In June of 2013 I received an email from my friend, Marty Machowski. Marty serves on the pastoral team of Covenant Fellowship Church, a Sovereign Grace Church near Philadelphia. He has writes children’s books and devotionals, most notably The Gospel Story Bible.
Marty asked me if Sovereign Grace Music wanted to produce an album to accompany an Advent devotional and curriculum he had written for New Growth Press. I was instantly intrigued by the idea. Our first and only Christmas album, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man, came out in 2006 and I thought we were long overdue for another Christmas project.
Marty’s devotional had 13 lessons, each based on a particular Scripture. He had already picked traditional carols for each lesson, but some weren’t a great match, and others lacked any clear reference to the gospel. He wondered if we could come up with a mix of traditional, altered, and original Christmas songs that could not only accompany what he had written but could stand on its own as a Christ-exalting Christmas album.
After a number of phone conversations, face to face meetings, a songwriting retreat, 200+ emails, numerous Skype sessions, many hours in the studio, and a lot of prayer, we have an album: Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus in Song.
And I couldn’t be happier with the result.
From the start I wanted us to produce an album that “sounded” like Christmas. It had to have intimate moments as well as celebrative ones. It would be an album you’d want to sing along to as well as listen to. It would feel familiar and fresh at the same time. Most of all, it would help us focus on the joy, awe, mystery, and wonder that God becoming man should produce in our hearts. J.I. Packer wrote:
The Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. (Knowing God, p. 53)
That’s what we tried to communicate through these songs. Staggering mercy, amazing grace.
We ended up with six Christmas carols and eight originals. Of the six carols, “What Child is This” is the only one that remained untouched. “Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World (Our God Reigns),” and “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” received some minor melodic variations and lyrical additions. We wrote three new verses for “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and Kevin Hartnett, a NASA scientist and poet, contributed two new verses for “O Holy Night (Hear the Gospel Story).” As the title implies, the new lyrics take us into the redemptive meaning of that holy night:
Humbly He lay, Creator come as creature
Born on the floor of a hay-scattered stall
True Son of God, yet bearing human feature
He entered earth to reverse Adam’s fall
Here’s a sample of lyrics from some of the original songs:
He Who is mighty has done a great thing
Taken on flesh, conquered death’s sting
Shattered the darkness and lifted our shame, holy is His name
(He Who is Mighty – Rebecca Elliott & Kate DeGraide)
One still night, while Joseph dreamed, he saw a vision within his troubled sleep
One small child, his bride would give, Deliverer delivered, to save us from our sin
(One Still Night – Neil & Kate DeGraide)
And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan to save the world
(Who Would Have Dreamed – Jason Hansen & Bob Kauflin)
There blooms a rose in Bethlehem from tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse’s line this flower grows as men of old have sung
Isaiah told us long ago about this rose we’d find
In virgin arms, we shall behold the Savior of mankind
(There Blooms a Rose in Bethlehem – Neil DeGraide)
Come and see the inconceivable, and believe the unbelievable
God has come to dwell with us
Begotten Son born into Adam’s earth, promised One fulfilling ancient words
God has come to dwell with us
(The Unbelievable – Steve & Vikki Cook)
The vocalists and instrumentalists did a fantastic job on the album and were ably led by Neil DeGraide, who produced the project, assisted by Steve Cook. Neil is a gifted musician and part of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He created a sonic palette of engaging cello parts, tasty piano patterns, mesmerizing guitar riffs, and warm acoustic sounds make listening a pure joy. The album also benefited from the keyboards and arranging of David LaChance, Jr., Neil’s cousin. David’s version of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” is hauntingly beautiful.
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the full tracks on our Bandcamp site and download the album there, Amazon, or iTunes. And if you can leave a rating and review while you’re there that will help spread the word. Physical CDs can be ordered from the Sovereign Grace webstore. Or if you act before midnight Tuesday night, you might be one of ten people to win a free copy. See this post.
As always, charts, lead sheets, and piano scores will be available for free on the Sovereign Grace Music site. We’re hoping to get a few orchestrations and 4 part arrangements up soon as well.
Our prayer for this project, and every project, is that people who listen to and sing these songs will have a greater love for the One who came to free us from our sins by taking on our flesh and dying in our place.
The long night is over. The light of the world has come. Prepare Him room.