by Sandra L. Toney
Reba McEntire, also known as the "Queen of Country," exhibits why she's earned this prestigious title on her inspirational Christmas album, released back in 1987 before many of the country stars were performing on Christmas albums, entitled simply MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU.
McEntire's encouraging vocals will be the greatest gift you'll receive on this album, but each of the ten singles will be special presents that can be listened to over and over. She gracefully sings such Christmas classics as "Away in a Manger," "The Christmas Song," "Silent Night" (in which she sings a capella), and she convincingly croons the beautiful ballad, "I'll Be Home For Christmas," where you just KNOW she will be home for Christmas if she can help it . . .
A few of the selections on Merry Christmas To You, however, are the kind of Christmas carols that make you stop in your tracks and, beneath all the shopping, parties, and hoopla surrounding this religious holiday, realize what this season is really all about. "On This Day" (arranged by McEntire herself) tells the story of what happened on this day and why we celebrate Christmas. As the chorus suggests, "On this day, a child was born in the town of Bethlehem/And on this day, God sent his Son to bring peace and goodwill to all men/On this day we call Christmas, we all knew his name/On this day we recall all the reasons he came/On this day, on this day . . ."
A fun song on the album, "Happy Birthday Jesus (I'll Open this One for You)," opens with the sound of childrens' voices playing and McEntire telling them to quiet down while she explains why they get presents on Christmas day. She bursts into song and tells them, "What made it special was the baby in her arms/God sent him down to give the world a second chance for you and I/That's why we have Christmas at this time each year/It's the Baby's birthday party that brings us so much cheer." She ends the song in unison with the children as they all shout, "Happy Birthday Jesus, I'll open this one for you."
The most touching "song" on the album has McEntire narrating a story instead of singing it. This unusual selection, "The Christmas Guest," will give chills to anyone who listens to it. It tells the story of a man named Conrad who was expecting the Lord to spend Christmas day with him because, in a dream, the Lord told him he would come that day.
Conrad set the table beautifully and he waited anxiously for the Lord to come to his home on Christmas day. During his wait for the Lord, Conrad was disturbed by unexpected visitors. The first, a scantily-clad beggar, was outside his door so Conrad, being the kind soul that he was, invited the beggar in to warm up and gave him a pair of shoes and a coat to wear. The second visitor, whom he hoped was the Lord, turned out to be another stranger. An old lady with a heavy load of wood asked for a place to rest and a bite to eat so Conrad, once again, took someone other than the Lord into his home. Finally, as time passed and the old lady had happily went on her way, he heard a scared little voice outside his door. Conrad, saddened that it wasn't the Lord, discovered a cold, frightened girl lost from her home. With his heart of gold, he calmed her down and walked her home.
When he returned, Christmas day was gone. Conrad couldn't understand why the Lord promised him he would come and then broke that promise. So, he knelt down to pray and asked the Lord why He didn't come. A soft voice answered him in the stillness of the night, "Lift up your head, for I have kept My word/Three times my shadow passed your floor and three times I came to your lonely door/I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet/And I was the woman you gave something to eat/I was the child on the homeless street/Three times I knocked and three times I came in/And each time I found the warmth of a friend/Of all the gifts, love is the best/And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest." I don't think Christmas can be explained any better than that . . .
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