The Advent Gospel of Two Christians: "Almost There"

When my sister and I were growing up, we listened to a lot of contemporary Christian music.

One Christmas, we received monogrammed cassette tape holders for our collections. Yes, those really did exist. They were foot-long, rectangular bins with tape-sized dividers. Covered in cloth with a handle on the end, a zipper around the top kept everything in place. Hers said VALERIE, and mine said DARIAN. There is no better security system for a Christian cassette collection than to emblazon the children’s names on them. We carried them very proudly, along with our walk-mans, on road trips.

One tape that I put in my holder every December was Amy Grant’s Home for Christmas, which included the songs, “Breath of Heaven” and “Grown Up Christmas List.” Nearby it was Michael English’s self-titled album. On "side one" of that tape was the original recording of “Mary, Did You Know?”

Twenty-plus years later, DARIAN’s cassette tape holder no longer exists. I carried it until the fabric unraveled, and the first “A” came off, leaving me with the name of “D-RIAN.” Thankfully, the songs still exist and thrive on radio stations and in choir cantatas. Some people would even describe "Breath of Heaven" and "Mary, Did You Know?" as “new” Christmas songs. I have trouble thinking of anything from the cassette holder as “new.”

This is the time of year where familiar music fills our sanctuaries and dominates our airwaves. In church, we sing about baby Jesus and angels. Rudolph, Santa, and jingling bells echo at parties. We know the first verses of many Christmas hymns by heart. It would be easy to stick with what’s familiar and not to learn anything new.

Yet the prophet Isaiah calls to us….

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
*

Advent is the forging of a new creation that reveals God’s glory. New roads. New valleys. New mountains. New ground. Alongside our old traditions should be new expressions of glorifying God.

Is there a new song that you might sing this Advent?

While this blog series mainly focuses on songs that are not necessarily in the “Christian” genre, this week is an exception. Michael W. Smith (who had two cassette tapes in my holder!) and Amy Grant recently recorded a song entitled, “Almost There.”

The words remind us that no matter how far we’ve come as children of God, we’re still “almost there.” There is always more to learn. There is always further to go. There is always space for a new song.

Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith have recorded a number of well-loved songs, including some we sing mainly at Christmas time. Successful songs of the past have not prevented them from writing and recording new ones for today. Part of our growth as artists and as children of God is to create something fresh. We don't neglect the songs written twenty years ago. We build upon them. "Almost There" is a song of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. It's the story of Christ--not just Christmas.

As we sing the songs of cassette tapes and prior times, let us download a new tune, too. Isaiah may have written his prophetic song centuries ago, but the message is one of new creation—yesterday, today, tomorrow, and always.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

* Isaiah 40:3-5 (New International Version)

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