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All That Is Fair: Surprise Ending


I love Christmas for many reasons. I like the cold, christmas lights, christmas music, presents, etc… But more than all of the peripheral christmas clamor, there is a fundamental aspect of the Christmas story that echoes through my core.  Even for those who don’t claim faith in Jesus, the story of his birth makes them hope and wish that it could be true.  It came as a complete surprise.  No one would have ever expected that the coming Messiah would appear in this humble way—or that this child born in such an unremarkable fashion would leave an indelible mark on the human race.  The reason I love Christmas is because I love surprises.  I love to be shocked but in a way that resonates with my humanity, too.  The incarnation is that kind of jolt.  It is otherworldly, yet profoundly human. And all good surprises borrow their efficacy from this ultimate unexpected gift. 

Sufjan Stevens is one of those good surprises.  He is an artist who has steadily crafted his songs for the last 15 or so years and built a very strong following.  He is a Christian but his work is not something you’ll ever hear on WAY FM.  His subject matter for writing songs is an extreme juxtaposition of things that are mundane and nearly boring along with other things that are incredibly strange and other-worldly.  Also his musical ideas are nearly a mirror-image of this concept.  One song might have a clawhammer banjo and a guitar and his wispy voice, and that’s it.  The next song could have a symphony of woodwinds, quirky percussion instruments, electronic elements and voices. I have never been surprised by an artist quite like I have by Sufjan Stevens.  His album “Songs for Christmas” is worth a complete listen.  There are some things you will recognize and some you won’t.  But whatever you hear, I can guarantee that there will be an aspect of it you simply did not see coming.  He is the master of the unexpected. 

This year as you remember the birth of our Lord, and the fact that it was indeed the mother of all plot twists, ask yourself if this old story still surprises you. And perhaps be edified in your remembrance by the odd and haunting, yet beautiful and exciting music, of a kid from Michigan with a funny name who came from a broken home with an alcoholic mother who is simply trying to make sense of the world through the lens of his eclectic faith in Jesus.