I know what you're thinking - it's not even Thanksgiving! I'm the first person to get upset when the stores start playing Christmas music in October. But if you're going to make a Christmas project, you usually start thinking about Christmas in the summer so you have time to write, record, and produce the songs.
People ask me often what the songwriting process is like. It's different every time. But I wanted to share how we came up with "Christmas is Forever" because it represents what happens to me so often - I try to do my own thing, I end up coming to the place of asking God what He would like me to say, and He takes it in a completely different direction to something I never would have thought of.
I wrote my first two albums all by myself. After that, though, I started working with a new producer, Paul Marino, and we started co-writing. We've done most of the songwriting on my last two albums together, and now this new Christmas project as well. Working with someone else really has that iron-sharpens-iron effect, and it doesn't hurt that Paul's an award winning songwriting and producer. We have a similar esthetic and the same heart for ministry, so it's been a great partnership.
We decided to do this kind of last minute, so I went down to Nashville to write an original song and arrangements of two other traditional songs with Paul in early September. I had brought a couple of ideas with me, but I wasn't necessarily sold on either of them - the most difficult thing about writing a new song for a 2000 year old tradition is finding an idea that hasn't been done yet. And the concept is absolutely the hardest and most important part of songwriting in my opinion.
We tried my ideas first, but they weren't clicking. Then we started throwing out ideas, phrases, things that might spark a visual, just brainstorming. I take notes the entire time on my laptop, and it's always amazing at the end of the session to see how pages of chaotic notes become one clean and small set of lyrics. I think lyrics should always give you a mental picture, and should say as much as they can in the fewest words possible.
I had started by saying that it always made me sad at Christmas to see how many people missed the point entirely. Christmas isn't about Santa, it isn't about stuff. It's about the greatest gift even given to the world, Christ Jesus, and what He offers us. People are so busy and so unwilling sometimes to hear that that they rush through the season and miss the whole thing.
We were liking some of our melodic ideas, but the lyrics were coming out very cynical, almost preachy. They were poignant, but I was starting to feel like we were trying to hit people over the head with the frying pan of Christianity.
Finally, Paul said, "We've got a point, but what are we really trying to say to people? If there was one thing we'd want them to hear or know at Christmas, what is it?" We'd already written some lyrics about the seasonal display of a stable, and how it would be gone again in just a few weeks. I said, "I'd want them to know this isn't just a seasonal thing we do out of tradition. It's something that changed the world, that changed history. It's for everyone all the time."
Paul said, "We need to make it a prayer."
It totally changed the direction of the session, and within about an hour we had the majority of it laid out. We still hammered away on minor details of word choice and little changes in the melody over the next two days, but it was amazing to see it come together. I've never written anything quite like it, but it says exactly what I'd want to say to people at Christmas: Jesus' coming has changed everything for all time. Here's one of the verses:
I pray you know what wise men knew:
That Jesus is the Savior.
God's eternal love is true
And Christmas is Forever.
I pray you know it too! Christmas will be here before we know it, but when we know Christ, it's been here all along.
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