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Steven Curtis Chapman Finds Joy in Christmas

By Chris Carpenter Program Director

CBN.comThis week, Steven Curtis Chapman notched his 47th number one radio single with “Christmas Time Again”, an original song from his latest Christmas album Joy.

An upbeat and light track, “Christmas Time Again” is a far cry from the hardships Chapman and his family has had to face in the four years since his daughter was killed in a freak accident four years ago.

I recently sat down with Steven Curtis to discuss why the Christmas story is so important to him, how it has helped his family heal, and why Joy is symbolic of a new beginning for him both personally and professionally.

It’s most wonderful time of the year.  Literally.  I thought we would begin with a couple of fun questions.  First, what’s a favorite Christmas tradition in the Chapman household?

This is one of mine and it’s kind of quirky.  I wear my Charlie Brown Christmas t-shirts every year from Thanksgiving through to Christmas. It started with one that my mother-in-law got me years ago, kind of a scene from that Charlie Brown Christmas TV special, the cartoon. And every year, she would get me two or three more, because she knew that first year I wore that one non-stop. She’d have to be on my wife to have to talk me out of it, so she could wash it. And I was like, “Man, I this just feels Christmassy.” So, now I have about twelve of them, and I wear them. I just alternate them every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. 

What is your favorite Christmas carol and why?

I’d probably say—that’s a hard one because I really love so many, but probably “Joy to the World”. I really do love that one, I love that it captures so much of the joy of what Christmas is about, and yet there’s—I think one of the things I love about that song, and I think I even grew to love it more when I recorded it on this record, is just the theology. I mean, it preaches such a great sermon in such a great, engaging way, and yet it’s just deep, deep richness in there. In fact, I was working on that one when I received a text. I was singing the verse, or we were working on the verse specifically, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found.” I got a text from my brother that my grandmother, my 99 year old grandma, was in her final hours of life. She had been sick for a while, so it wasn’t totally unexpected, but it was pretty abrupt. We weren’t planning that day or that week or that month, necessarily, and I just thought, “Gosh, what a—the perfect timing of that to say, ‘Wherever the curse is found, wherever suffering, wherever death,” that curse that is still trying to make its last stand that we know has already lost, because He has come to make His blessing flow, wherever that is, in the doctor’s places. I thought, “Man, this song is so rich.” So, I love that one.

You seem to have a great deal of experience with making Christmas albums.  Joy is your fourth release of such material. With that said, you seem to be very comfortable in making these types of albums. Why do you love making Christmas albums?

Well, I’m sure it’s partly just because I love Christmas music, and I’ve always just loved how it makes me feel, how it makes the season.  A lot of what makes Christmas feel Christmassy is the music. You turn on the radio and you hear Christmas songs. You hear “Jingle Bells”; it’s playing in the mall and the grocery store. That’s what tells you it’s Christmas and that reminds you. And I think for the Christmas songs, just even my memories as a kid growing up and hearing those songs being sung in the church, and listening to the records and all of that, it’s a big part of why I’ve just always loved it and why I love making those kinds of records. Clearly the whole of the music that I write is my faith set to music. My faith’s journey, it all begins at Christmas. The gift of the verse of our Savior and just the profound story that is, and God coming to be with us. So, I don’t feel like I can ever exhaust it. I love retelling the story. I just love getting to tell the story again, and find a new way, a new angle, a new part of the story to tell. And so, I love it.  Christmas records are the only time that I can sort of get away with doing certain types of songs that I would never do otherwise.  I probably wouldn’t ever use a jazz trio on one of my records. But with Christmas, you can do that. I love the Vince Guaraldi “Charlie Brown Christmas” record; it’s one of my favorites. It’s like, there would never ever be a time where I would get to tap into those musical loves and influences for me, except at Christmastime. I can do my Nat King Cole impression or my Bing Crosby impression and kind of get all that stuff that I love about Christmas music; I can kind of play around with that myself.

Is there any symbolism in the album title Joy that goes beyond the joy so many of us find in the Christmas story?

I’ll say that on an album called Joy, it’s obviously a time in my life that I didn’t know, I couldn’t imagine they were recording an album entitled Joy, and especially around Christmas, because then it becomes such a painful, hard season for us when we lost our daughter, Maria. Why this album is so important for me is because it really does represent the redemption, the truth in what Christmas is, that God has come to be with us and the tidings of comfort and joy have really saved our family and held us together in the time that has been so dark and so heavy. And the fact that we are experiencing joy again, that we are celebrating it, we are laughing again, that we are able to decorate the Christmas tree and not just kind of be going through the motions, trying to avoid each other’s eyes because it’s just so hard and painful knowing that what’s missing is so much louder than what’s there. To begin to experience not “Hey, we’re through this, we’re over it, we’re all better.” We’re going to carry this sadness and this loss with us the rest of our lives, but God has brought the healing in our hearts and we are laughing together again. And we can look at the pictures of Maria in the little silver frames on the Christmas tree, even, and feel joy along with the sadness, because we can remember now. It’s bearable to remember, and even be more aware than ever of, “Hey, the story’s not over. It’s still being told, and we’re going to see her again, we know it and we’ve always known it, but we can just sort of grab a hold of it, and breathe a little bit more freely with that.” And that’s something pretty epic to be able to celebrate, and I felt like even the cover of this album, it was like I just looked at it and I thought, “Man, my hope and prayer is people would be able to look at that, and then say, ‘Hey. If that family, if God’s really enough and faithful enough to hold them together and to give them a smile again and that joy, then man, then it’s true for me, what I’m going through, what I’m trying to lift right now.’” I felt like that’s as important of a message as anything I could have said on this record.

After people listen to Joy, after they’ve gone through the CD and listened to it a couple of times, as an artist, what do you want them to take away from that experience?

I would love for people to feel everything that I felt when I was making the record, the fun of Christmas, the joy, just the childlikeness that I really think God invites us into. Unless you come as a child, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  I know theologically that means that the faith of a child and all of that, but I also think in some ways God says, “Unless you just come with a really big imagination and a really big capacity for dreaming and believe in things that are pretty impossible, you’re not going to be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” And so, I hope it would help capture that, maybe take them home in their mind and heart, to the good memories. But then also, as I’ve tried to talk about it in the song “Christmas Card”, not shy away or try to sprinkle fairy dust or snowflakes on the problems, and the hard stuff.  I want them to say, “You know what, it’s also a really hard, painful time.” And I can relate to that, but what’s definitely more important is that God not only can relate to it, He is with you, and he is there, and that is the Christmas message. Ultimately, that would be what I hope people would leave saying, “It’s true, God is with us.” Whether it’s a good season, a good chapter in my story, or an awful, painful, hard chapter in my story, it doesn’t change the bedrock truth that God is with us in all of those different chapters and different seasons. That is my hope.

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Bebo Norman: Lights of Distant Cities Joy (2012)





did you know?

Over the years, Steven Curtis has won a whopping 56 Dove Awards, including seven "Artist of the Year" honors.

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