have a king like other nations, had been waiting on the final king who would set up a kingdom that would not be thwarted. we forget that throughout most of the old testament, god’s people were waiting for the messiah. we forget that through the period between the old testament and new testament that there was a silence from god, and his people were crying out “how long oh lord!!!”
there was anticipation.

so that night at the manger was not simply a little secret that eventually had significance. up until that point in time, that moment was the culmination, that moment that all of time had been holding its breath waiting on.

and it happened in a dirty stable.

one of the most poignant songs in peterson’s musical is called “labor of love”

it was not a silent night
there was blood on the ground
you could hear a woman cry
in the ally way that night
in the streets of david’s town

and the manger was not clean
and the cobblestones were cold
and little mary full of grace
with tears upon her face
had no mother’s hand to hold

it was a labor of pain
it was a cold sky above
but for the girl on the ground in the dark
every beat of her beautiful heart
it was a laborof love

noble joseph at her side
calloused hands and weary eyes
there were no midwives to be found
in the streets of david’s town
in the middle of the night

so he held her and he prayed
shafts of moonlight on his face
but the baby in her womb
he was the maker of the moon
he was the author of the faith
that could make the mountains move

it was a labor of pain
it was a cold sky above
but for the girl on the ground in the dark
with every beat of her beautiful heart
it was a labor of love

the line that always gets me is “but the baby in her womb, he was the maker of the moon, he was the author of the faith, that could make the mountains move”

amazing. that god the son, who paul tells us in colossians 1:
16For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

he humbled himself, left the glory of the presence of the father and the splendor of heaven where he was constantly being worshipped by all of the hosts of heaven, and became a baby, born to a peasant family in a dirty barn.

the maker of the moon and the author of our faith did that.
and it was not a silent night. mary, probably a teenager, had to give birth, a terrifying and painful experience, without her mother there. she had never even experienced an intimate physical relationship, yet there she was, with joseph, tired, exhausted, bloody, and scared, giving birth in a barn.

this christmas, when we set out or see nativity sets, we can smile and admire the craftsmanship, but fight that clean and sterile image with the truth that our lord came into the world in circumstances that were anything but silent, neat, and clean.

neither was the birth of christ a detail whose importance was unanticipated and went unrecognized until thirty years later.
it was the fulfillment of a promise that our faithful god had given his people.
christmas is not simply “celebrating jesus’ birthday”, as if it would hurt his feelings if we didn’t remember.
it is remembering and celebrating the event that was promised (god’s faithfulness), and as the culmination of history, when the savior for a sinful and fallen world entered into his own creation.(his grace and mercy)

so this christmas, when it is suggested that we remember “the reason for the season”, remember that the reason is almighty and holy god, creator god, unobligated to do anything for a rebellious people, came and dwelled among us in order that whoever would believe in him would be saved.

-stephen
(you can purchase peterson’s “behold the lamb of god” c.d. or buy the dvd at his website)
(you can view a *really good* “making of/story behind” documentary of “behold the lamb of god” here i highly recommend this)
(or you can listen to the entire album and read the lyrics here)

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