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Walt Wangerin & Jason Gray Live

If you’re in the South Bend, Indiana, area, you’re in for a treat tonight. Jason Gray’s Christmas Stories Tour is coming to town, and as a special guest, Walt Wangerin, Jr. will have a part in the show. What part you ask? We’d hate to spoil the game, but it just might have something to do with a reading of a certain short story that influenced a certain song written by Jason Gray and Andy Gullahorn. If you know the song we’re talking about, you will find a way to make it to the show.

Click here for details.

And speaking of Mr. Wangerin, we’ve got a big announcement coming up on Monday. Those of you who were at the Ryman show earlier this week might already know what we’re talking about (if you paid attention to your program), but we’ll let the rest of the world know on Monday.

Telling the Truth

Earlier this year I read an article about a Dutch student, Zilla van den Born, who spent 5 weeks travelling in Southeast Asia. Throughout her trip she posted photographs to Facebook, recorded videos, wrote a blog and bombarded her friends and family with the technicolor details of her once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

The remarkable thing about Zilla’s story was not the journey itself but the fact that, for the entire 5 weeks, she did not actually set foot outside her Amsterdam apartment. The whole trip—the photographs, the stories, the emails home—were all an elaborate experiment designed to show how easy it is to distort reality and create the story you want people to see.

Since I read the article the questions it raised have been playing on my mind. I may not go to the same lengths as Zilla to concoct a 5-week adventure in Asia but I am deeply aware of a constant temptation to present perfect children, an idyllic marriage, and a relationship with God that never waivers or falters in any way.

The Work of Your Hands

My youngest son lived in an orphanage overseas until he was three years old. From what I understand, his first year of life was pretty rough. Missionaries who served in his facility were forbidden to touch the infants because officials didn’t want the babies getting used to snuggling. Babies who know what it’s like to be held cry to be held more, so human contact was kept to a minimum to nip that need in the bud.

Before our adoption I had never given too much thought to the importance of holding a baby. When my birth children came into the world, I held them because they were cute, warm, and cuddly. I “oohed” and “aahed” over their perfect little feet, I breathed in the vanilla tops of their heads, I tickled their fat poochy bellies, I kissed them eight million thousand times in the sweet rolls of their necks, and I rocked them to sleep. I did those things (as most mothers do) because love for them came natural to me, not realizing that connections were being grown in my babies as a result of physical contact with me. I have learned since that when a parent touches her infant, she is helping him realize how his body connects to his mind.

Because our youngest son wasn’t held much in his first year, that mind/body connection was damaged. When he first came to us, it was common for him to spin around and around in circles, to jump off of high places so he could feel the crash of the floor, and to wiggle continually. Even in his sleep, he was in motion; too many nights I would hear a thump indicating that he had found a new way to fall around the bed rails. When I took him to an occupational therapist for advice, she explained that the orphanage had left sensory processing issues. The banging, the crashing, the wiggling were my son’s attempts to compensate for touch he never received. Because nobody held him, he had lost his body during those early years. Now his subconscious was trying to figure out where he was in the world.

When Joseph Woke From His Dream

[The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 20 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, by Russ Ramsey.]

Joseph was a decent man. He didn’t want to shame Mary, though he could have and no one would have blamed him. But he didn’t want to lose her either. What could he do? His bride-to-be was pregnant, and he wasn’t the father. His world was spinning. This burden weighed heavily on his heart, flooding his thoughts and his dreams.

Joseph wasn’t a complicated man. He was honest and hard-working—noble in ancestry and character. He dreamed of one day having a son of his own to teach the family trade. He dreamed of married life. He dreamed of a home of his own. He dreamed of the respect of his community.

But Mary’s condition threatened all of that, waking the young man from his dreams to a harsh reality. He knew the moment approached when he would have to act. And when he considered his options, his heart ached.

One night as he tossed and turned, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. He had come to set something straight. This baby was not forming in Mary’s belly because of anything she had done. This was something God had done—something God was doing, part of the order and structure of his divine purpose.

In Praise of Christmas

In praise of Christmas
raise your voice
and join the boisterous angel chorus
who celebrates the holy Son
of heaven sent to earth.

In praise of Christmas
light your candles,
deck your trees in red and gold,
proclaim the dawn of Light
upon a cold and darkened world.

In praise of Christmas
give your gifts
to loved ones and to strangers both;
reflect the generous King
who gave His only precious One.

In praise of Christmas
mark the feast
and raise your glasses high together,
for the child’s laughter
tells us hope has come at last.

In praise of Christmas,
laud the Father,
laud the Spirit,
laud the Son!
Incarnation now accomplished,
redemption’s loving victory begun!

New Music: Little Sheep

In 2013 our church commissioned several musicians to write songs for the annual Christmas concert. At the time I felt drawn to write about shepherds, because my own son, Shepard, was reaching an age where he might begin to understand this strange story, and I wanted to approach the nativity in a way that might catch his interest. The more time I spent contemplating the pastoral scene of these random witnesses to the annunciation, the more I began to think about David, moving from the same mistrusted, marginalized occupation into the role of his nation’s most revered king.

But what I find so compelling about Christmas is that it tells the reverse of David’s Cinderella story. While we spend much of our lives fighting obscurity, humiliation, and ultimately, death, chasing our American dreams, Advent celebrates the opposite: a movement from royalty to rags. The highest king, for love’s pursuit, dons the cosmic poverty and sheep-like insignificance we so futilely spend lifetimes fleeing. In hindsight, the birth of Christ completes David’s 23rd Psalm with a truth-ringing twist. To keep his sheep, this shepherd would go so far as to become one of them.

Though we recorded “Little Sheep” in the heat of summer and there probably needs to be more sleigh bells for this to be considered a true Christmas track, I am putting it out for free on noisetrade for the holidays. Ben Shive pulled together a dream team band to help flesh it out (Jillian Edwards, Stuart Duncan, Gabe Scott, and himself), and I am so excited to share it with you all.

AnimationAlso, Jesse Rademacher, an animation professor at Southern Adventist University, is creating a simple, animated lyric video for this as well. Here is a peek at Jesse putting together the opening scene, which we also used to design the album art.

We are hoping to be able to share the video with you before the end of the Christmas season. For now, you can add “Little Sheep” to your Christmas mixes. Enjoy!

And click here to download the chord chart.

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