The Phantom Tollbooth

The Promise - A Celebration of Christ's Birth
Artist: Michael Card
Label: Sparrow Records, 1991
Time: 35:11 / 10 tracks

An issue of The Phantom Tollbooth celebrating favorite Christmas albums would not be complete without a review of this little Christmas album gem that doesn't sound like a Christmas album at all. In fact, it sounds just like any Michael Card album, incorporating his signature sounds with more gentle Renaissance flavorings provided by a Hammer Dulcimer and superb orchestration provided by the imminent Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under J.A.C. Redford's conduction. There are also some wonderful choral works, most notably on songs like "Vicit Agnus Noster" and "Thou the Promise."

Michael Card's gift is combining sound theology, simple sing-along lyrics, a worshipful attitude, and music that has great appeal, even among those who would not normally listen to such gentle MOR (Middle of the Road) fare. The Promise is no exception to these qualities--in fact, it defines them. As a Christmas album, however, it can only redefine. Every song is an original piece, and not one of them slips into the more sappy trimmings of the season because they are all squarely focused on the Christ Child, Jesus.

Thematically, this album celebrates Jesus coming as the fulfilment of long hoped for Biblical prophecy as God's gentle lamb, and as the title track states succinctly,

 The Promise was love
 The Promise was life
 The Promise meant light to the world
 Living proof that Yahweh saves
 For the name of the Promise is Jesus.
 Four of these celebrations take the form of witness testimonies provided by Mary the Mother of God, her husband Joseph, and those rustic shepherds surprised on the hill by a host of dazzling angels. Mary's song, "What Her Heart Remembered," lifts up Jesus as both mundanely human and transcendentally divine, in what has become one of Michael Card's trademark song themes.
 Like a good
 Mother would
 She learned His cries
 If He'd awake
 With a bellyache
 From hunger or fright
 But now and then
 Sometimes when
 The dark would descend
 He would weep
 A dark so deep
 For all her love
 She couldn't comprehend...
 Can they understand?
 That this Baby she's given him (Joseph)
 Is theirs for a time
 In truth came to give Himself
 The Treasure and the Ransom of mankind.
 "Joseph's Song" is the same sweet song Michael Card wrote as part of his collection "The Life," which chronicled Jesus' birth, ministry, death, and glorification. Actually, it is just one of the highlights worth repeating among a total of three culled from that earlier project.

The last of the four witness testimonies is "We Will Find Him," which serves both as the Wise Men's travelog and our response to God's saving grace. "We have found Him!  We have seen the light!"

The Promise celebrates the only thing really and truly worth celebrating, with music that is  grand, accessible, and aimed at glorifying God. Best of all, Michael Card's music encourages the listener to worship the human baby bearing undiminished deity of his parting message and our proud proclamation:

 Our God with us
 And if God is with us
 Who could stand against us?
 Our God is with us
 By Steven Stuart Baldwin  (11/19/98)