“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you;
he is the Messiah, the Lord.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
OLD TESTAMENT READING Isaiah 52:7-10, NIV
7 How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.
PSALTER Psalm 98, NLT
1 Sing a new song to the Lord,
for he has done wonderful deeds.
His right hand has won a mighty victory;
his holy arm has shown his saving power!
2 The Lord has announced his victory
and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!
3 He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.
The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4 Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
break out in praise and sing for joy!
5 Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song,
6 with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!
7 Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the earth and all living things join in.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!
Let the hills sing out their songs of joy
9 before the Lord,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
and the nations with fairness.
GOSPEL READING John 1:1-14, NCV
1 In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him. 4 In him there was life, and that life was the light of all people. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it.
6 There was a man named John who was sent by God. 7 He came to tell people the truth about the Light so that through him all people could hear about the Light and believe. 8 John was not the Light, but he came to tell people the truth about the Light. 9 The true Light that gives light to all was coming into the world!
10 The Word was in the world, and the world was made by him, but the world did not know him. 11 He came to the world that was his own, but his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who did accept him and believe in him he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They did not become his children in any human way—by any human parents or human desire. They were born of God.
14 The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth.
NEW TESTAMENT READING Colossians 3:12-17, NCV
12 God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Bear with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you. 14 Even more than all this, clothe yourself in love. Love is what holds you all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace. Always be thankful. 16 Let the teaching of Christ live in you richly. Use all wisdom to teach and instruct each other by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Everything you do or say should be done to obey Jesus your Lord. And in all you do, give thanks to God the Father through Jesus.
CHRISTMAS MEDITATION Singing the Lord’s Song
We probably find it easier to sing the Lord’s song this time of year than any other. For all the commercial and theatrical Christmas songs out there, plenty of people sing or play instrumental versions of traditional Christmas carols that share the story of Christ’s birth. Christmas carols come from and are loved by peoples of many different nations.
According to one history site the first “Angel’s hymn” sung for a worship service in Rome was in the year 129. But Christmas carols in various languages became popular in the Middle Ages after St. Francis started the practice of Nativity Plays in Italy. Music told the story as the play was enacted, and out of this perhaps, a new generation of Christmas carols was born. The trend spread across Europe with carols in French, German, Spanish and other languages, not just Latin anymore.
Not every carol told the biblical story. There were some embellishments, localized versions or some based on legend. In spite of the Puritans who eliminated many forms of music from worship, carols survived in England until a time they could again be enjoyed in official Christmas Eve performances. Carols finally flourished in the Victorian era with orchestral accompaniment. Street singing of carols was popular as were candlelight Christmas Eve worship services that included much singing. Into this tradition 100 years ago came the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, as we shared here on Christmas Eve, with carols and scriptures combined to tell the story from the fall of humanity to the birth of our Savior.
(the above information comes from this website: https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/carols_history.shtml )
Perhaps you noticed the common thread running through our scripture choices today.
The opening came from the Christmas narrative in Luke 2; it is the song the angels sing to the shepherds. In the prophecy from Isaiah, as good news comes in a foretelling of Messiah, the watchman is to shout for joy and others respond with joyful songs. Do you hear in Isaiah the future hint of the angels bringing good tidings of great joy for all people?
Psalm 98 tells us to sing a new song as we tell of God’s wonderful deeds. We are called to break into songs of joy and praise with instruments as well as voices, because God has remembered his promise of faithful love to all people. Isn’t that exactly what both Zechariah and Mary did? The words to their songs are recorded in Luke 1; we cherish them as the Benedictus and the Magnificat. We sang versions of each of these during the season of Advent. In these songs of praise each expectant parent is grateful for the blessing their child will bring, John as the Baptist and Jesus as Messiah. But the songs also remember the promises God made to their ancestors and give thanks that God keeps those promises. Magrey deVega actually calls Luke the “Ultimate Advent Playlist” in his book, Awaiting the Already. He compares it to a Rogers and Hammerstein musical where, “Something happens to someone, and then they sing about it.” (p. 48)
As John’s Gospel begins, his topic is the Word and the Light. He doesn’t refer to singing, but these verses could themselves be a hymn. They are laid out as a poem in most Bible versions, just as the songs of Zechariah and Mary are set. There is a rhythm to reading them I can easily imagine set to a melody, and indeed we know some verses have inspired great music including Handel’s Messiah. “And the Glory of the Lord” is one of my favorites.
Then we come to Colossians and a summary of Paul’s teachings on the aspects of being a good Christian. As he extols virtues like kindness and patience, the necessity of forgiveness, the importance of love and obedience, he also expects us to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” with gratitude in our hearts. Singing the Lord’s song is part of what it is to be a Christian. Maybe only a few of us have the talent to sing in RiverChor, for example, but we can still sing hymns here in worship or sing along with a radio or CD at home or in the car. Maybe you just hum and think the words in your head, but all of this is a way to offer our thanks and praise to God.
Music is one of my favorites among God’s many gifts. I said years ago I would rather go blind than deaf, because I would miss music too much. For me music can be both exciting or soothing. It has a profound capacity to carry my memories, and it is an excellent form of teaching. You pick up as much theology from repeated hymns as you do from any one sermon.
Before Jessika was born, I often sang to her what I called teaching songs. The ABC song was to get started on the alphabet. Ten Little Indians was for counting, but I added a verse of Ten Little Maidens for gender equality. Jesus Loves Me was the beginning of her Christian Education. I don’t remember why I chose to do that, but I was very diligent about it, and I repeated those songs to Tali.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that having a song on your mind can brighten your day. I know people who need music to get going in the morning or to tackle the chores. It has been demonstrated that students do better on tests with classical music in the background. I was playing string versions of Christmas carols while I wrote this message. Karla and I talked about music in the office this week. I need to find the CD player that used to be in there. Friday she listened to KLove on her phone and asked if country was ok, too. Meanwhile I listen to either Kpop or contemporary Christian on my computer, and some days bookkeeping requires classical.
What I’m saying is that more than one genre of music can allow God to work in and through you. I believe God loves many forms of music, each style as unique as the children he created. Magrey deVega referred to a study reviewed in Social Psychology and Popular Science journal showing that phenomenon of getting a chill down your spine when you listen to some music is a real thing. Music can trigger a response in your hypothalamus causing goosebumps. But here’s the thing, it seems to depend more on your “openness to experience” than to what genre of music is played. My guess is different things might trigger a response in different people, or perhaps a well sung phrase would do it for me no matter what genre. (p.48)
The whole time I was reading deVega’s chapter on the music in Luke, I was thinking to myself of another verse from Psalms that poses a different scenario. It’s the verse behind one of the songs in the musical “Godspell.” The verse asks, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4, GW)
For the exiles in Babylon, it was very hard to keep singing the Lord’s songs when they were surrounded by a foreign culture and expected to participate in that society, especially when they were to bow down and worship the king or his statue. On the one hand, the loss of their homeland and way of life would fill them with so much sorrow they didn’t feel like singing, or all they could sing were laments. On the other hand, when you are in a foreign culture for decades and encouraged to blend in, eventually you absorb that culture and sometimes forget aspects of your own.
I think this intersects our own experience in some ways, because for us older folks the world today can feel pretty foreign compared to our youth. Technology has brought so many changes, but there are changes in values as well. Many of us struggle with what that means in terms of worship and sharing our Christian faith. We feel like the faithful remnant of the exile when we come on Sunday morning. Not everyone is looking for the same style of worship, but the foreign feeling comes when we realize many people aren’t looking for worship at all. Many live day to day lives without recognizing a need for God or the need for a Savior. So, how do we sing the Lord’s songs in that foreign landscape?
I’ll be honest, I’m raising the question for you to ponder more than I am offering you answers. It is a question each of us has to answer in our own way. But let me refer you back to some of today’s scriptures for a hint. Our passage from Colossians began “God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So…” and it goes on to give us clues of how we are to live as God’s people in this world. Metaphorically they are all ways we sing the Lord’s song even in a foreign land. We do it with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, unity, peace, gratitude and obedience.
If you look at the other scriptures from Isaiah and Psalms we are to sing or shout the good news, and bring glad tidings to others. If you can’t sing it like the angels, then be like the shepherds who went out of Bethlehem rejoicing and telling everyone the things they had heard and seen. Dare to talk about the things God has done in your life!
When you need encouragement, turn again to John, and remember that as dark as things may seem at times, the light shines in the darkness (even the darkness of your own soul or the darkness of the world gone awry) and the darkness cannot put that Light out! Perhaps there is a bit of melody singing itself in your mind. If the message of that song is something appropriate, perhaps it is the Light making itself known within you.
As we continue to enjoy a few more Christmas carols today, sing your heart out and rejoice. Make your melody to God our Creator and Jesus our Savior, as you share God’s good news in song.