Once in Royal David’s City

1One of the last big things I was able to do with my former church before I came to Truro Anglican in Fairfax was release an Advent EP called “For Our Salvation”. It was released a year ago in December 2013. It features four Advent carols (arranged by me and orchestrated by Joshua Spacht), one instrumental piece (again by Joshua), and one of my original songs called “Beautiful Baby Boy“. The songs are arranged for band, strings, and feature a children’s choir as well.

The first song on the EP is “Once in Royal David’s City”, an old carol written by Cecil Alexander and Henry Gauntlett. This is the carol that usually kicks off “Lessons and Carols” services, and it’s a beautiful retelling of the story of Jesus’ birth, culminating with that great longing of ours to one day see him again.

I did a few things with the text:

1. I left out the verse that talks about how little children should be as “mild, obedient, and good” as Jesus.
2. In its place, I wrote a verse that explains: “He was given to pay our ransom / By His blood we are set free / Suffered He for our transgressions / Lamb of God upon the tree / Then He rose up from the grave / Risen King with power to save”.
3. I chose the version of the last verse that ends “…Christ revealed to faithful eye / Set at God’s right hand on high”, as opposed to the other version which says “Where like stars His children crowned / All in white shall wait around”. For some reason that last version doesn’t exactly elicit an exciting view of heaven!

You can purchase the song on iTunes here.

Here’s a lyric video: 

And here is the free orchestration for strings (including a chord chart), by my good friend Joshua Spacht.

The whole EP is available at www.tfcamusic.org or on iTunes.

Three Things To Aim For In Advent

1This coming Sunday, December 1st, is the first Sunday of Advent. Liturgically, it’s the beginning of the new church year. Practically, it’s the countdown to Christmas. It’s a season of waiting, expectation, anticipation, and heightened awareness that a special day is on the horizon.

Some churches make a big deal of Advent and some churches skip over the whole thing and just start singing Christmas carols before people have even had a chance to finish their left-over Turkey. I’d like to make a case, in whatever church/denominational/liturgical setting you lead, that you try to aim for at least three things as you lead in Advent.

Build anticipation
The countdown to Christmas taps into a longing in people’s hearts that they might not even be aware is there. The presenting longing is for a fun party, or for some days off, or for time with family, or opening presents, but the underlying longing in all of us is to be rescued. We all want a Savior. If you think I’m crazy just watch people’s faces at political rallies. It’s nuts.

At this time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the weeks the Church has called “Advent” (for “arriving” or “coming”) for centuries, we’re crazy if we ignore the anticipation that everyone is experiencing, and attempt to skip over it and jump to Christmas too soon.

Wait until the last Sunday before Christmas, or even Christmas Eve, to sing Christmas songs. Sing Advent hymns, not Christmas carols. Light the Advent candles. Pray Advent prayers. Let the prophesies of the coming of Christ be read in your services. Don’t decorate your Sanctuary too soon. Intentionally hold off on bringing Christmas into things too early in the season. Build anticipation, even to the point of making people ask you why you’re waiting so long.

The point is to tap into people’s anticipation, and to remind them that the underlying longing is for a Savior. It will make Christmas (and Christmas carols) all the more sweet when you finally get there.

Express lament
A few nights ago I read a tragic story in The Washington Post about a murder/suicide about an hour’s drive from my house that claimed the life of a young mother and her infant while the 5-year-old daughter took a bath upstairs. She didn’t know anything was wrong until her Mom didn’t come to get her out of the bath, at which point she got herself dressed and then made the terrible discovery downstairs.

This kind of story makes me unspeakably sad. And angry. And confronted by the evil, sinful, brokenness that has infected this world. And I don’t know what else to pray besides “Jesus, please come back quickly.”

We all read news stories like that, or hear of yet another case of incurable cancer, or read of more threats of war, or see the villages in the Philippines completely wiped off the map in the latest typhoon, and deep inside of us we know it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

Advent is a time when we can (and should) sing songs and pray prayers of lament, crying out to Jesus to come back, and to come back soon, and to “make the sad things come untrue”. If we skip past Advent without giving our people an opportunity to express these cries, we do them a disservice.

Let your people lament. And lament in hope. Because one day Jesus came as a baby and he’ll one day come again as King.

Give people space to be still
Christmas parties, travel, buying presents, wrapping presents, buying a tree, decorating the house, having a good time, baking cookies, hanging lights outside your house, raking leaves, keeping everyone happy, sweeping up broken ornaments, watering the tree, sending out Christmas cards, getting a family picture taken, baking the pie, trying not to gain 20 pounds, and oh that’s right try to make it to church too.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are the most insane weeks of the people in your congregation’s whole year. We all feel it. I’m feeling it this year especially as Catherine and I prepare to welcome baby girl # 3 on December 18th! And release two new albums (great Christmas present idea!), and manage the Andrew Peterson concert two days after our new baby comes, and the list goes on. All of us have our own long lists this time of year.

Wouldn’t it be a great gift to our people on Sunday mornings if we gave them some space to be still? Between songs. During a song. Between readings. After the message. During communion. Whenever.

Find some time in your services to intentionally leave some space for people to be still. Even just 30 seconds can be powerful. Just say something like: “This morning we’re aware that all of us are experiencing the usual pre-Christmas busyness and pressure and anxiety. We’re just going to take a few moments to pause, and be still, and enjoy God’s presence, and before we sing this next song let’s allow the Holy Spirit to help us to slow down. To rest. To remember our need for a Savior…” Something like that. It will bless people.

So whether you’re in a really liturgical church or a really informal church, I’d encourage you to use the season of Advent to help your congregation anticipate the coming of Christ and the coming of Christmas, to lament all the brokenness and sadness that we long for him to redeem, and to see Sunday mornings as opportunities to rest in the grace and love of God that’s displayed in the cradle, on the cross, in the empty tomb, and on the occupied Throne.

For previous year’s thoughts on Advent:
1. What to Do with Advent – Pt. 1
2. What to Do with Advent – Pt. 2
3. What Songs Work Well For Advent?
4. Two More Advent Song Ideas
5. A Contemporary Service of Lessons Carols

Pre-Order My Church’s Advent EP

1About a month ago I mentioned that we’re working on two upcoming projects due to be released this November. One is a worship album and the other is an Advent EP. I’m thrilled about them both and I can’t wait to share them with you so they can be a blessing to you and so you can have some new ideas/songs/inspiration for you and your ministry.

The Advent EP is entitled “For Our Salvation”. Here’s the little promo blurb:

This 6-song EP, featuring band, organ, children’s choir, and strings, presents the story of the longed-for Messiah through fresh arrangements of traditional carols, and two new compositions. These songs will help you cherish Jesus and stoke your expectation to see him, one day, face to face.

You can pre-order it here.

What Songs Work Well for Advent?

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is based off of the Latin word “adventus” and literally means “coming”. We are expectantly awaiting the celebration of Jesus’ coming on Christmas, and we’re expectantly awaiting his coming in glory. It’s a very cool season and provides congregations several weeks to express our cries of “how long”? Not only “how long until we can finally sing Christmas carols and open presents?” but “how long until you finally come back, Jesus?”

Two years ago I wrote some posts on songs that work well in Advent.

The first post had to do with “what to do with Advent” and some good hymns to sing. The second post had suggestions of newer, more contemporary songs that work congregationally. The third post had a couple of songs that worked as special/not congregational songs.

Here are some other songs I’ve become aware of that might work during Advent.

Soon (Brooke Ligertwood)
– Slow, tender song about when we will finally see Jesus
– Either a congregational song or a solo, but probably better as a solo
– “Soon and very soon, my King is coming, clothed in righteousness and crowned with love…”
– You can listen to the whole song, read the lyrics, and download the music here

All to Us (Redman/Maher/Reeves/Tomlin)
– Slow/midtempo song
– Either as a congregational song or a solo
– The recorded key of C is too high. I find A to be better
– “We are waiting on you, Jesus”. “When this passing world is over, we will see You face to face…”
– You can listen to the whole song, read the lyrics, and download the sheet music for free here

We Belong to the Day (Mike Morrow)
– Midtempo song
– Either as a congregational song or a solo
– “We belong to the day, to the day that is to come when the night falls away and our Savior will return…”
– Bob Kauflin featured this song on Worship Matters in June and linked to free downloads of the recording and the music

How Long? (The Reckoning) (Andrew Peterson)
– An upbeat song of lament/longing for Jesus to return
– From his excellent CD, “Counting Stars”
– Would work as a special (not congregational) song
– “How long until this curtain is lifted? How long is this the song that we sing? How long until the reckoning?”
– Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition featured this song last year. Click here to listen to the song and read the lyrics.

God With Us (Jamie Brown)
– Slow song
– OK, I wasn’t going to share this song because (a) the recording is awful and (b) I don’t want to push my own stuff. But, hey it’s free, you don’t have to like it, and it it’s helpful, then great
– The verses describe different people and situations that look hopeless, but actually “God with us”, Jesus, is right there in the middle
– Would work as a special (not congregational) song
– A female vocalists should sing the response part in the chorus. But again, this recording is so bad, from several years ago, that I tried to take care of both parts
– The lyrics are below the audio player

In the long, cold winter of waiting,
Every day a new door is closed
No job for so long and no money
Every letter, every call, a new “no”
God with us

She has cried, she has prayed for a husband
Still she lies in her bed all alone
Every Christmas, every birthday, every morning
Every baby – another one that’s not her own
God with us

Surely he has borne our griefs (God with us)
He has carried all our sorrows (God with us)
His chastisement brought us peace (God with us)
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow
God with us

He has lost his ability to fight it}
It has stained every corner of his mind
He is drowning in the darkness in private
Every click – a step back from his bride
God with us   (chorus)

The baby in her womb is not her husband’s
They have fled from their home to hide
But she believes what the angel told her
That she would bear the Son of the Most High: God with us

Surely he will bear our griefs (God with us)
He will carry all our sorrows (God with us)
His chastisement will bring us peace (God with us)
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow
God with us

Jamie Brown. © 2011 Worthily Magnify Music. CCLI Song # 6026949.


Two More Ideas for Songs During Advent

On Monday I suggested some Advent hymns, and on Tuesday some more contemporary Advent songs that you might find helpful to include in your services during this season of preparation for Jesus’ coming.

Here are a couple more resources/song ideas. Most of these probably work better as special pieces, not necessarily sung congregationally.

1. Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God”
In 2000, Andrew Peterson released “Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ”, a CD that masterfully tells the story of salvation in twelve songs. The first five songs deal with themes such as the Passover (“Passover Us”), Israel’s longing for a King (“So Long Moses”), and their need for deliverance (“Deliver Us”). A fantastic instrumental version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” comes right before “Matthew’s Begats”, the genealogy of Jesus Christ set to a bluegrass tune. It works. Really.

I can’t say enough good things about this album. It’s full of rich, biblical truth, and tells this familiar story in a fresh way. I only have one small quibble with a phrase he uses on the first song, “Gather Round Ye Children”, where he says Jesus “gave up his pride and came here to die like a man”. Andrew is trying to convey the amazing truth that Jesus became like us, stepped down from Heaven, and died on the cross in our place. But that phrase could be seen as implying that by giving up “his pride” Jesus was prideful, and the wording of Jesus coming to “die like a man” might be a bit confusing.

All in all, though, a fantastic CD and a good resource for some special songs to sing during Advent. And the rest of the year too.

– To listen to the CD and read the lyrics click here
– To purchase and/or download the newly re-mastered CD and a live recording, click here
iTunes download

2. “How Long?” Stuart Townend
I have yet to come across a modern song that helps articulate our longing for Jesus to return as well as this song does.

Verse two says:

“Lord, we know your heart is broken by the evil that you see, and you’ve stayed your hand of judgment for your plan to set men free. But the land is still in darkness and we’ve fled from what is right. We have failed the silent children who will never see the light”.

The chorus says:

“How long before you drench the barren land? …before we see your righteous hand? …before your name is lifted high? …before the weeping turns to songs of joy?”

The last verse declares:

“I know a day is coming when the deaf will hear his voice, when the blind will see their Savior and the lame will leap for joy, when the widow finds a husband who will always love his bride, when the orphan finds a Father who will never leave her side.”

Then the last chorus:

“How long before your glory lights the skies? …before your radiance lifts our eyes? …before your fragrance fills the air? …before the earth resounds with songs of joy?”

It’s certainly biblical to sing songs of lament and longing to the Lord. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to find a good occasion to include these kinds of songs. Advent provides a good opportunity.

Sheet music/lyrics
iTunes download