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I told somebody that I was going to see Behold the Lamb of God, The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ with Andrew Peterson and friends. “Again?” he said. “Isn’t that the same guy you saw last year?” “Why yes, it is, as a matter of fact,” I said, avoiding the temptation to start a sermon, because how do you really explain such a thing; where would you start?
I’m not sure at what point an event transitions from an annual occurrence into a full-fledged tradition, but for my family and me, Andrew Peterson’s production has clearly made that leap. From our first road trip to Nashville and the Bellcourt Theatre six years ago, to the more recent annual hostings by Bethany Lutheran Church in Elkhorn, Nebraska, BTLOG has become a tradition that solemnly prepares our hearts for the Christmas season.
Like any superb legacy, the production in the December 2, 2008 version retained the sacred tenets of tradition. Equally important, there was surprise and nuance, not only from the in-the-round segment in which each artist humbly submit their own songs, but also the way in which varied aspects of the story moved us. Same words, same melody, same instruments, new revelation. Being moved in fresh ways—in heart ways and head ways—is part of the heritage of this work. Andrew Peterson has written with such insightful depth, that despite the beautiful simplicity of the story, we routinely make new discoveries.
The Elkhorn show sold out quickly. I was fortunate to get my four tickets before the tickets were gone. I can’t claim any particular expertise in guessing audience size, but I suspect there were close to 1,000 people on hand. Tangentially, one of the particularly attractive aspects of BTLOG shows has been the evolution of community, a mish mash of message board participants, Rabbitheads, local/regional supporters, promoters, friends and relatives of band members, all of whom are bound together by a passionate devotion to the music; more relevant, by the brother and sisterhood made possible in Christ. My little satellite associations extending in and out of Omaha are just a small example of that. There are thousands of similar stories wherever the show plays.
For the first round, Andrew opened with “Hosanna,” adroitly linking the Easter story with that of Christmas. It provided the first sense of congregational worship, as the audience—with little prompting, as if its line had been fastidiously rehearsed—joined the offering of contrite praise singing, “Hosanna” with all the vigor and passion of the prodigal son. Then, it was Andrew Osenga with a track from Letter to the Editor, Volume 2 called “Canada,” followed by “The Secret,” an oldie but goodie from Andy Osenga from Room to Breathe, Jill Phillips with “A Lot Like Me” from her new record The Good Things, Bebo Norman with a song I fail to recall, and Ben Shive with “4th of July”—written about an event in Norfolk, Nebraska—in what may have been one of the first public performances from his critically acclaimed debut recording. In response to a question Ben posed from the stage about “Anybody here from Norfolk,” a surprising contingent, mostly in one area, raised their hands and shouted a good Norfolk cheer.
The next round featured “New Beginnings,” one of my favorite Andy Osenga songs, “Holy Flakes” from the Andy who’s last name starts with a “G,” the almost title track from The Good Things from Jill Phillips called “All the Good Things,” “Mary’s Prayer,” one of the first songs Bebo Norman wrote and his mother’s favorite, and in a stroke of profound synchronicity, Andrew Peterson led us into the Christmas program with what may be one of the best modern worship songs ever written, “The Good Confession (I Believe).”
As someone else wrote (and I’m not quoting exactly because I can’t remember where I read it), “There is something about hearing ‘I believe he is the Christ, Son of the Living God,’ repeatedly that inspires awe.” With congregational voices rising and echoing celestially, it made me feel like I was ready to launch, like that rocket in cut eight from Resurrection Letters, Volume 2.
Upcoming BTLOG attendees, you are most definitely in for a treat. Indeed, you will be part of the treat. With each round of that phrase (I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God), the intensity of emotion ratchets higher and wider. And it’s not emotion for emotion’s sake; it’s emotional truth boring ever deeper into our being, and it’s one of the most profoundly moving sounds I’ve ever heard.
The season is here. Don’t miss the opportunity to sing “Silver Bells.” Drink some eggnog; eat some Christmas cookies. Kiss somebody under the mistletoe. Drive around and look at the lights. And by all means, attend and support your local Christmas pageant. But if you crave something more, something real, something that will simultaneously rock your world with truth, and cultivate peace and joy in your spirit, consider making Behold the Lamb of God, The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ, a new family tradition. It has everything to do with the real, true meaning of Christmas, and nothing to do with the paltry imitation.