Years ago, when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, we visited friends down in Charlotte. Because my wife was taking classes there, we got to see these friends a lot.
One weekend, while my wife was in class, my friend and I were driving around and he was singing to what was playing in the car. When I inquired what it was, I hardly knew what would be waiting for me on the other side of it.
Behold the Lamb of God.
It was an album by a Christian artist named Andrew Peterson. I had heard of Peterson before through another friend, but my experience with Christian music was love or hate. I had grown jaded to the lack of artistic expression of many Christian artists who instead seemed to be churning out frivolous mediocrity rather than quality music representing the creativity of the One who had created them.
I don’t remember exactly how it went the first time I listened through the album. Nowadays, the art of listening to albums from start to finish has been lost. Although there has been a resurgence of artists performing albums in their entirety on concert tours, in this age of downloadable music and streaming services, we seem to be eternally on shuffle.
Somewhere between hearing those first notes in that car driving around Charlotte and a few years later, the album had become a staple in my annual Christmas music listening. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to constantly listen and it was an album that I wanted to last longer (the best kind, in my opinion).
In 2010, just a few years after we had moved to the Richmond area, we heard that Peterson would be coming to perform this album in its entirety. So, we eagerly bought our tickets and waited with anticipation. Little did I know what that would begin, an annual tradition that would be passed on to countless friends to be shared together.
Last night marked the sixth or seventh time of seeing this concert and it has never grown stale to me. Peterson has re-recorded the album, which is probably a blog post in itself, and continues to perform it as this year marks the 20th anniversary of the album. He assembles an array of singer-songwriters from the Nashville area and embarks on a journey every year to perform the album at a concert where the first half is marked by an “in the round” performance by the many artists he has with him and the second half is marked by the performance of the album.
It really needs to be experienced in person to fully describe it. If you have the chance, I would highly recommend it, but make sure to familiarize yourself with the music first. With every additional listening, the album speaks to me more deeply. The brilliance of the writing. The creativity. The cleverness. The musicality. It all comes together to profoundly express the overarching message of the gospel through music and song.
Rarely do I ever experience moments like I experience at a Behold the Lamb of God concert. If I am not moved to tears by the end of the performance, then I’m probably not paying attention. To be reminded of God’s plan through Jesus Christ in such a beautiful and artistic way is truly moving.
So there I stood last night, with my family sitting next to me, sitting ten feet from the stage as those first notes played. And as those notes washed over me and the song cycle was played through, I again was moved to tears until the final moments when Peterson read from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
As the crowd joined with the performers to sing the Doxology, the performers walked off the stage one by one, leaving just the light shining as the focus moved away from those who had so elegantly weaved this musical story for us and rested on the One for whom this season exists.
It’s not Rudolph. It’s not Santa. It’s not presents. It’s Jesus.
And in those moments, maybe my heart had grown three sizes like the Grinch. Behold, Christmas had come. And in the words of the Grinch, “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” And as the Grinch so profoundly thought, “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Yes, Christmas means so much more, just like the Grinch realized. And I’m grateful for Andrew Peterson’s creativity for allowing me to remember that through song year after year, both in the comfort of my own home and in the splendor of a concert hall as well.