If you’re anything like me, one of the things you like most about Christmas is the music. I have it on at home, in my classroom, in my car…pretty much everywhere I go. I love to hear popular hits like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “White Christmas” (The Drifters’ version is my favorite!), but songs that focus on the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus’ birth, are my favorite. I sing “Silent Night” to my babies as they drift to sleep. I hum along to “O Holy Night” and “The First Noel” because singing is not my gift. I’d rather hear Josh Grobin and Pentatonix serenade me. But, there are three modern day religious Christmas songs that resonate with me the most. You may have never heard of them, but you should take the time to listen to them this season.
1. “Sweet Little Baby Boy” by: James Brown
We all know James Brown as the Godfather of Soul, who capitalized on the phrase “I Feel Good” with his hit of the same name. His funky vibe makes even the grouchiest sports fan stand up and groove when his voice blares through the stadium speakers. But, James Brown had a much softer side, which can be experienced when you listen to “Sweet Little Baby Boy.”
I first heard this song when Collin was a baby. As a new mom, I imagined the love that Mary must have felt for her sweet little baby boy. I had also recently experienced a resurgence of my faith and connected when James’ Brown says “He restored my mind” and “My mother told me this story…The greatest love story ever told.”
I like the soulful vibe and refrain of “Sweet Little Baby Boy” reminding me that Jesus was once like my sweet babies. It’s almost a lullaby. (From James Brown of all people!)
2. “Christmas Song” by Dave Matthews Band
Dave Matthews Band at the center of the upbeat, “Jam-band” music scene of the late 1990s and early 2000. (They’re still around and make for an excellent live music experience.) It’s a large band which features instruments beyond the normal rock realm of guitars and drums. There’s also a trumpet player, a saxophonist, a violinist, and a keyboardist. But, “Christmas Song” is a very simple masterpiece consisting of a combo of one gentle voice and two acoustic guitars.
This song stirs my emotions and invigorates my faith. It tells the story of Jesus’ entire life, reminding listeners over and over that no matter what happened, “his heart was full of love.” It’s an important message about His mission on Earth as well as His mission for us on Earth. And it started with a tiny baby.
I dare you to listen to this song without crying.
3. “Ave Maria” by Chris Cornell featuring Eleven
Yes, of course, you’ve heard this song before, but never like this. Chris Cornell was the lead singer of Soundgarden, a 1990s hard rock superpower from Seattle. Many music critics (including my brother and I) agree that he has the best voice of his era. He produces a unique and powerful sound. Every lyric he sings, he means, and there’s no greater version of that than his version of “Ave Maria.”
In this version of my absolute favorite hymn, Chris Cornell’s remarkable voice presents as an unexpected blend of mega rock star and opera singer. Rather than raging electric guitars and heavy drums, a traditional orchestra consumes the background to act as a meditative force so that you can focus your thoughts on Mary and Her incredible gift to us.
This beautiful song has stood the test of time and I was happy to locate a version that balanced both my modern and traditional tastes in music. Try it. I guarantee you’ll be surprised.
You can find all of these songs on iTunes or Google Play. I hope you enjoy them! Please let me know what you think!