For just a moment imagine your ideal, perfect Christmas scene. What comes to mind? For most people that image would include gently falling snow, brightly lit and decorated trees, and a crackling fire glowing in a fireplace. Christmastime in our native Minnesota was typically marked with snow-covered trees, brisk temperatures, and warm homes decorated for the season. This ideal scene is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it was the reality of the first Christmas when Jesus was born.
When you think about the fact that the shepherds of the first Christmas were out in the fields with their grazing sheep, it’s more likely than not that the hills were filled with vegetation and not white with snow. Even as it’s possible the first Christmas was cold, the climate of that area could have likely made for warm or moderately cool nights. It’s not the weather that matters, however—it’s the reality of the fact that God came to earth as a baby, One who would change the eternal destiny of all who receive Him.
All of us have different ways we celebrate this event. Each year our family would gather on Christmas Day and celebrate Jesus’ birth with exchanged gifts, great food, and some singing of Christmas songs. Music was a big part of our Christmas celebrations. One of my favorite memories happened on the last Christmas we lived in Minnesota when our family sang together at our church’s morning worship services. We led the church in worshipping God through singing Christmas carols and songs in a country bluegrass style. I played guitar, my wife Terese played banjo, our son played mandolin, our daughter played the upright bass, and two of our grown children sang. The worship was vibrant and memorable, and the church was filled with people not just singing, but truly worshipping the Son of God who came to earth as a baby, lived a perfect life, went to the cross and died for our sins and brokenness, and then rose from the dead.
Our typical Christmas scene changed when we moved to Florida and spent our first Christmas season in a warm climate. Here in Florida, you’ll still see plenty of Christmas lights, decorated trees, and Christmas scenes, but without the snow and bitterly cold temperatures. Our Florida home church—Live Oaks Community Church— has an outdoor venue called “The Grove” where we host outdoor services, movies, and even concerts. We still have beautiful candlelight Christmas Eve services, but they are held both indoors and outdoors! Last year when our lead pastor approached me about doing a Christmas concert event, I reflected and remembered the previous year’s Christmas services with our family and the tremendous response to that worship music. So I proposed that we do an outdoor Christmas concert called “A Country Bluegrass Christmas.” He agreed.
So plans were made, music and musicians selected, and rehearsals took place to make this a special event. One day as I prayed for God’s presence to be powerfully felt at this concert (along with good weather) a new song idea came to me. In a matter of an hour or two the song “Country Bluegrass Christmas” went from inspiration to paper and simple recording. The song included three classic Christmas carols wrapped in a narrative that started with these lyrics:
“It’s the 25th of December, and all is bright and green,
We’re sittin’ on the porch swing in a warm southern scene,
We are celebratin’ the birthday of the King,
So we pull out the fiddle, and we begin to sing…”
Live Oaks’ first Country Bluegrass Christmas concert took place outdoors on a perfect Florida evening, and over 800 people attended! Many guests and visitors came— some even joined the church in the following months. One man told me this concert was the key event in His eternity-changing encounter with God in the person of Jesus Christ. The music was excellent and empowered by God’s presence. Finally, the response to my new, upbeat song was overwhelming! Several people asked me when the song would be recorded, and I told them that this was up to the Lord.
To use a Christmas phrase, “Lo and behold! ” earlier this year God opened the door for this song (along with others I had written) to be recorded. I was honored to play and sing alongside some great, world-class musicians at a legendary recording studio. God brought together a great team of people for this recording, including people from our church who lifted every aspect of this project up in prayer. I am including the YouTube link to this song which is part of the new recording “Living Oaks” that will be available in early 2019.
Whether you live in a cold, wintry place or in a warm climate where everything stays green, you can still celebrate the reality of Christmas: God came to earth to seek and save flawed people like you and me and give us a bright future, both here and through eternity.
As for us, we’re still having Christmas… the Country Bluegrass way!
God bless you!