Michael Card’s Christmas album The Promise stands tall above so many others, in that it is artfully conceived as a whole. It incorporates at least one discernible bow that ties the whole package together.
The title track, “The Promise,” sets the stage with orchestration that gives way to a finger-picked acoustic guitar intro. Straight from Isaiah 9, the initial lyric line observes,“The Lord God said when time was full, He would shine His light in the darkness.” This prophecy bespeaks “promise.” The most provocative line in the song is this later observation:
The Promise showed their wildest dreams had simply not been wild enough.
Don’t you love that? Coming from that previous line, the Chorus can now be more expressive:
The Promise was love
And the Promise was life.
The Promise meant light to the world.
Living proof that Yahweh saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus.
Now let’s move for a few moments, if you will, to Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Among the compelling word-themes in this seminal letter are faith (of course), law, righteousness, and … wait for it … promise. Jesus is quite specifically the fulfillment of promise. I think it’s significant that the word epangellion (promise) is used only in the middle two chapters of Galatians, helping to form the center of Paul’s persuasive argument. In fact, as scholar Greg Fay has said, Gal. 3:26-39 may be the conclusion to which the overall argument is headed, and the center of 3:1-4:10. (On this point, note the placement of the word huios (son) in 3:7, 3:26, and 4:6-7, not to mention promise in 3:27 4:28.) In the concentric text layout seen below, from 3:26-29, the A sections link identity as sons of God and sons of Abraham and the ideas of faith and promise. This latter idea is borne out more fully as one becomes more familiar with Galatians.
A Sons of God, faith in Christ Jesus
B Immersed, put on Christ
C Neither Jew, Greek, etc.
C’ One in Christ Jesus
B’ Of Christ
A’ Sons of Abraham, heirs of promise
Being sons of Abraham, for the Jew, meant being an heir. In Galatians, Paul argues that being a true son of Abraham would be from the line of the free woman (not named, incidentally, but clearly painted in contrast to Hagar, who is named). The free woman, Sarah, was the woman of promise; and faith, like that of Abraham, for whom faith was credited as righteousness, now leads to Christ Jesus. Jesus becomes the personified Promise–both in Galatians and in eternal reality.
Back to Michael Card now. Near the end of his album, in deeply simple, deft phrasing, Card uses these lines in a more hymnic, choral song:
Thou the Promise and keeper of the promise —
Our Salvation and our only Savior.
Our Redemption, our Redeemer,
Thou art ours and we are Thine.
So be it.
Michael Card has for probably 30 years been a biblically focused, dedicated, scandal-free, prolifically inventive songwriter. His sincere vocals are unique, and I’m at home with them, but his voice isn’t what I’m drawn to — it’s his thorough ability to distill biblical narrative and biblical teaching into songs. Although I’ve been a Michael Card fan for about 20 years — starting with “Know You in the Now” and “Maranatha” and “Could It Be?” instead of the earlier “El Shaddai” and “I Have Decided” — I am neither groupie nor paid advertiser. I merely think this kind of high-quality work merits ongoing attentiveness.
[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series. Find other, related posts through this link.]