- - Thursday, December 22, 2016


By Alistair Begg

The Good Book Company, $9.99, 80 pages

During stops on his “Thank You” tour, President-elect Donald Trump has been announcing to the crowds that it is okay “to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” a reference to the seasonal salutation that had, in some Grinchy areas of the country, slipped out of fashion.

As yet another Christmas season plays out across the globe, a new book by Alistair Begg, founder of “Truth for Life” radio, attempts to augment the phrase “Merry Christmas” beyond a glib seasonal greeting to one deeply significant by illuminating the reality behind four spiritual “songs.”

“Christmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas” — short, easy to read and digest — does not examine popular, contemporary holiday songs most likely to be pumped through office elevator speakers. Those expecting to discover deeper meaning behind the lyrical riffs, “Up on the housetop reindeer pause,” or “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus,” may find their facile holiday cheer flipped on its head. The four dissected songs (more like poems extracted from the Bible) are key to the historical announcements of the birth, life and death of Jesus at a time when the first “real war” on Christmas — the one started by King Herod in his attempt to execute the newborn baby — began.

So though readers might recognize various familiar lines on which many of our traditional Christmas carols are based, Mr. Begg does not point to any one song or songs in particular. As the author explains:

“This book takes us back to the four songs of the first Christmas, which were heard before, during and after the birth of the baby who lies at the heart of the real Christmas.”

Such songs are found in particular Bible passages recorded by doctor and historian Luke. And their verses are not all sugary sweet, either, as some phrases predict doom, gloom and destruction. However, each selection shares the unique perspective from a diverse medley of people: a poor, young virgin; an aging, soon-to-be first-time father; a group of majestic, even terrifying, celestial beings; and a prophet near death.

Two of the song passages may be instantly recognizable to readers, whether Christian or not. Better known as the Magnificat, the first song conveys the virgin Mary’s excited words to her cousin Elizabeth after being visited by an angel who told her she would be the mother of the promised Messiah of Israel. Mr. Begg delineates the theme prominent in Mary’s exultation: God Himself is coming to earth to personally redeem the world. This news will be received joyously by many and will become a problem for others (e.g., the previously mentioned, Herod).

That distasteful of all words, “sin,” provides a note of discord in Zechariah’s song as he uncovers why man needs a personal redemption from God. This second Christmas offering displays both justice and mercy.

The angels sing the third of Mr. Begg’s numbers with lines most popular in Christmas cards. An entire choir proclaims, “Glory to God in the highest heavens,” as it announces the birth of a child destined for greatness, while entering life in utterly humble, even humiliating, conditions. As Mr. Begg declares:

“He was not born to a queen, in a palace. He was born to a girl, in a cave, and his cradle was a food trough.”

The fourth selection foreshadows the newborn’s destiny and alerts Mary to the soul-piercing moments surrounding his death some 30 years in the future. The author provides insight:

“[T]he wooden food trough led to the wooden cross [Y]ou will never get to the heart of Christmas if you don’t grasp the meaning of Easter.”

In closing, Mr. Begg explains “the greatest gift of any Christmas,” a gift many leave under the tree, unopened, year after year.

But after reading “Christmas Playlist,” the reader’s very next utterance of “Merry Christmas,” that most succinct of holiday greetings, may possibly be packed with a fresh and wonderfully new depth of meaning.

Albin Sadar is the author of the Hamster Holmes series of mystery books for children (Simon & Schuster) and frequent guest of “Fun Facts Fridays” on “The Eric Metaxas Show” (Salem Radio Network).

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