Josh Garrels is a Christian contemporary folk musician from South Bend, Indiana. Garrels has been at Calvin many times, and returns again to exhibit his latest record "The Light Came Down," released in 2016.
Josh Garrels's The Light Came Down is not your usual Christmas album.
While several traditional songs are included, Garrels eschews catchy
choruses and flashy production, opting instead for somber melodies and
quaint instrumentation. Really, Light is more of a winter-tinged folk
record that happens to use the metaphor-laden subject of Christmas to
access that theme in order to access its underlying theme: new life.
This main theme of the album is immediately introduced in the
opener and title track:
"There is a light
A new day dawning
Old things pass
All things made new"
Right away, Garrels makes it clear that this is not just a
Christmas album, it is a cosmic Christmas album. While it certainly is
about a baby in a manger, it is also about much more. This initial
proclamation frames the rest of the record's exploration of the "new day"
in an intentionally grandiose, all-encompassing context.
But the hugeness does not negate the particular. "The Virgin
Mary Had One Son" imaginatively and playfully enters the situation of
Mary and her newborn son:
"Mary, what you gonna call that pretty little baby? ...
Well, some call him Jesus, I think I'll call him savior"
Apart from the potential weirdness of referring to Jesus as both
"pretty little baby" and "savior," this song clarifies the human identity of
Jesus in a surprisingly casual manner. When Garrels asks Mary what she
will call her son, the listener is reminded that the person this is all about
is a baby, a real deal human newborn. Not only does follow the thematic
thread of new life, but the "pretty little baby" image of Jesus casts a more
humble light on the "savior" Jesus.
"Gloria" continues in the thread of new life, also taking on the
humility of the baby "savior" in question. The song describes a
Christmas Eve walk home through the woods-pretty classic
territory-but reframes the landscape within the album's cosmic
"Diamonds on the hills reflect the thrill
Of all the glory that has fallen to the earth ...
All of life is surrendering
To the death that winter brings
In hope of a new life"
Here, the hills and trees are not simply the setting, they are part
of the action. This Christmas story may be cosmic, but it is also
humbling: the "pretty little baby" is the "savior'' and it is not just
humanity that is in the mix, but rather, "all oflife."
"One Day of Peace," the album's penultimate song, paints a
lovely image of the "one day" of new life referred to in its title. Again, it
goes beyond a mere baby in a manger, channeling the humility of that
narrative but expanding it into cosmic territory:
"Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb
Nor shall the fierce devour the small
As beasts and cattle calmly graze
A little child shall lead them all"
However, it should be noted that this vision is unrealized. Light,
in the paradoxically lamenting yet hopeful spirit of Advent, retells the
story of the coming of Jesus as a tiny baby in an effort to capture the
future hope of "One Day of Peace" without negating the here-and-now
lament of the "weary traveler" of the preceding song, "May You Find A
Light." Garrels may be telling the same old story, but it is a story that
awaits its end.
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