telling of the Christmas story
Last week Jim and I enjoyed a beautiful concert of Christmas music by the Chicago Master Singers. Many of the carols were technically challenging and exquisitely executed. It was powerful and inspiring. A colleague David Lose points out that singing itself can be an act of resistance and has been used to powerful effect throughout history. There are many songs throughout scripture. The first few chapters of the Gospel of Luke that tell the Christmas story is full of them. Music has been used during slavery and civil rights movements and even, a fact I hadn’t known, in the weeks prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is similar to lighting candles in the darkness, a witness of hope in the midst of despair.
While the concert was certainly moving, I found myself pondering how listening to a concert differs from participating in a liturgy and the significance of that participation. The maestro was very amusing letting us know that we listeners did indeed have a part to play. We were invited to join in signing the last verse of the last hymn, so that it might be a sing-along. By contrast, most of the music in the liturgy is communal, shared by all the voices of the assembly. The blending of voices is a powerful image, one of the most bonding activities we can engage in as a group. It takes effort and commitment to listen to those around you and to blend your own voice into something larger than yourself. And perhaps more important, there is a significant amount of risk in letting go of one’s inhibitions and, perhaps, self-critical judgments long enough to contribute – even if one doesn’t have an especially good voice.
I remember well that during long car trips, which we did a lot of when I was growing up, that we all had to agree about what we were going to listen to. Which meant, of course, that sometimes we had to listen to what someone else wanted, and at other times got to have the music we liked best. It stretched us to at least appreciate other genres, not so common these days when everyone can listen to what they individually like at the same time. Music tastes in worship can widely differ, as we’ve discussed in various community conversations: what inspires one person is not at all the same as what inspires the next. Yet that is another of the gifts of liturgy, that we transcend our personal preferences to be part of something larger, something more than ourselves. We can move into that space or resist it even if present in body, but the opening, the potential is always there.
This Sunday we, as a whole community, share in the Telling of the Christmas Story, which is, of course, our story. We start at the beginning and journey through the love story that is our story with God and God’s story with us. We tell the story through carols and hymns, with readings by many different voices interspersed throughout. We conclude with communion, sharing together around the altar the feast of Love that nourishes us to shine a light in the darkness as we go forth.
I invite you to sing with enthusiasm during Sunday’s liturgy, especially if you’re a reluctant singer. Realizing it is a risk, but it is one with remarkable rewards awaiting you. May this season, with its powerful music, inspire you to enter into singing more throughout the year, that we may all experience the transformation into the image of God, which is the intent and invitation of both music and liturgy.
Hope to see you Sunday!