Commentary: Gaither Vocal Band concert in Woodstock brought message of hope and joy


First Baptist Church of Woodstock hosted Bill Gaither and the Gaither Vocal Band’s New Star Shining Christmas Tour 2023 earlier this month. The spacious auditorium was near capacity and the audience was thrilled with an extraordinary concert of Christmas music and segments of hilarity with the banter between Bill Gaither and guitarist Kevin Williams and the comical antics of Mark Lowery.

Williams walked out on the platform with his guitar to greet the audience and stated, “I welcome you to the Christmas program tonight. I am here as the Walmart greeter for the Gaithers.” He proceeded to thrill the great host of people present by playing several Christmas songs using his exceptional giftedness as a guitarist. 

In addition to the Gaither Vocal Band, Mark Lowery and Kevin Williams, the other Christian artists included, the Nelons, Lynda Randle, The Sound, Gene McDonald, and Chris Blue, who was the winner of season 12 of the American talent competition on The Voice. The choir from Sweetwater Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga., directed by Todd Nelon, was present to enhance the program with their talented and harmonious sounds.

For more than half a century Bill and Gloria have made their mark on Christian music by writing and producing songs like Because He Lives, He Touched Me, The King is Coming, The Church Triumphant, The Family of God, I Am A Promise, There’s Just Something About That Name, Worthy is the Lamb, Something Beautiful, I Believe In A Hill Called Mount Calvary, and I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen.

The Gaithers have not only claimed recognition on the Billboard charts, but in thousands of churches across America and around the world. The Gaithers have been named Christian songwriters of the century by numerous musical entities, and they have sold tens of millions of albums.

Gaither has stated, “There are only two reasons that anybody does something for 50 years. You've got to believe in what you are doing and love the art form. I love harmony-tight, close harmony.”

Then expressing his love for the church, Gaither stated, “The church at its worst is still better than the world at its best.”

The music of the night included everything from “White Christmas” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” to “Joy to the World”, “Away in a Manger”, “Oh Holy Night” and “The Hallelujah Chorus.”

Mark Lowery told about his early years of growing up in a very conservative Baptist Church and explained (tongue in cheek) that it was “an independent, fundamental, Bible-believing, Bible-banging, foot stomping, soul-winning, door-knocking, pew jumping, devil-chasing, King James only Baptist church.

With his face contorted into a snarl, Lowery added, “And I am happy about it. Our preachers were not always right, but they were never wrong.”

The popular singer/comic eventually morphed into the explanation of his inspiration for writing the lyrics of the song “Mary Did You Know?” He explained that the lyrics evolved from a series of questions that he had scripted for a Christmas program at his church. The words are powerful:

         Mary, did you know that your baby boy

         Would one day walk on water?

         Mary, did you know that your baby boy

         Would save our sons and daughters?

         Did you know that your baby boy

         Has come to make you new?

         This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

This beautiful carol was the highlight for many people at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock on Thursday night.

One other song resonated with many, because of its history. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received word that his son, Charley, had been seriously wounded in the Civil War. On December 5. 1863, Longfellow arrived in Washington to visit with his wounded son. The first report was that Charley could be paralyzed. The second report was a bit more favorable, but that the recovery would take at least six months.

On Christmas Day 1963, Longfellow, a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself, heard Christmas bells ringing from a nearby church. He picked up a pen and wrote a poem seeking to capture the conflict in his own heart and the world he observed around him on that Christmas Day.

Nine years later the poem was set to music by John Baptiste Calkin for a processional using the melody “Waltham.” In our divided nation the words of Longfellow seem amazingly appropriate:

 And in despair I bowed my head
"There is no peace on Earth, " I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevails
With peace on Earth, good will to men.

Those who attended the Gaither Vocal Band event at First Baptist Woodstock left with the music of Christmas having given them a full measure of hope, even joy in a world of confusion and conflict.


J. Gerald Harris is a retired pastor and journalist who served as editor of The Christian Index for nearly two decades.