MercyMe has been around for more than a decade, but their popularity exploded only in the past two years, when their hit single "I Can Only Imagine" started getting play on secular radio stations. "The Christmas Sessions," a compilation of favorite Christmas carols, was the focus of the band's 21-city Christmas tour in 2005. Also in 2005, MercyMe sang beloved carols on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno"  and on ABC's Disney Christmas special on Christmas Day.

There has been a recent trend of Christian bands coming out with worship and praise-song CDs. So why a Christmas album? Why now?

Christmas is such a huge part of our lives and our most favorite time of the year, so we felt this was something we really wanted to do. The Christmas album is something we've always wanted to do, and the window opened, and we were like, you know what, if we're ever going to do this, now it's time. We recorded most of it during Christmas 2004 so we could be in the mood, and then ended up having to finish it in July with the a/c turned up and the Christmas lights on. If you look around, there are very few artists who get to do a Christmas record, but we thought, "If we can do one, what would it be like?" So we jumped at the opportunity.

I noticed that of all the 12 songs on your album, "Joseph's Lullaby" is the only one written by you and MercyMe. How were you inspired to write the song and why was it the only MercyMe original?

Joseph's Lullaby (90 seconds)
Our whole intention was to make a record of songs that we grew up with and change them up a little bit, but we kind of stumbled on writing "Joseph's Lullaby." The irony is when I originally wrote the song, it was called "Mary's Lullaby." I wrote it from Mary's standpoint and it was in a higher key, a real falsetto, and it just wasn't right. One day, the producer's wife said, "Well, it's kind of odd that you're singing from Mary's perspective, being the guy. Why don't you do Joseph?"

It just hit me like a ton of bricks. I never knew why it didn't cross my mind to do that. So I went through the song and just put some more masculine lyrics, and it took on a completely different life. As a father myself, I wondered if he [Joseph] went through the same things I did. Did he become instantly protective, did he have an idea of what was to take place through the life of Christ and become even more selfish and hold him closer?

We started writing the song in December 2004, a month after my 2-year-old son was diagnosed with diabetes. I spent a week in the hospital watching my son. I couldn't do anything, I couldn't fix the diabetes, and it was a really hard time, but it played a role in helping me write the song. I never understood why you never heard much about Joseph. I've always wondered, from a father's perspective, how he felt, especially since, technically, Jesus wasn't his child, though he didn't love him any less. There had to be something in Joseph that just wanted to hold his son and say, "Regardless what life brings and what's to take place, tonight you're mine, you're safe, and just find a way to sleep."

It's a really beautiful song. Do you sing this song to your son or to your children?

Oh yeah, all the time.

You're currently on the Christmas tour-Is there a different atmosphere to the concerts because it's centered around Christmas?

It's a whole lot of fun. The crowd is totally different. If you go to a Christmas concert, you take your wife on a nice evening, people are dressed up a little bit more, and it's definitely a sit-down event. It's not really a rock show or anything like that; they're just there to enjoy the evening. I don't think this changes what we do, but people are very grateful for the music. I love singing completely different songs, and it's just a fresh change of pace.

With a year full of natural disasters like the Asian tsunami, Katrina, and the earthquake in Pakistan, people may be losing hope and feel they don't have much to celebrate. What message of hope would you say those directly affected by the disaster?

I would say that God is much bigger than all of this. I've been through difficult times where it just seems like hope is nowhere to be found, but those are some of the greater moments where we run to Christ a little faster and hang on a little tighter. Through the hardest times in life, I hope people turn to him and realize he's still a sovereign God; he's in control.

What is the one Christmas tradition you look forward to each year? How do you spend Christmas day with your family?

Part of the tradition of the Christmas season is every night my son and I hit the town and look for every Christmas light we can find. This is something my son absolutely adores. As far as Christmas Eve, when my wife and I first got married, we made a point just to sleep in our own house on Christmas Eve. A lot of newlyweds will end up being at an in-law's or relative's, but what we started doing has really paid because now that we have kids, the parents and the in-laws and everybody already understand that we're going to be home. On Christmas Eve, it's my wife and my son and my daughter and I. We're home, and we open our presents together on Christmas Day, and then after we go visit the rest of the family. It's one of our favorite things amidst the chaos of Christmas-to keep a tradition just between us on Christmas morning.

Do you tell your kids about Santa Claus?

Oh yeah, totally. I'm a full advocate of Santa Claus. I don't know if I make a point to lie to my children, but I allow them to believe in Santa as long as they can. There's just nothing greater than the joy of seeing my children going through this belief, the same way my wife went through and I went through.
Are you afraid that your kids would be disappointed once they find out he's not real?

No, no more than I probably was as a kid; I don't recall any disappointment, so I guess it didn't make a big difference in life. My manager's son-I guess he's 6 or 7-just went through this a few days ago. He went up to his mom and said, "Mom, there's no Santa Claus is there?" His mom said, "Well, why do you think that?" "Well, it's just impossible for him to get all those presents to all those kids in one night and there can't be a toy store or a toy workshop in the North Pole. And a reindeer can't fly." His mom responded, "Well, you're right. That's true." "So there's no Santa Claus." "Well, actually, there's not." "Well, who does all the presents?" She answered, "Well, your parents do." And he finally said, "Ohhhh, that makes sense," and he just moved on; no big deal.

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
(90 seconds)
I think the disappointment comes when your friend at school or somebody fills you in on it. I was razzed a few days ago. During one of the MercyMe concerts, while we play "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," we show all these old cartoons on stage. Afterwards, at a meet-and-greet, I had a guy ask me, "Why would you put Santa Claus in the show? What do you all believe in?" I said, "Because I don't want to ruin my son's life and make him bitter with everything that takes place. I think it's harmless." And he said, "Well, I don't know, I couldn't do it with my kids." And I said, "Well, that's why you've been blessed with your kids and I've been blessed with mine." And he kind of smiled and said "Thanks."

I think that the body of Christ needs to find a bigger cross to die on. I just think Santa Claus is a harmless thing, and I just love the look on my son's face when it's something he can believe in. My pastor growing up used to have a Santa Claus discussion. He always told me, "Sometimes I wonder if Santa Claus is not a first step of a child trying to practice his faith and use his faith and believe in something." A kid can only wrap his mind around so much and it's just awesome to see him believe in something.

What is the number item on your Christmas wish list?

Oh man. Peace on Earth. Good will to men. (laughter) Let's see-peace on Earth and an Xbox 360 I guess will do.

It seems everyone wants one of those.

I'm a gadget guy, so that's why I need that kind of stuff I'm asking for. I got a videophone for my birthday, so I can't ask for that anymore. I'm so about getting stuff for my kids and Christmas really being about them that I don't really have a wish list. My wife knows I love gadgets so I know I'll get one.

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