Posted by: Billy Marsh | December 13, 2008

Fernando Ortega, Advent, and Christmas Songs

Christmas Songs

When Fernando Ortega announced earlier this year that he was making a Christmas album, I new I had at least one thing to look forward to in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. By now, though, there is little more on this blog that I can say that I haven’t already said to implore you to listen to anything by Ortega. He is someone I never grow tired of listening to, and whose great worth I remember everytime I push “play.”

When I got off the airplane from South Carolina the weekend before Thanksgiving, instead of flowers, Kim surprised me with a brand new copy of Christmas Songs. You know your woman loves you when she buys you a CD as a “Welcome Home” present. And let me tell you, there’s no one better to listen to on the way home from a stressful flight (one which I almost missed by the way) than Ortega. His voice and piano arrangements have a natural soothing effect. This quality to his music is even more valuable when it comes to Christmas music, since most of  traditional Christmas music compliments the busyness of the season.

First, let me bring to your attention the cover art. Ortega always comes through with unique and creative album covers. In this case, the picture conveys the “advent” aspect of the record. As you can see, everything in the painting from Joseph and Mary to the star is pointing to Christ. Baby Jesus is positioned  in the middle of the picture with all of the other elements directed towards him. This may be stretching it, but I’d say that even Joseph’s staff is in a way meant to be pointing to Jesus. This is a good indication of what to expect from Ortega’s song selections on the record.

His intention for this project was to follow the advent of the birth of Christ. This leads him to open the record with “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” I never heard or sang this song until attending Redeemer Church. It could perhaps classify as a “non-Christmas” Christmas song since it is not a standard track in the Christmas songbook; however, it communicates better than almost any other song the great expectation of the coming of the promised-Messiah in the OT. The fact that Ortega chose this track to begin his Christmas record shows that he recognizes that the coming of Christ was the fulfillment of God’s Word to his people, and was something that had been in the making since before time began.

The rest of the album flows nicely from “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” on a trajectory of seeking to exalt the baby born to be King. Other highlights of the album are the quiet instrumentals such as “Carol of the Birds” and “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” Ortega’s decision to make “Go Tell it on the Mountain” an instrumental is intriguing insofar as the song is usually associated with boistrous renditions, and depending on your context, oftentimes more shouting than singing. In his version, however, without the vocals you still sense the overwhelming desire to go and proclaim the good news that Christ has come, but with full reverence and fear. This dynamic works especially well in the way the song is positioned, being preceded by the celebratory “Joy to the World.”

The rest of the tracks all contribute in their own unique way to glorifying Christ as the long-awaited Lord and Savior who has come in the flesh. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and “Jesus, King of Angels” have been borrowed from previous Ortega albums. This, perhaps, could be the one flaw in Christmas Songs. There are only ten tracks on the CD and three of them are instrumentals and two of them have already appeared on other records. That leaves only five songs where Ortega is alouded to shine at his best, namely, in his vocals and in building fresh arrangements for songs that, possibly for many of us, have become too familiar to enjoy.

If that is the only flaw of Ortega’s Christmas Songs, then it is a small one, and really has little bearing on whether or not to buy the album. Although he has recycled two older songs, they fit nicely into the advent flow of the setlist, especially with the Christ-exalting “Jesus, King of Angels” closing out the record. I commend to you Ortega’s Christmas effort in order to further encourage all of you to begin to build a CD collection of Christmas music that not only captures the spirit of the Christmas season, but even more so, causes you and your family to worship Christ and to see him in a broader, more defined biblical and historical context than simply recoginzing that December 25 stands as his “birthday.” Enrich your holiday music collection with Ortega’s Christmas Songs and walk with him as he takes you through the story of the arrival of the long-expected Jesus.

(I have placed some samples of the songs from Christmas Songs in the Box.net media player in the sidebar, but I ask that you do not download them. I was unaware that viewers could download the songs I post, which I think is illegal, even though I’m using a platform. Until I can decide if it is permissible to download the files that I’ve uploaded from Box.net, please only click and listen to the songs, which is really the only reason I post any of the music on this site, not to make it available for free. In addition, I am alerted when the songs are downloaded, so if people continue to download the songs against my wishes, then I will be forced to remove the widget.)

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Responses

  1. Does the hustle and busTLE of the holidays prevent proofreading? :-)

  2. there you go again, always trying to bring me down. I read over that thing like three times and still missed it.


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