I’m sat here at my desk, hot drink by my side, wearing a Christmas jumper of a polar all bear tangled up in Christmas lights (which actually light up!). The weather outside is bright, the sky a hard blue, and faint wisps of breath can be seen when I go outside. This may not seem like the time to be listening to, and reviewing, a Christmas album. After all, the clocks haven’t even gone back. Yet I have already bought decorations and drank mulled wine. The me from just a year ago would have recoiled at the prematurity of embracing all things festive, but for 2017 I have decided to start as I mean to go on: a little more prepared and a little more peaceful.
That is because I realised, this is time of year that will set the tone for Christmas. These first steps in festivity are when Red Cups and John Lewis adverts emerge, and the songs of the season are released.
And setting the tone for the season is exactly what The Peace Project does.
Hillsong Worship’s fifth Christmas album, The Peace Project lays out its lofty ambitions for the outset; from both its objective-laden title and the opening recording of Joy to the World. Taken together, this introduction to the album reminds you that Christmas is a grand mission of grace and joy.
Featuring an equal number of traditional rearrangements and new compositions, the familiarity that runs through the Peace Project with every classic carol becomes akin to hanging up a well-loved decoration. You are reminded of all you forgot about Christmases past, and what they mean to you. Each traditional track is produced with a depth of sound and spirit that create a real feeling of timelessness. Whilst there are changes and new sounds added the heart of the songs remain.
Such is the case with Noel, which drops the ‘The First…’ from its title, and places more emphasis on ‘Noel’ refrain which is repeated in an increasingly rousing spirit. It took me longer than I care to admit before I realised that Noel was The First Noel, but it’s omission is a meaningful one. It can be so easy to paint a great distance between the first and the present Christmas. Put side-by-side, the two bear no resemblance. Yet, collapsing the distance between the two Christmases actually manages to bring the triumphant-ness of the song to today.
Looking back, I think that neatly underscores what The Peace Project does. It’s not merely a backdrop album. It is all about what can be brought to Christmas today, and the things we often forget.
All the ideal characteristics of Christmas - peace, joy, holiness, simplicity, grace - get left behind in the stable. We tell the stories of Christmas, but we can forget to carry the message. The message of peace.
The orginal songs of The Peace Project blend worship and Christmas, and are songs that match the scope of the message. Arrival celebrates the coming of God, and brings a new, hopeful meaning to the idea of meeting your maker. It paints the enormity of the creator of everything coming to earth.
The album’s final track, though. I was a little bit floored by it; a little bit in awe of it.
Whilst listening The Peace Project I had settled into a particular feeling, and expected a certain sound to prevail throughout. All the songs before Peace Upon The Earth were ones I expected of Hillsong Worship. Even their version of O Holy Night sounds like a Hillsong Worship song.
But this final song came out of nowhere. They have taken a world-famous piece of music, and made it into something else unique and timeless.
In setting the tone for Christmas this early, listening the The Peace Project is ideal. It shrinks the distance we place between Christmas 2,000 years ago and Christmas today, and it is a reminder to keep my eyes on the higher ideals - rather than the last-minute deals - of peace, joy, and thankfulness.
It’s also given me a new favourite songs for season.
The Peace Project by Hillsong Worship is avaliable to order now.
October 24th, 2017 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon