+ In Nomine Jesu +
The story is well-known but it is not worn out. Someone at the bank asked if I was worried about preaching something exciting for all the visitors at Christmas time. I answered no. I want to share with you that I am certain my confidence is not founded upon my own greatness. I am not worried about needing a gimmick tonight, because I trust that the story of Jesus being born for us requires no cute stuff.
O come, Thou, Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Even my favorite Christmas songs don’t rely on any gimmicks. I love that Christmas is a time filled with songs. Some Christmas songs can be cute. But in the end my favorite Christmas songs are the ones that point me to Jesus.
Yes, I know…Christmas music is not loved by everyone and it can be hard to maintain love for Christmas music when it starts being played so early. There are some songs from Christmas that I can listen to endlessly and there are some songs that have worn out their welcome.
I believe that the music of Christmas in the church is some of the best we have in our hymnal. There are many church bodies that have abandoned the core theologies of what it means to trust in Jesus as the savior from sin, but interestingly if you take a moment to investigate the hymnals in the pews you will still find good Christmas hymns with good Christmas theology.
Because people have for centuries gathered as believers in Christ in their town squares, villages, parlors, living rooms and sanctuaries to celebrate the birth of Jesus, these hymns are not going to be quickly abandoned. Some of my cherished moments at Christmas time involve my family gathering around the piano in our family room and singing carols. I enjoyed going caroling this year with my family and friends from church.
At this church, throughout the service I hope you notice that in the pews you are not an audience. You are not an audience when it comes to singing. Even if you sing a little off tune or off beat I still want you to know your voice can be shared here. I tell the confirmation students that we should speak the words of the liturgy loud enough that our neighbor can hear us but soft enough that we can hear our neighbor. We are a community of different voices being shared together. In the pews and up here we are a congregation. We hear the Word of God, the Scriptures, together. The sermons that I preach, I preach as much for the strengthening of my soul as I preach for you and your souls. There are hymns we sing because we need to hear them and sing them.
We sing songs of joy and sadness. We sing songs of praise and lamentation. We sing and at times we struggle. We might struggle to be on pitch or rhythm but even more our struggle can involve the pain we carry. The songs of the church are important for us because they tell the story of our salvation. We are fed and nourished the good news when our theology sings.
There are moments that even the songs of joy become a harsh whisper or even a defiant muteness. Another pastor recently wrote about how he was suffering in sadness and in his sadness he could barely whisper a song, but he began to find his voice, along with those around him, growing stronger. The power of the song was helping the whole church heal and find their voice again.
It is not just that we sing anything to find our eternal comfort and joy. This is not a drum circle or karaoke night. We find eternal comfort and joy tonight in our singing the carols and hearing the lessons because I believe we are finding our savior. We find our savior tonight, our day spring that comes in the midst of the night to bring us relief.
I like that we sing together at this congregation. I enjoy that I hear some off-key notes. I celebrate the freedom of praise that we have that allows a child to sing along off beat.
We are a mixture of many lives that sing together with one voice the good news that our savior has been born and that peace has come to earth and good will with God has arrived.
The Bible is full of songs that tell the story.
Luke includes the songs of Mary, Zechariah, and the song of the angels in the shepherd field
Mary sang her song when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
With these words that would make hearts boom with pride, Mary sings, “My soul now magnifies the Lord.” This song for these festival days is the reminder that in our words and lives we point to Jesus.
I pray that as you look into the Word and see Jesus, you carry Jesus into the lives of others.
Zechariah sang his song with the birth of his son John and said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them”
Zechariah was a man who longed to have a child with his wife Elizabeth, who was known to be barren. He found that the promises of God have a timing that is mysterious, but have certainty of fulfillment. Elizabeth did conceive and give birth to John, John the Baptist. The song of Zechariah, is a song for these festival days. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them” reminds me that we live in faith that God’s promises are truth even while the timing for God’s work in this world is mysterious.
Now the angels sang their song. They sang their song out in the fields at that moment when the time had come for Mary to give birth. With the birth of Jesus, the glory of heaven broke into our dirty and messy earth. With the entrance of Jesus came the entrance of the angels with song. Because the king of glory had come hence the heavenly host were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The angels gave witness to the shepherds that the promises of God were the fullness of unity between heaven and earth happening.
When you join your song with the angels and sing, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” you are celebrating that the division between heaven and earth has been bridged. No more are we separated from hope and promise and life and salvation. Our savior has been born. Into this messy and sinful world the king of glory has come. He has not come on a tourist visa, he has come to become a resident with us.
I want you to know that in Jesus we can sing our songs that point to Jesus. When we sing our songs we are not just a christmas special on ABC. We are not just mouthing the words at this church. We might forget the words sometimes and struggle with the harsh whispers of our suffering, but we can sing our songs that celebrate that God fulfills his promises. We can sing our songs that celebrate that heaven and earth are united in the purposes of God revealed in Jesus. We can sing, because glory to the newborn king, our salvation has come. Our promise has been born.
Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
We sing the songs that are full of invitation and welcome, including
O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
We are sent tonight with the song “Joy to the World” and in the third verse we gather our voices to sing,
No more let sin and sorrow grow
nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found!”
Tonight we are able to sing our songs and we are able to sing these songs to be echoed off of the mountains because we trust that this world’s princes and powers are no match for the one that we have come to adore. Christ is our Lord.
The promise that our savior has been born for us and that all that is in heaven has been brought into our dark night gives to us confidence that a new day is dawning. Our songs can be sung tonight and each dark night we go through because we trust that our true light has been born this silent night, this holy night.
Soli Deo Gloria