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"The Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne (featuring The Chieftains)

Kelly Kiernan/Unsplash

I recently borrowed an album from my parents by the Chieftains (a traditional Irish folk band), and the title of this song (featuring Jackson Browne) piqued my interest. The lyrics are quite convicting:

All the streets are filled with laughter and light

And the music of the season

And the merchants' windows are all bright

With the faces of the children

And the families hurrying to their homes

While the sky darkens and freezes

Will be gathering around the hearths and tables

Giving thanks for God's graces

And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by 'the Prince of Peace'

And they call him by 'the Savior'

And they pray to him upon the seas

And in every bold endeavor

And they fill his churches with their pride and gold

As their faith in him increases

But they've turned the nature that I worship in

From a temple to a robber's den

In the words of the rebel Jesus

Well we guard our world with locks and guns

And we guard our fine possessions

And once a year when Christmas comes

We give to our relations

And perhaps we give a little to the poor

If the generosity should seize us

But if any one of us should interfere

In the business of why there are poor

They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Now pardon me if I have seemed

To take the tone of judgement

For I've no wish to come between

This day and your enjoyment

In a life of hardship and of earthly toil

There's a need for anything that frees us

So I bid you pleasure

And I bid you cheer

From a heathen and a pagan

On the side of the rebel Jesus

Politically conservative Christians of the United States may take issue with the lyrics' allegations of materialism, stinginess and complacency found in modern Christmas celebrations in the West. (Bebo Norman also recorded the song in 2007). One reviewer reduced and accused this older message (the song was first released on an album in 1991) to an attempt to make Jesus more "cool" and having a socialist agenda. However, in this argument, he nitpicked Scripture and limited Jesus's earthly purpose to only its spiritual and theological implications.

Even though "The Rebel Jesus" is a Christmas song, the message applies to us year-round: as we celebrate Christ, how Christ-like are we? Do we store up treasures on earth and ignore the causes of poverty? Do we worship Him with new innovation and opulence in His beautiful temple or by imitating His and His disciples' loving sacrifices for the less fortunate? What are our priorities?


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