from Josh Wigdahl

A few weeks ago, at the end of advent, I played “In Christ Alone (My Hope is Found),” a song that I associate with Christian music from the early 2000s (which is generally not a good thing). The second verse set up advent nicely (starting out, “In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe”), but I wanted to keep the advent theme going, so I wrote a different version of that verse. (Plus there was that whole awkwardness of the lines “Till on that cross, as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied,” which I can kind of accept theologically, but always makes me feel a little Calvinistic and dirty when I say it, like I need to take a bath.) Someone asked me to post these lyrics recently, so I thought I’d put a blog post together to explain a bit more about why this song has been on my mind recently.

It really all goes back to a song by Julian Baker, “Go Home,” from the album Sprained Ankle. I will put a link to the bottom of this article if you want to read more about her (and you should…it’s a great article), but this song, like several of her others, seems haunted by Christ/Christianity. The song itself has the memorable line “there’s more whiskey than blood in my veins,” and the story reflects a kind of modern-day Prodigal Daughter, at the moment where she is at her lowest.
 
Anyway, at the end of the song (“I’m tired of washing my hands, God I wanna go home”), the piano is playing out and all of a sudden there is a radio preacher, crackling on in the background about something as the piano segues into a slow version of “In Christ Alone.”
 
It’s beautiful…and coming at the end of this song certainly evokes (for me) the image of the prodigal father, picking up his garments and running to meet his son, who is come home again.

The idea of Christ haunting this song seems to be borne out by the story behind this song’s ending. I don’t generally put a lot of stock in stories about how songs/books/poems/paintings/etc.came about (they exist, and that is enough for me), but this is a fun anecdote, whether or not it is canonical:

STEREOGUM: What is the sample at the end of “Go Home”?

BAKER: Oh my god. That is the craziest story in the world. Well, maybe not the craziest…

STEREOGUM: No, tell it.

BAKER: We were recording that track, and the end is the piano arrangement from this hymn called “In Christ Alone.” It holds a lot of memories for me — being young in church, and the lyrics hold a lot of meaning when you analyze them. It’s nostalgic, and as I was recording the end of that we had these two directional mics set up while I played piano into the pre-amp. And then I hear this like, crackly TV noise and the dialogue happening through my headphones. Well, it wasn’t dialogue but the guy was talking. I just finish off the thing, the arrangement and everyone tells me that the pre-amp was picking up church radio, as I was playing.

So that’s it, basically. I need something to close with, so I’ll just add that although I’ve never really thought about it before (or if I have, I’ve forgotten), writing this made me think of the Prodigal Son parable as a kind of an inversion of Advent…Now it’s God waiting for the special coming, anticipating it with such faithfulness that he waits by the gate each night, looking down the road until long after darkness comes. Now it’s the son, coming in such desperate need of a Savior…the solitary sinner finding his welcome back home again in his Father’s world. 
Here’s my reworked verse for Advent:
In Christ Alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness
Born to the ones he came to save.
Of shepherds known, and star foretold,
The power of kings is losing hold
For in the manger lies a child,
Promised Messiah, soft and mild.