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Phil Wickham on keeping the hope of Christmas alive amid dark times, life's trials

Phil Wickham on keeping the hope of Christmas alive amid dark times, life's trials

Phil Wickham releases new album, "Christmas." | Merge PR

Christian singer Phil Wickham released his second holiday album this year titled Christmas, and wants to keep the wonder of the season alive by sharing the light of Jesus amid life's trials. 

The 10-song project features an array of reimagined traditional holiday songs along with the original songs "Face Of God," co-written with Shane & Shane, and his radio single, "This Year For Christmas." 

The album’s tracks are meant to celebrate the wonder and hope of Christ, our Savior, whose birth is celebrated during Christmas. 

The following is an edited transcript of Wickham’s interview with The Christian Post where he offers advice on how to keep hope alive regardless of what's in the headlines and even shared some of his family's Christmas traditions. 

CP: What is Christmas all about for you?

Wickham: The foundational idea of why I love Christmas and why there's so many other beautiful things that spring out of the Christmas season, for me, is because I believe Christmas is all about when humanity was in darkness and lost that God sent His light into the darkness so that we could see, once again, the real intent of why humanity was created, and the real intent of who we are and what we're made for in the person of Jesus Christ.

And not just see that, but also through Jesus' birth and life and death and resurrection. And through the resurrection, for us to not just see what it means to truly be human and walk in love, walk in light, but also to join in with Jesus as the light of the world and walk in that light as well because of what He did for us on the cross. That's like the big theology definition.

I guess I'll boil it down to that really beautiful verse, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not die but have everlasting life."

That idea that God gave His only Son to the world, wrapped in flesh, laying in that manger to be our hope and our ransom and our life. That's kind of what my whole life is built around, this idea of Christmas. Jesus came and died and rose again so I can be set free and live in life today. That's the foundation of why I love it. And when I take time to think about it during Christmastime, I'm just in awe and wonder of the love of God.

Out of that springs all this other stuff that I think Christmas is all about. Generosity, reflecting the generosity of God, giving His Son to us and in family. God welcomed us into His family through what He did. We were far off and then He sent His Son to draw in. He says you were brought near by the blood of Christ, to see what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God. So it's all about family, it's about generosity, it's about hope, it's about light in the darkness. 

So all these traditions we have on Christmas, you can see hints and whispers and reflections whether you believe it or not, putting up the tree in your house as we remember the tree that Jesus hung on and putting the ornaments on the tree.

I heard a Bible study recently where some shared the idea of like, it's almost like you hang your sins on the tree and remember that Jesus paid for them there. I thought that was beautiful. So it's just a beautiful story and I believe it's a hundred percent true that Jesus came and died, and so we try to be intentional in our family.

We're not doing a Bible study with our kids every morning, but we try to be intentional as we go through this season to use this really special season to point our kids toward life and toward light, and toward hope and toward Jesus. And so I love this time of year and it's not just all lights and shiny things, it's so deep and beautiful to me.

CP: Talk about keeping the wonder and hope of Christmas alive in these times with impeachment, wildfires and human trafficking in the headlines?

Wickham: Our world is in a crazy place where it's never been before, largely because we can all communicate immediately with each other and know what's going on.

I don't want to downplay what's going on now, but there's been a lot of dark times in the world, between World War II and World War I and the black plague and Egyptians enslaving the Israelites and Romans taking over the whole world. The world has always been full of darkness.

That's one thing I think we have to keep in mind. The world has always been dark, but Jesus said: "Take heart. In this world, you will experience tribulation but take heart because I have overcome the world."

So we, as Christians, have this incredible place of living from where we don't have to be afraid. Not that nothing bad is never gonna happen, we're going to experience sorrow, we're gonna have reason to feel pain, reason to shed tears, that's all part of being human, Jesus did the same thing. But in Jesus, we have this way of living that's so counterculture and so beautiful where Paul, in his letters, can even say, "Rejoice always. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials." 

Our perspective on the world and on humanity, on ourselves, our situations can be so opposite and different and mind-blowing to those who don't have the hope of Jesus. Because we know that, in Jesus, at the end there is life, at the end there's joy, But also in the middle there is life, in the middle of what's going on there is joy, because the circumstances of the world don't define who we are or where we're going.

The government situations, the hate, all that stuff that doesn't define who we are, our identity, or where we're going and what we're capable of. I'm learning more about this more and more. I am not an American first, I live in America but I'm a citizen of Heaven first. I belong to the Kingdom of God and because of that, what that really means is I can step into life and light, not just in Heaven one day.

We're not supposed to lock ourselves in our houses or in our church communities and just be afraid and wait until Heaven comes. What we're supposed to do is be a city set on a hill, shinning. We can, in the midst of dark times, reach out a helping hand to our neighbor, or be kind, or be sweet.

When our house burns down, though we cry about everything that's lost and we're sorrowful, we can still say, "Man, God is in control and God knows the future. I can't wait to see His goodness that He creates through this trial, and I can't wait to see how He shows His power." Being from California and seeing the California fires, I've been close to it before. 

So for us, as believers, when we see people going crazy and arguing and hate replacing logic and reason, we're not supposed to walk around like aloof with a smile on our face. But we walk around knowing the reality of what has really happened and who has really won the war. And then we get to work, saying, "How do we push back the dark. How do I give of my time and my attention, my life, my efforts, my skills, my money? How do I give to push back the dark? I have the light in me. I have the power of God in me, so God, where do you want to station me to bring life and light?" 

If there's one thing that me and all of us as Christians need to do more of, I think especially in the American culture is seeing our lives as more of a mission. We've got like, the power to change the world around us through love and generosity and the Holy Spirit.

CP: What are some of your Christmas traditions?

Wickham: I think we're starting to build those traditions now. One thing I love to do —we have a sweet little neighborhood, a cul-de-sac — we have a little hot chocolate bar that we bring out to the street and I think there's like 16 kids under the age of 10 in 16 houses on the street, so they'll come out and they're all paying and drinking hot chocolate, and we bring out a little fire pit. We walk up and down the street and everybody turns on their lights the day after Thanksgiving. I think that community and neighborhood vibe is so sweet. 

Also, I grew up as a pastor's kid, worship leader's kid, so I was always in church and my parents always were the first ones there because they had to do their soundcheck and get the band altogether. So I would spend a lot of time backstage. On Christmas Eve, we would have three Christmas Eve services at the church, so I was there all day and I loved it. There was always cake and pie backstage, people hanging out and bringing presents for each other.

So Christmas Eve services at church is something I love and we are continuing that tradition with my family and my kids, and instilling the idea that before we get started tomorrow morning with presents and the whole thing, let's give the night before to remember that night that Jesus came.

CP: What do you think is so different about Christmas music that makes the music so timeless?

Wickham: You know what I think makes Christmas music different is the emotional attachment to like the memories. There's few music created to really be a soundtrack to a season. Maybe try to write something beachy and summery for summer break, you listen to the Beach Boys or something. But Christmas music, it's tied to this incredible reality of God loving the world so He sent His Son.

But also, when I hear Nat King Cole Christmas, I'm immediately filled with this nostalgia, remembering my parents playing it when I was opening presents and when we were decorating the Christmas tree.

For most people in America, when they hear "Jingle Bells" or "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," whether they go to a specific memory or their heart and soul is filled again with the emotions they felt once when they heard that song back when they were eating Christmas dinner with their family or before their grandparents died and they remember being with them, whatever it is, it's these songs that are attached to such strong family emotions.

I think that that's why these songs live on and have so much power. Because not only are they good songs, but they're songs that are written to be a soundtrack to the really special moments in people's lives. 

For more information about the album, Christmas, visit  PhilWickham.com

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