Song Adventures In Advent


Christmas Playlist 21

This is my 2021 Christmas Playlist. It is downbeat little collection with a little joy late on. The first few songs set the scene of a broken dark world. We then look at what Jesus might bring. Then the baby is born. Finally we see the subversive impact he makes.



(from Archives Vol 2)



(from If We Make It Through December)



(from Mercy Now )



(from Blood Oranges In The Snow)



(from single)



(from single)



(from A Very Blue Rock Christmas)



(from Blood Oranges In The Snow)



(from Night Divine)



(from Midwinter Graces)



(from Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020)



(from O Come All Ye Faithful)



(from Child)



(from Upon A Winter's Night)



(from Celtish Christmas Vol 2)



(from You'll Know It's Christmas)



(from 5 Holiday Favourites EP)






(from Songs For Christmas)



(from The Bells Of Dublin)



(from Christmas)



(from 5 Holiday Favourites EP)













Christmas Playlist

In the old days I had a radio show. I used to carefully plot my Christmas Sunday show. The bad news is that this is not going out on air, the good news is I can slip more songs in! Here is my playlist for 2017. Centred on carols revamped by some of our favourite artists it then has the little epilogue of sermonic thought before Tom Waits and The Blind Boys of Alabama take us out...


Rich Mullins - My Deliverer

Deacon Blue - Bethlehem Begins

Taj Mahal and Blind Boys Of Alabama - No Room In The Inn

Jill Phillips (Andrew Peterson)Labour of Love

The Blind Boys Of Alabama (featuring Mavis Staples) - Born In Bethlehem

Sarah Masen - Heaven Had A Baby

Iain Archer - Little Drummer Boy

Over The Rhine - O Little Town

The Staple Singers - Silent Night

Sufjan Stevens - Joy To The World

Bob Dylan - Hark The Herald Angels Sing

Brian Houston - O Come All Ye Faithful

Ricky Ross - Holy Night

Martin Joseph - One Of Us

Nicole Nordeman - Small Enough

Chris Taylor - Close Enough To Whisper

U2 - Love Is All We Have Left

Over The Rhine - Let It Go

Natalie Merchant - Children, Go Where I Send Thee

The Blind Boys Of Alabama (featuring Tom Waits) - Go Tell It It On The Mountain




Santa Greedy

 “Santa Claus is comin' and the kids are gettin' greedy
It's Christmas time
They know what's in the stores 'cause they seen it on the TV
It's Christmas time, it's Christmas time
It used to be the birthday of the Man who saved our necks
It's Christmas time
Now it stands for Santa Claus they spell it with an X
It's Christmas time, it's Christmas time...”

from Christmas Time by Larry Norman

In his rocked up Christmas ditty, Christmas Time, Larry Norman out this finger on the empty madness of the season. Traffic gridlock. Car Parks full. Long lines in the stores. Tempers short. Stress high. Spend, spend, spend. Christmas is when the world reveals what the world lives for. Things. Consuming. Things. Accumulating. We have just had what has been called Cyber Monday with retailers hope consumers will take advantage of a flurry of sales and discounts. Visa expected £450m to be spent, with 7.7 million online transactions. Amazon hopes for over 3.5 million orders! Last week the Pope said “Mass consumption is mass destruction because it turns citizens into parasitic consumers.” Christmas is a Seasonal pilgrimage for parasite consumption.

The title track of Sufjan Stevens’ 2012 Christmas record, Silver and Gold is as you can tell not a sentimental little song of tinsel and bobble. This is a song that judges the great delusion of the modern era, maybe every era, and in its damning critique delivered in gentle melody Sufjan illuminates truth to live by. As the world settles for vain treasures that are momentary and ultimately without substance Stevens asks God to come in rage to judge the treasure we store.

 “Lord, come with fire. Lord, come with fire.

Everyone’s wasting their time

Storing up treasure in vain.

Trusting the pleasure it gives here on earth.”

-      from Silver And Gold from Sufjan Stevens

We need to ask ourselves this Advent if we are putting our faith and trust in what silver and gold can buy. It is treasure in vain.

The Advent story, where God, The King of Kings, arrives on earth in a bed of straw as opposed to a palace and before he knows it is taking flight as a refugee to Egyot suggests that there is another reality kicking in. Underneath the utter commercial madness of Christmas lies an alternative story where the poor are the blessed and the rich have already received their comfort (Luke 6: 20 & 24).

Jesus said in the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 6):

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

What are we seeking? We are investing in this Christmas?


Slade Xmas

It was my first first form Christmas party. What a perfect time for the biggest band of our time to release the greatest Christmas rock song of all time. Every time Merry Xmas Everybody comes on the radio it is December 1973 and I am back in the Ballymena Academy assembly hall. There is nothing that evokes the Xmas part of Christmas like Slade!

I am precious about the Christ part of Christmas. For me Jesus is the reason for the season. For me this is about Advent and preparing for the arrival of God incarnate, on earth. It is filled with theological riches and truth. The first song on the new U2 album record, Songs Of Experience, has the line “A baby cries on the doorstep/Love is all we have left.” The baby of Christmas is the love.

I don’t think Slade where making a religious statement with their X instead of Christ. For those of us who remember their few years at the top of the British charts, they played a lot on the wrong spelling in their song titles. However, in our modern secular world there are many who prefer the X. For most of society the season is not about God and faith or the baby Jesus. It is about family and food and parties and gifts.

I do not want, in some religious legalism, to lose the family, party, giving gifts part of Christmas. I do think Christmas has become ridiculously over commercialised and I refuse to think about it, or play any Christmas songs, until December 1st, or when advent begins before December 1st. Yet, there is nothing wrong with family and fun and giving to others and Slade! I love Janice’s Christmas dinner, my father-in-law’s spice beef and Janice’s cousin Tim’s stuffing. So I am delighted to celebrate both the family and Jesus Christmases.

Yet, there is something more to this seemingly throw away, if utterly brilliantly written, Christmas hit by Slade. One that I am tapping into especially this Christmas. 

When I was discovering girls, if keeping my distance, at my first first form party Britain was in the throws of a recession. Around that time there was a fuel crisis that led to the television closing down at 9pm every night, their were three days weeks in industry and more strikes than Slade number 1s. It was not a happy or hopeful time.

Into that depressive state, Slade sprinkle their four minutes of exuberant happiness. If this doesn’t lift your spirits, then nothing can! If you listen closely into the long list of Christmas things like reindeers, stockings, snow and momma kissing Santa Claus we have the line, “Look to the future now/It’s only just begun.” There is the hope. There is light up ahead. 

With Trump and Brexit and inertia in Northern Irish politics I’ll be tuning Slade up louder than ever this particular Christmas… mind you the baby on the doorstep, the love that he brought and that will be left when all is over and done is a more robust hope to hold on to!

“So here it is…”

U2 - I BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS - Changing My Thoughts on Greg Lake

Bono Christmas

Now here is a song. Kept off the number 1 spot for Christmas 1975 by the phenomenon that was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Greg Lake’s acoustic song of fragile beauty was deemed a “secular carol.” I didn’t play the song for thirty years, dismissing it as an anti-Christ angle on the Christmas season with its,

“They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
And they told me a fairy story
‘Till I believed in the Israelite.”

Then out of the blue U2 do a video version to raise funds for the RED Campaign. Now wait a minute Bono. You can redeem a lot of things but Lake’s atheist anthem?

Well they do. Changing the line to “But I believe in the Israelite” Bono neither loses his faith, in their cover version, nor the opportunity to use a song to make a powerful statement. When you are listening to U2 you take one thing as read; that they have thought through the song and their use of it. They never leave a line or word to chance in their very carefully crafted artistic intent.

U2 turn this song into a close relation of their own song Peace On Earth. They are asking what good this Christmas is to the millions starving or going without clean water or anti-viral drugs. It becomes a protest song in the Old Testament style of lament. When interviewed about the song, Greg Lake never mentions an atheistic agenda. For him it was a pronouncement against the commercial side of Christmas. The last line is the prophetic preacher’s punch and much more potent with the U2 cover version: -  

“They said there'll be snow at Christmas 
They said there'll be peace on earth 
Hallelujah noel be it heaven or hell 
The Christmas you get you deserve.”

What Christmas do we deserve? Is it the commercial madness, the material waste, the crammed ‘holiday’ schedules, the road rage, the gluttony and the greed? Or is there something else in there? Is there a heaven in there under the wrapping, tinsel and stuffing to be found in the midst of the hell? For me U2 have redeemed the song as they attempt to redeem the season and link the celebration of incarnation with the awful crisis of AIDS across the world.


A New House

“We stayed awake one starry night

Just to watch the sky turn and change and aim”

Ricky Ross is the Songwriter Laureate of Christmas. Yes, last year Deacon Blue made a Christmas single You’ll Know It’s Christmas but Ross has been putting Christmas into his work for many a long year. If Is till had my dario show I would play the piano version of Bethelhem's Gate right into this one... click here for other Christmas references in Deacon Blue

Bethlehem Begins is the lead off track on their 2014 record A New House and has been kicking off the gigs of the recent tour. Like the rest of the A New House record it bursts with hopefulness and actually its theological heart might be where all the other optimism pumps out from. Bethlehem births the possibility of rebirth. 

Ross takes the inspiration here from WB Yeats’ poem The Second Coming. Joni Mitchell used the same poem on her Slouching Towards Bethlehem To Be Born from her Night Ride Home album. Ricky recently told The Daily Record “There’s a line in the poem about ‘slouching towards Bethlehem’ and the idea that you have to go back to open up new possibilities. Bethlehem is such an evocative word. It has a connection to the nativity story but also because of everything that’s going on now between Israel and Palestine.”

Everything I personally want in a song is jam packed into the incredible lyrics of Bethlehem Begins. There is an admission of confusion and brokenness and confession that sometimes denial is all we have. There is a recognition that a miracle is perhaps our only hope and then there is this Bethlehem place and event that gives that puts that transcendent miracle into time and space. It is back to the future to find a new beginning. It rocks and the chorus soars with poetry that lifts the soul. 

“You got to go back, gotta go back, gotta go back in time

To Bethlehem

To begin again…”

Oh yes!

THE KILLERS - JOEL THE LUMP OF COAL - Redemption In The Mundane

Killers Joel

I love The Killers. I love their rock pop bounce and soaring stadium pleasing choruses. I connect with Brandon Flowers’ spiritual content. He might be Mormon but boy do we shake hands on a lot of theological stuff.

Which bring me to their new Christmas single. Since 2006 The Killers have been making a contribution to Seasonal songs and charity. All profits go to RED. I now eagerly await the release date. Seeking without finding over the weekend social media tipped me off yesterday to Joel The Lump Of Coal and a 9 minute comedy video where the band joust with comic ands talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

Now, let me be honest, I wasn’t hopeful with the title of this year’s song and the video didn’t exactly encourage me that it would be anymore than a novelty piece of charity. I mean the opening verse didn’t indicate rock classic or theological depth charge : -

“Some time ago, at Santa's place

Up in the old North Pole

There lived a lump of anthracite

Whose parents called him Joel”

However, Flowers’ vocal is warm and effecting and the chorus though seemingly cumbersome had that melodic catchiness. I hung in there to give it at least the kindness of one listen… and then…

“Cause when a person hurts inside

It turns him hard and cruel

But I know how to make your pain

Into a precious jewel


So take me in your hand, young man

And squeeze with all your might

Let's turn your pain and anger

Into something that shines bright"


Then Joel, Joel, the lump of coal

He gave his life away

So that one good naughty little boy

Had a diamond on Christmas day”

And from a seemingly mundane and very ordinary place, almost awkward, and certainly unlikely, redemption burst in with surprise and wonder. There is self sacrifice, there is spiritual healing and salvation… and I am shaking hands with Brandon Flowers once more. The Killers’ Christmas single. Full of all of Christmas but getting to the main point in the most pertinent of ways.


Christmas iPod

John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done.” There is no better introduction to such a playlist. This Lennon song was in the first Christmas chart I took an interest in. A classic!

Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

And the classic so on. Springsteen at his live posturing rock best. The spirit of Christmas starts here.

Elton John - Step Into Christmas

Lost in competition of early seventies Christmas songs, this is a great invitation.

Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody

Number 1 at my first School Party. It doesn’t get happier than this.

Amazing Pilots - White Christmas

Can’t have a Playlist without this one, so let’s get as credible as we can. Northern Ireland’s great alt. country boys give it the right groove.

The Pogues – Fairytale Of New York

Now that we are in the mood, let us get serious. This Irish knees up takes us into the mess of living that Christmas gets to the heart of.

Over The Rhine - Little Town

The first Carol on the list gets a rewrite to fuse today’s troubled Bethlehem with the Bethlehem of that first Christmas. And you can’t have a Christmas playlist with Karin’s voice.

Willard Grant Conspiracy - O Come O Come Emmanuel

A scary prayer and Robert Fisher is the very man to bring out its menace. If this old carol actually happens the world is going to get tossed around something shocking.

Jackson Browne (with The Chieftains) - Rebel Jesus

So if the revolution comes we need a rebel to set it in motion. Jackson does the character sketch.

Dustin Kensrue - This Is War

The rebel makes war against all that needs fought against. Thrice’s singer sounding like Kurt Cobain stripped back and ready to shake his fist at the danger.

Tom Waits – Go Tell It On The Mountain

The Rebel is born and the war is going to be won so who better to spread the good news than Tom Waits guesting with The Blind Boys Of Alabama. Now there’s a Christmas treat!

Iain Archer - Little Drummer Boy

While we are ushering in the Messiah’s appearance here’s my mate Iain Archer and his amazing wife Miriam Kaufmann with a lovely version of this oldie.

Bruce Cockburn – Cry Of A Tiny Babe

The best and most detailed story song of the nativity. Brilliant and insightful, asking all the right questions from the reason for the season. “Redemption rips through the surface of time...”

Jill Phillips - Labour Of Love

It was not a silent night! The earthy reality of the birth and Mary place in it.

Low – If You Were Born Today

Low’s alternative Christmas record throws up this poignant sermonette.

Ricky Ross - Calvary

A song about Christmas with the title of Easter’s hill. Ricky Ross suggests that instead of getting Jesus straight to Easter we should
ponder on the lessons his life teaches us.

The Killers - Joseph

The conclusion of the playlist’s sermon. More questions about how we would do if we lived the story. Here we see Joseph as a hero too.
Rather him than me!

Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

The nativity should not be left in the cupboard once we put away the turkey carcass and decorations. We should live it every day. My very favourite Christmas pop song from the era of Slade but even better!

Bob Dylan - Must Be Santa

Dylan’s Christmas record needed inclusion. Here’s the one that gets my girls dancing. Happy Christmas!

Rod Stewart - Merry Christmas Baby

Ok! A little indulgence but I still remember Rod as the archetypal rock star lad! This one from his Christmas record goes out like a prayer. “May the good Lord be with you...” Amen!

Song Adventures In Advent - HAPPY XMAS (War Is Over) by John and Yoko Lennon

Happy Xmas

The first Christmas song I ever remember was John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over). I started listening to pop radio in 1972 when I was 11 and got my first record player for Christmas. It was in the UK top 5 at that time. In the midst of The Osmonds and glam rock it might also be the first healthy song I ever got into! The Vietnam angle passed me by as an eleven year old but I knew that there was a great declaration of love for humanity in this song.

For me though at that stage, and I guess as a result ever since, the lines that dug deep into my being were the first lines: -

“And so this is Christmas and what have we done
Another year over, a new one just begun.

In the thirty nine years since, whether hearing the song by accident on the radio or in some mall or by intention as I carefully put together the family Christmas playlist, these lines are my way into Advent. As I look forward to the light invading the earth in the birth of the baby who would change it all I use John Lennon’s line to audit my life. As another year is cast away, twelve months used up, I always ask what have I done? What use did I make of the blessing of life? What have I done in my own life to make it into a better husband, father, friend and minister? What have I done to make my Church and my city a better place? I usually find some highlights and impressions made. I know also that some confession needs said and a seeking of a better year in the twelve months that beckon.

John and Yoko’s song wanted literally to change the world and came on the back of their Billboard campaign to rally the American people to choose to end the Vietnam War. It was part of that naive period of their lives where they thought they could imagine a world and it would happen as they cut their hair, lay in bed for a week or released pop singles. In some ways though they were of course onto something. We as Christians believe that Jesus came to change everything but that we must make the choice that he invites us to make to follow him into the revolution; a revolution that caused the political and religious leaders of his day to want to kill him, his revolution so subverted their status quo. To be part of the subversion, that would bring all that John and Yoko dreamed of in this song, we need to want it to be so.  

What have we done... what do we want to do... Happy Christmas!