A mother wrote into the “Clean Laugh” web site with this story: Her children had spent many summer days watching their new Cinderella video until they knew all the songs by heart. To combat the heat, they had also left most of the windows open in the house. Little did they know that others had been enjoying the video right along with them. A few days later, this mother was out in her yard when she heard the burly workmen restoring her neighbors’ roof break into song. One man was up on the roof singing in a gravelly voice, “. . . Put it together and what do you get?” And two other deep male voices joined in the chorus, “Bibbidi bobbidi, bibbidi bobbidi, bibbidi, bobbidi boo!”
We all know that music is contagious. Sometimes you don’t even know you’ve “caught” a song until you find yourself singing it in the shower, humming it in the car, dancing to it while you mop the floor. And we all know the frustration of getting that annoying earworm song stuck in our heads so that we hum it obsessively. I had more than a few complaints from people two weeks ago when in my weekly letter in the Beacon I referenced a song from the traditional cartoon “When the Grinch stole Christmas” and people had that song stuck in their heads all day.
What’s also interesting about music is that it has the power to change our mood in an instant. Think about it . . . what song evokes memories of your first love? What’s the perfect song for driving down a long stretch of highway at night? What song best captures the mood of your teenage years? What song always puts a lump in your throat? What songs did your parents teach you when you were a kid? What’s your favorite church hymn? Just thinking about those songs puts a smile on our faces.
Of course, not everyone is a great singer. One day a man was passing a singing woman with a terrible voice. The man asked her why she was singing. The woman said, “I sing to kill time.” The man replied, “That’s quite a weapon you have there.”
And you’ve probably heard of this list of church hymns to sing while speeding down the highway.
At 45 mph…………. ….God Will Take Care of You
At 55 mph…………. ….Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
At 65 mph………… …..Nearer My God to Thee
At 75 mph……. ……….Nearer Still Nearer
At 85 mph.. ……………This World Is Not My Home
At 95 mph………………Lord, I’m Coming Home
and over 100 mph…….Precious Memories
Now, you may be wondering where I’m going with this. What does singing have to do with Christmas? Well, I don’t believe I even have to answer that. In Luke’s telling of the Christmas story we read these words:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say that the angels sang their praises to God, I think that’s how most of us visualize it. That’s what many of us do when we’re overwhelmed by the goodness of God–we sing for joy. In fact, for many of us, our favorite part of Christmas is the opportunity to sing traditional Christmas carols that we learned in childhood.
Singing is important at this time of year because singing is the best way to communicate our deepest thoughts and emotions. Sidney Lanier once said that music is love in search of a word. Charles Kingsley said that music is the “speech of angels,” but then he added, “I will go further and call it the speech of God himself.”
According to the book of Job, when the Lord laid the foundations of the earth “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy . . .”
And, of course, when Mary learned that she was to give birth to the son of God, she broke into a song of praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .”
French author Victor Hugo says, “Music attempts to express what cannot be said about something on which it is impossible to remain silent.”
It was impossible for the angels to remain silent at the birth of Jesus. And what song did the angels sing? They sang a song of hope. First and foremost, the message of Christmas is the message of Emmanuel, God with us. God has come into the world. God is not “out there,” some distant deity playing dice with the universe. In the Old Testament, God revealed God’s self as the great “I AM.” In the birth of Jesus, God changes the message to “I AM here.”
“I AM here, and I want to walk your path.” “I AM here, and I want to feel your hurts.” “I AM here, and I want to give you the best of Myself.” “I AM here, and I want to show you how to know Me.”
The coming of Jesus brought hope to humankind. “The early Christians didn’t say, ‘Look what the world is coming to.’ They didn’t emphasize the question. They pointed to the answer. They said, ‘Look at what has come to the world!’ “
In the book “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” Howard Rutledge wrote how he thought he’d left the faith of his childhood behind until he was captured by enemy soldiers during the Vietnam War and consigned to a squalid prison camp for seven long years. In those seven years of suffering, torture, and isolation, Rutledge’s faith kept him alive. He repeated to himself Bible verses and hymns from his childhood. He used those hymns as a weapon of hope against the hopelessness of his situation. In his darkest moments, Rutledge said, he could revive his faltering faith with a song of praise to God. He writes, “The enemy knew that the best way to break a man’s resistance was to crush his spirit in a lonely cell. All this talk of Scripture and hymns may seem boring to some, but it was the way we conquered our enemy and overcame the power of death around us.”
When the angels sang their chorus of joy on the night of Jesus’ birth, they were singing a song that would conquer enemies and overcome death. They were singing a song of hope, of joy, of life, and of peace. We are being invited to join in the holy song that began in creation and continues in Christ. And it will be our theme song in heaven, so we would do well to get plenty of practice singing it here below.
In the book of Revelation, John sees a vision of heaven; all of creation is standing in the presence of the risen Christ. And John says, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!’”
So what is the song your heart will sing this Christmas? Will it be a song of freedom? A song of peace? A song of salvation and new life? Whatever it is, let the joy of the angels inspire you to sing a song of praise to God for God’s most excellent gift, the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. And may that gift be with you this night/day and forevermore.