Text: Luke 2:1-20 (the birth of Jesus)
Some churches and faith traditions don’t sing. One wing of the Reformation argued that only the 150 Psalms of the Hebrew Bible could be sung in church. Happily, most churches sing and this one is no exception.
For many of us, singing is the most important part of the service, both what the music leader and the choir offer us and what we sing together as congregational songs or refrains. And at Christmas, singing becomes even more important. Most of us love to sing old familiar carols.
We began worship this morning with all four verses of a carol we have been using as we lit the Advent candles this year. Called “Dream a Dream,” it was written 21 years ago by Shirley Murray of New Zealand.
Just before we heard the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke, we sang the African American Spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” which is at least 150 years old, and which was sung a lot during the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960’s.
We will close this morning with “Joy to the World,” which is from the 18th Century; and tonight, we will close with “Silent Night,” which according to legend was written on guitar 200 years ago in Austria when a church organ broke down.
When we serve the elements of communion this morning, the choir will sing a 14th Century Christmas dance tune, “Down to Earth as a Dove.”
Singing helps us to celebrate and express our joy and to mourn and remember. Songs don’t have to be explicitly religious to be spiritual. Any setting of word, rhythm, and music that moves our hearts and bodies and encourages us to sing can lift us out of everyday unconsciousness and raise our spirits closer to the Divine Light from which we have come.
At Christmas, I enjoy the jazz music from “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas” as much as I enjoy Handel’s “Messiah.” I am as enamoured of “Winter Wonderland” as I am with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” I enjoy “Barbara Allen” at the end of the 1951 move version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as much as I like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which is sung earlier in the movie.
It makes sense to me that in Luke’s version of the first Christmas, Mary sings a song of thanksgiving and liberation upon hearing she will become a mother and angels sing to the shepherds “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
This is yet another reason, I believe, why most of us prefer Luke’s version of the nativity to Matthew’s. It has all the good songs!
During the sacred season of Advent, we sang throughout the journey. It helped us stay in step with one another. It expressed our hope in times of troubles; our desires for peace in times of busyness; our joy in the face of new life; and the love that is always our guiding star. And now that Christmas is here, we are singing carols this morning and tonight that help our hearts vibrate with merriment, joy and endless praise.
When in doubt, sing, I say. You can’t go wrong.
This is Christmas Eve 2017. Mary and Joseph have made it to Bethlehem. The baby Jesus — God With Us — is about to be born. The Spirit of Christ is being reborn in all our hearts.
And so, we cannot keep from singing, to which I can only reply, “Hallelujah!”