Reviewing Prepare Him Room
September 30, 2014 0 comments
Sovereign Grace recently released their second Christmas album, entitled Prepare Him Room. Setting aside the fact that it’s borderline heresy to tempt people to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, I actually wanted to review the album because of the album title (although I will talk about some specific songs and whether the album is worth purchasing).
Why call a Christmas album Prepare Him Room? It is, of course, a reference to the lyric from the seminal Christmas classic Joy to the World: “Let every heart prepare him room.” But then, there are many (better) Christmas songs to choose from with (more interesting) lyrics therein. It’s also kind of linguistically confusing, especially out of context. If you were to simply make that statement, people’s reaction would probably be either “Prepare who a room?” or “Prepare him room for what?” or even “What an overrated song.” But the more I thought about it, the more I think it’s a brilliant title. Although ostensibly a reference to the song lyric, it’s more appropriately considered a reference to three things.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Before there was Joy to the World, there was John the Baptist. The call to “prepare him room” is a reference to the original practitioner of preparation. John the Baptist was the one who, according to an altogether different John, prepared the way for the Messiah. The call to the “prepare him room” is the same call that John the Baptist made to the Jews – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The Jewish people had lived in silence for 400 years; the voice and guidance of Yahweh was but a memory of a memory. They thought the Messiah would come as a conquering hero, to rid them of their oppression and political difficulties, to restore the Jewish people to their proper place. John the Baptist confirmed that the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, was indeed coming with the Messiah. But their call to preparation was not a call to arms, but a call to repentance.
PRIORITIES AND PREEMINENCE
Calling the album Prepare Him Room is also a call to properly value the Gospel, the work of Jesus, and our call as Christians. In other words, it’s a reference to the room that Jesus was denied in Bethlehem, and, metaphorically, to our temptation to deny him the preeminence that Colossians is clear he possesses. We all know that story that there was “no room in the inn” for Joseph and Mary when they arrived in Bethlehem. But how aware are we of the times when we don’t find room in the inn of our hearts for what God has called us to do and who He has called us to be? Prepare Him Room is a reminder to acknowledge that preeminence of Christ. (Sidenote: I wrote this beginning about a week ago, before I listened to the album. I was happy to hear this lyric from the title track: “Oh our hearts/As busy as Bethleham/Hear him knock/Don’t say there’s no room in the inn.” Hey, I’m actually right for once!)
Prepare Him Room is also a reference to the rest of the story, a story that culminates at Calvary. Anyone can find room in their hearts for babies; they are adorable. But we aren’t called to consider Christmas in a vacuum; the story doesn’t end there, and the place we are to prepare is not for a baby in a manger, but for the Lion of Judah, who came to devour our sin and make us new. The story didn’t end at Bethlehem; in fact, it was only just beginning. The manger would become the cross, would become the grave, would become the empty tomb. Bethlehem would become Nazareth, would become Calvary, would become the New Jerusalem. The shepherds became the disciples, became the deniers and the doubters, became the ransomed church. The helpless baby became the Servant Man, became the suffering Savior, became the Risen King. That baby crying became a command, “Go, therefore, and sin no more” became a shout “It is finished!” became a promise “Behold, I am with you always.”
IS ANYTHING GOOD BESIDES THE TITLE?
The album doesn’t disappoint. It begins, as if an actual worship service, with a call to worship – “O come, let us adore him” from their cover of “Come All Ye Faithful.” That sets the context for the rest of the album. The next track, “He Who Is Mighty,” (undoubtedly one of the high points of the album) follows logically, giving weight to why we should come and adore him. “He who is mighty/Has done a great thing/Taken on flesh/Conquered death’s sting/Shattered the darkness and lifted our shame.” Next, it transitions to a more reflective portion of the album before soaring again with perhaps the best track on the album, “One Still Night.” It almost sounds like the opening number of a stage production and could have been disastrous but instead worked perfectly. The song takes us on a lyrical journey, ranging from “One still night/Mary awoke/Awakened by an angel/She trembled as he spoke” to “One still night/A light was shone/That all the darkness/Could never overcome” to “And to His kingdom/there will be no end!” Musically, it manages to be both grandiose and open, allowing the lyrics and the musicality of the instrumentation to shine, including tasty brass fills in the last chorus. If you buy one track, buy this track.
The next track, “Before the Skies,” is similarly lyrically expansive, acknowledging God’s “reign, power and authority” over the entire universe. After establishing the universality and preeminence of God, though, the album than takes a personal turn. “Who Would Have Dreamed” narrows the scope of the album, reference a “little town/of no great renown” along with shepherds, prophets, and others who lived at the time, ultimately forcing the listener to ask a deeply personal question. Could we have envisioned the Messiah coming as he did? Would we have accepted it? “Who would have dreamed/Or ever foreseen/That we could hold God in our hands?” Similarly, their cover of “Oh Holy Night” focuses on the personhood of Jesus: “Born on the floor of a hay scattered stall/True Son of God/Yet bearing human features/He entered earth to reverse Adam’s fall.” The simplicity of the accompaniment highlights both the melodic fiddle solo and the fact that “gospel story” is at its core a simple, personal story. We sinned and Jesus came and died that we might be saved and live forever. Or, as the next two tracks put it: “In virgin’s arms, we shall behold/the Savior of mankind” and “Begotten Son/Born into Adam’s earth/Promised One/Fulfilling ancient words/God has come to dwell with us.”
Which leads us to the title track, “Prepare Him Room.” The foundation has been laid – the gospel story has been presented and our call to respond and worship has been proclaimed. The title track ties everything together, beginning by acknowledging the depths and contours of the story that the album has told so far: “Oh, behold/The mystery now unfolds/See the star shine on the virgin foretold.” But it also succinctly summarizes the crux of the story, that all the mysteries and prophecies (understood and comprehended or not) and silence and calls for repentant preparation leads to one moment: “Hope rings out in a newborn’s cry/Swing wide you ancient gates/For Christ has come today!” Prepare him room indeed. Importantly, though, it doesn’t end there. It finishes the story: “Now He’s risen and He reigns/Praise the name above all names!”
In other words, I would encourage you to purchase the album.
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