Before releasing this Christmas album, listen to this melancholy melody. | The Best Samaritan with Jamie Aten and Kent Annan


Every year my family is excited when it comes to Christmas music time. The constant playlist coming from our living room speakers is called “Christmas Hits”. Me, less excited. I love Christmas carols – singing them in church or attending the wonderful annual concert here at Wheaton College. But my apologies to Pentatonix, every year I grit my teeth through the “Christmas Hits”. In fact, no excuse.

My kids are moaning in the car when I play what they call “Sad Old Man Rock” music. (No more heartfelt apologies to Radiohead.) This genre is found in the Christmas music that I choose. My wife joined with my kids in banning me from playing Sufjan Steven’s great Christmas album, my main December music since 2006.

A few weeks ago I went to a little theater in Chicago to see Over the Rhine on their Christmas tour. A melancholy Christmas concert. My heart sang! I played a song again. In part, it got me thinking about what we’re doing in The Best Samaritan: trying to do good better, the needs and risks involved, the sadness that can feel heavier this time of year, and the need the grace of God to guide the way.

The song is called “Another Christmas”:

Another Christmas is slowly drifting

Like the ghost of my lost innocence

And the tree in the corner is burning brightly

I turned off all the other lights

I think back to my life in this stillness

I consider the days of my youth

And the times when I find myself ready

Surrender and just tell the truth

I love the sweetness with which we are greeted in the beauty of the lights on the tree, right next to the sadness of realizing what has been lost. Story of a person. History of mankind.

Because I have committed all the sins

And each leaves a different scar

It’s just the world I live in

And I could use a guiding star

Now it’s not that sweet. But that’s what I’m here for. A path to the joy of Christmas that is not superficial. What a poetically piercing line on sin and the scar. Then a big line on the desire of the guiding star. Whatever joy we get, it will be real.

I hope I can still believe

The baby Jesus holds a gift for me

Am i able to receive

Peace on earth this Christmas

A few weeks ago, we spoke with Dallas Jenkins, who created The Chosen, a creative retelling of the story of Jesus that is now one of the most popular shows in the world. We’ve had a lot of conversations about how they tell healing stories. We think of healing in humanitarian and disaster areas – and the lack of healing and slow healing. This stanza brings me to Mark’s father (chapter 9) who desperately wanted Jesus to heal his son: “Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief! ‘”

This old world so sweet and so bitter

Seeds of violence that we humans have sown

And those guns that we still love to wield

May our children have the strength to let go

When we look at the stars after midnight

Sparkling rumors of in-game redemption

Can we still hear the echoes of angels

Who sang that first day of Christmas

Now let’s move from the personal context to the larger context. In the concert and in the car and at this moment: devastating to think about violence. Children from a Michigan school were buried just days ago. An absurd military budget, more than what the Commander-in-Chief even asked for, has just been passed in Congress. Not wanting to lay down the “weapons we always love to wield” and ready to sacrifice innocent children to have the right to continue wielding them. A military budget like this, but not enough money to vaccinate the world or for paid family leave to care for our country’s newborns. From melancholy now to tears.

Because we have committed all sins

And each leaves a different scar

It’s just the world we live in

And we could use a guiding star

Hope we can still believe

The baby Jesus holds a gift for us

Are we able to receive

Peace on earth this Christmas

From personal sin to community, the systemic. The scars left and reopened by racism, sexism, by many sins. This is the world we live in. But without giving hope, we could indeed use a guiding star. “The baby Jesus holds a gift for us” – yes, can we receive this peace? A hope indeed, a hope that can shine through loss and tears. And an invitation to participate in the peace, in the grace, of this slow kingdom to come.

Hear the herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn king

Peace on earth and gentle mercy

God and sinners reconciled

Happy all the nations rise up

Join the triumph of heaven

With angelic hosts proclaim

Peace on earth this Christmas

The modern, melancholy folk song ends smoothly with the melody and lyrics of the beautiful Christmas hymn Charles Wesley wrote in the 18th century. Husband and wife are harmonizing now. Their harmony, as I was writing this line, brings me to Seamus Heaney’s “The Cure of Troy” and his well-known lines: “The story says, don’t hope / On this side of the grave. . / But in a lifetime The long awaited tidal wave / Justice can arise, / And hope and history rhyme.

This Christmas, may your scars (like mine) continue to heal. May our collective scars find repentance and grace. In all the topics we have covered during our first year of the Best Samaritan, where with you we often address the consequences of trauma and displacement, poverty, conflict and disaster, we are grateful to have the chance to seek with you to receive that “The baby Jesus holds a gift for us”.

Peace on earth this Christmas: not as a shallow seasonal jingle, but as our deepest mourning, our deepest hope and our deepest commitment.


You can listen to the song Over the Rhine here.

Kent Annan co-directs the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, the country’s first faith-based academic research center. Learn more and support disaster preparedness work today.


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