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Vol. 78 - No. 12
December 2007

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

The Christmas Song

            A few days ago, one of our members showed me a book listing the many Christmas songs and albums that have made the sales charts in Billboard magazine.  The list went on for page after page. 

 It was amazing how many Christmas albums have been recorded and released over the years!

            There’s something about Christmas that summons forth music.  I’ve long noticed that even

the most unmusical people, people out of whom one could not coax a single note the rest of the year,

will happily sing Christmas carols.  It’s interesting to note that for years and year, the best-selling recording of all time was Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”.  (It was finally knocked into second place

by Elton John’s Princess Diana version of “A Candle in the Wind”–not a Christmas song, but it does mention candles).  And during the month of December, it’s hard to go anywhere and not hear

Christmas music–it’s a constant soundtrack to our shopping and decorating.

            The joy, and the beauty of Christmas are so great that they can’t just be spoken–they have to

be put to music.   Our hearts are so full that they simply must spill over into song.

            Not all Christmas songs are joyful, of course.  Christmas has spawned its share of sad, melancholy songs.  Indeed, “White Christmas” itself, if you really examine it, is a pretty depressing

song.  So are “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (especially

in the original version from “Meet Me in St. Louis”).  These songs are actually  laments about being

far from home and separated from loved ones.  (It’s no accident that the three I named all came out during World War II).  The popularity of sad songs remind us that Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone.  (I ran across a heartbreakingly sad and beautiful Christmas song called “Fairytale of New York” on the Irish Tenors album two years ago.  The song is about a couple who break up during the holidays.  Discovering that song came at just the right time for me:  two close friends were divorcing each other, which brought a deep melancholy to my Christmastime, and the “Fairytale” song helped

me deal with those feelings).  The sad Christmas songs show us that ours is a broken and lonely and melancholy world–and that’s exactly why Jesus came, to heal our brokenness, to forgive our sins, and

to give us joy!

            Sad Christmas songs are very much in the minority, however–the overwhelming theme of Christmas music is joy.  The joy of knowing that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to save

us–this is what causes us to break forth in song at Christmas.. In St.  Luke’s Gospel in the Bible, the story of Christmas is almost like a Broadway musical–the characters are constantly bursting into song!  When Mary, bearing Jesus in her womb,  visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth raises her voice in praise to

God–indeed, the verb in Luke’s original Greek is used in the Greek Old Testament to refer to liturgical chant (Luke 1:42).  Mary replies with her great song, The Magnificat–“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46).  Inside Elizabeth, the embryonic John the Baptist  doesn’t join in the song (sound doesn’t carry far in the womb, apparently), but he does do a

little dance–“At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her” (Luke 1:41).   When John the Baptist  is born, his father Zechariah launches into the song that became known in the Christian liturgy as the “Benedictus”–“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited his people and redeemed them” (Luke 1:68).   And when the angels announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds, they burst forth in their great song “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.  (Luke 2:14).   Later, when the infant Christ is brought to the Temple, the aged Simeon holds Him and sings his own song, “Lord now let your servant go  in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29).  I should point out that Luke doesn’t actually say that any

of these people (except perhaps Elizabeth) are singing their words–but the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and all the rest are so song-like, so Psalm-like, that one inevitably comes to that conclusion.  (By the

way, both the Gloria in Excelsis and the Nunc Dimittis appear in our communion liturgy–reminding

us that when we celebrate communion, there’s a bit of Christmas, as Jesus comes to us in the bread

and wine even as He came among us in Bethlehem).

            So celebrating Christmas with joyful song is as old as the Christmas story itself.  I wonder

why Easter doesn’t get the same treatment?  It’s certainly a joyful event--Jesus is alive!  Yet where

are the “Easter albums”, where are the great pop songs (except for “Easter Parade”)?.  Even our Easter hymns don’t quite catch the imagination like the Christmas carols do.  The explanation may be as

simple as the fact that people like babies, and Christmas involves a baby!  But maybe there’s

something deeper–when we celebrate Christmas, we’re celebrating everything that Jesus is and everything that Jesus did.  After all, when we celebrate the birthdays of Washington,  Lincoln and

Martin Luther King, we’re not just commemorating the fact that they were  born–rather, we remember  everything those men meant to our nation.  I think Christmas is like that, too.  When we mark Jesus’ birth, we’re also thinking about His cross and His resurrection.  Christmas is a “package” that also contains Good Friday and Easter.   That, I think, is why our joy at Christmas is so irrepressible that

it bursts into song.  We’re singing about everything that Jesus means to us.

            So sing away this Christmas–go caroling, sing with the radio, sing along with Bing, sing your

heart out.  You are joining with angels and archangels, with Mary and Elizabeth and Zechariah, and

with countless generations of Christians, in proclaiming that God has shared His very self with us in

Jesus Christ.

            God loves you and so do I!

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