Saturday, December 24, 2022

Sermon: "When Words Aren't Enough: A Song of Christmas", Christmas Eve Lessons & Carols (December 12, 2022)


Over the last four weeks at Boone, we’ve been exploring how effectively music can express deep emotions when words alone aren’t sufficient. We’ve been paying particular attention to how Biblical figures respond to profound emotion with song. In Revelation, we heard those on the shores of God’s kindom singing a song of hope for what’s to come. In Luke’s gospel, we heard Simeon singing a song of peace that he was only able to find once he encountered Christ for himself. In Song of Solomon, we heard a couple singing a song of love that reminded us how powerful and enduring this emotion, which comes from God, can be. And in 1 Samuel, we heard Hannah singing a song of Joy that endures even in the midst of life’s challenges. Then, we “wrote” our own song by listing what makes us want to sing about hope, peace, love, and joy on music staff banners (which you can find – and continue to contribute to – on the wall towards the back of the sanctuary).

And now, we’re finally on the cusp of Christmas Day, one of the most emotion-laden days in the whole liturgical year. Yet, although we always cram as many beloved carols into Christmas Eve worship as possible (and rightly so), the narrative itself doesn’t seem especially musical. We can easily find songs almost anywhere else in the Bible’s text, from early in the First Testament all the way through to the very end of the New Testament, but somehow, there are none to be found in this story, one of the most significant to our faith.

Well, that’s not entirely true – “The Magnificat”, Mary’s song of joy, is famously included in the first chapter of Luke, but it’s conspicuously left out of the traditional “lessons and carols” readings. My suspicion is that, in the interest of a streamlined story, we’ve collectively decided to focus on the nuts and bolts of the narrative and not waste time dwelling on unnecessary details like the emotions of the people involved.

But if we’ve learned anything from this Advent, it’s that this is a load of humbug. We’re talking about the birth of God, the savior of all humankind; there’s never been a BETTER reason for characters in the Bible to sing. This holy day is special precisely because of its intangible, emotional elements – things like courage, vulnerability, trust, generosity, and love, all which were critical in making “God-With-Us” possible. This story should be nothing BUT song! When we try to distill the Nativity down to the basic, unmusical details of the story, we rob it of its power.

Fortunately, even our best intentions can’t take song out of the Christmas story entirely. It’s impossible for human hearts to keep silent in the presence of such overwhelmingly Good News: Christ is born! God is with us! Hallelujah! Music is deeply woven into our celebration of Jesus’ birth – even in the parts we don’t expect. We hear it in the prophets’ poetry, in the faithful “yeses” of Mary and Joseph, in the angels’ voices, and in the devotion of the shepherds and the magi. Those around them may not have been able to hear the music, but God heard and cherished the joyful cacophony that their faithful hearts couldn’t help but express.

This isn’t just true for those directly involved in these events. OUR hearts can’t help but sing in response to the hope, peace, love, and joy that Jesus brings, either. In every act of worship, every expression of gratitude, every celebration of God’s mercy and love that we take part in, we’re lifting a new song to God - even if we don’t sing a single note. We don’t need to rely on professional songwriters, trained singers, or skilled musicians to help us offer up a song worthy of a king. The song of our hearts is the one most valuable to God, the gift more precious than gold to the Christ-child.

Throughout Advent, our own hearts were offering a new song to God without our even realizing it. As we listed those things that make our hearts sing about hope, peace, love, and joy, we created a beautiful, never-before heard melody expressing the meaning and spirit of Christmas. I asked my friend Kathy Bailey to create an accompaniment for the melody, and this is the result. Friends, hear the Christmas song of your heart:

Tonight, we hear once again the incredible story of God taking on flesh and experiencing all that it means to be human, all out of God’s unfathomable love and desire to be reconciled with us. Tonight, “A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” And so, tonight we sing not only the ancient and well-loved songs handed down to us from generation to generation, but our own new songs of celebration. We continue singing, both in our hearts and with our voices, because we know that Christ is with us, not just in a historical event frozen in time, but in the ongoing choice that God makes to be with us in every single moment.

We join the old songs with the new, because throughout human history AND even now, God is doing a new thing – do you not perceive it? Our hearts recognize, like the prophets, like Mary, like the angels, that this is something worth singing about. So even as we celebrate a night long ago and far away, let’s welcome Christ here and now with the songs of our voices and of our hearts. Songs that aren’t just for December, but for every day of our lives. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment