As a hard, strange year draws to a close, the season of Advent feels so timely and necessary. We enter the long, dark nights of winter, and even as we look forward to Christmas, there’s still the unshakeable sense that it’s going to be so different this year, our joy marked by grief for traditions put aside, canceled travel plans, absent loved ones, and the heavy toll of every loss and grief. For this reason, I’m thankful for Caroline Cobb’s new album, A Seed, A Sunrise.
This is not your average jolly Christmas record, but instead it’s a collection of original songs that trace the story of hope coming into the world. From humanity’s broken beginning to the arrival of hope to the longing for Christ’s return, these songs provide the perfect soundtrack for the ache that feels especially strong this year. I had a chance to chat with Caroline over Zoom (of course) about her Scripture songs project, her new Advent album, and why it feels especially meaningful to release these songs in 2020.
So this is your third album, and I understand it’s a continuation of a year-long project to record a song for every book of the Bible. Can you tell me about the story behind that?
That started back in 2011. So, I was about to turn 30 on 11/11/11, and I thought that was a cool date. I had always written songs, but I had never really made a goal like that for myself. So I decided to write a song for every book of the Bible in one year, and it really married these two loves I had—songwriting and understanding God’s word as a story, seeing all the connections and enjoying his Word as a beautiful, rich thing. That began this trajectory of consistently writing songs from Scripture. With each album I would put out it was as if I was telling a big story.
So similar to, you know, Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, there’s that concept of tracing a story way back to the beginning, all the way to when Christ was born. But for me it was different angles. The first album was called The Blood and the Breath, and it traced the story of death to life, songs that tell the story of redemption. And then the second one was A Home and a Hunger. I got to write about it on The Rabbit Room when it came out, and that one is more about the ache, this tension between the already and the not yet. A Seed, A Sunrise is part of a set of two albums that I recorded at the same time with producer Isaac Wardell (Josh Garrels, Porter’s Gate, Sandra McCracken). As the first entry, A Seed, A Sunrise is an Advent themed album, and the idea is to have this anthology of work that tells the story.
The analogy I use is that it’s like a diamond. It’s so beautiful, but from so many different angles, you can just keep turning it and telling the story again and again and again. And you know, we’ll never plumb the depths of God’s story, which is what anchors our stories. I get to keep turning this diamond and telling this story in the way that I feel God has called me to do.
And then the next one is really about Jesus and his compassionate life. The other albums were really panoramic, and this one zooms in on Jesus. Right now I’m calling it A King and His Kindness. I have in my head ideas for other themes and concepts in the future. It’s just something that I really love to do.
While spending time with A Seed, A Sunrise, I did notice the narrative arc just kind of spanning from the beginning. It doesn’t feel like a traditional Christmas album in that way. It starts at the beginning.
Exactly. I can’t help but see all the ways that it ties together. Like the first song on this Advent album really starts in Genesis 3. And then by the end, you’re talking about Jesus returning. So it does sort of go from the Fall and exile to Jesus coming and returning. The theme of the whole thing is like exile, homesickness and ache.
And yeah, it’s not a traditional Christmas album. We talked about doing some carols, but I just had too many of my own songs. We just decided to do it a little differently and pull from Isaiah and lots of your typical liturgical Advent readings and things like that to make this more of a longing album than a Bing Crosby/Jingle Bells type thing.
Yeah, as much as I love Christmas music, I think so many of us are all in for a collection of original songs. When I started playing this, I thought oh, this feels like Advent. I get that sense of longing and exile.
Yeah, I think in 2020 we all are feeling that even more. I mean, it’s always been there. As Christians, we’re supposed to always be marked by this feeling of homesickness throughout the year, but at Advent we especially focus on it. I think in 2020 we’re all like, oh man… come back and heal this thing.
We recorded these songs in February, a week or two before the tornado in East Nashville, and then I feel like 2020 just went from there. Some of the songs are older but for the most part I wrote them all within a year in 2019.
As you’ve been bringing the songs and revisiting them for the release, do you feel like their meaning has shifted for you at all?
It feels strange to say it, but the songs feel more relevant now. Again, I feel like as Christians, we should always be aware that we’re aching for a King and a Kingdom where everything will be set right. But I think 2020 has sort of uncovered our feelings of mortality and our awareness of broken systems around us, the brokenness within us. The pandemic not only made us aware of our mortality and our fragility, but also some of those other things that we had, our comforts and our idols. For me, God has used this to pull the rug out from underneath some of those things, and it’s made me more aware of the fact that nothing can be truly satisfying except for God.
I think the election has caused us to think about how we want a King that upholds justice and righteousness, you know? And all the wildfires—it just reminded me of the desolation that we see in Isaiah, this idea of barren wilderness and ashes and how God promises gardens growing out of that. There’s sort of a tangible sense of that Advent longing brought on by the long list of things that have happened in 2020, between the election and racial injustice and natural disasters.
The story of redemption is like a diamond. It's so beautiful, but from so many different angles, you can just keep turning it and telling the story again and again and again.Caroline Cobb
I don’t want to say I’m excited to put this music out into this climate, because I wish it wasn’t happening at all. But I feel like it’s the right kind of Christmas music for this year. And I’m thankful that I get to come alongside people and give them a soundtrack that gives them that dissonance, where they can both voice longing and also joy. Because there’s a lot of joy on the album too, but I think the joy has been made more beautiful for the longing that comes before it, you know? It’s a privilege to release this into this particular Advent season.
Yeah. I felt that too. It’s almost like everything terrible that’s happened this year has just been doing a slow work of exposure on an individual level, on a church wide level. I feel like we’re just having to really confront some difficult stuff.
I do feel like it has been an exposing year, but I don’t feel like there’s been much resolution except to look to the Lord and say “how long” and “we need you.” Help us to bring your kingdom into this, to push back the darkness, to be lights.
Could you speak to the garden imagery that runs through the album? I was really struck by the recurring theme of the garden, of hope for growth, especially heading into winter.
I was writing a lot from Isaiah, so that’s a motif that he has. Gardens, and also light. I’m not sure it happened consciously, but those just started infiltrating the songs I was writing, this idea of a barren wasteland, and into that this beautiful garden.
And then the same thing with this idea that the light is shining into the darkness. And that’s the idea of Advent, right? Advent is this time we set aside to purposefully look around and say it’s dark and we’re waiting for the light to come. And I feel like a garden is more beautiful if you know that before the garden was there it was a desert.
What is your hope for these songs and the people who hear them?
I’m hoping that this album and these songs are a good companion for people in this particular Advent and going forward. I think they give voice to this “How long, O Lord” ache and the hope that we have in Christ at the same time. And I think that, as Christians, we live in that already and not yet place constantly.
I almost didn’t pitch this as an Advent album. I really feel like you could listen to this all year because it’s our story. And there’s definitely a lot of songs on there that, you know, if you weren’t familiar with Advent, you might not say oh, that’s a Christmas song. I’m hoping that people can continue to listen to this, and I love the idea of people just going about their day and, you know, taking a run or changing their kid’s diaper or working from home and having this story, God’s story, that they’re able to marinate in. As they do their everyday stuff, they can rehearse it and remember it and be rooted in it. That’s my hope with really every album.
Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.