Summary: Join the song of angels and shepherds, spreading the joy of the Saviour’s birth.
Christmas Eve Yr A, 24/12/2007
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Join the Song”
One of the most interesting trademarks of the Gospel of Luke is the songs it contains. Luke provides us with several songs describing the extra special nature of Jesus Christ. In Luke’s Gospel, there is much joy and celebration of Christ’s birth and his unique and holy role as God’s Son, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. In fact, the joy of these songs is rather contagious. That, I believe was intentional—Luke wants all of his readers, including us, to join in the Song, the Song of celebration and joy. Tonight’s gospel is certainly full-to-overflowing with joy. It is a contagious joy, and I hope and pray that each and every one of you catches that joy! Listen again to the words of these verses, in the contemporary language of The Message, by pastor and professor Eugene Peterson: “At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.” The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!”1
Singing God’s praises, and letting loose, glorifying and praising God—that’s what tonight is all about! That’s what the true message of Christmas is all about! Jesus the Saviour of the world; Jesus your Saviour and mine; Jesus the Messiah was born, lived, taught, healed, suffered and died and was raised again—why? So that you and I and all people may be saved, loved, healed, forgiven, and offered the gift of eternal life. How can we help but join the song, the endless song of every age, every nation—singing God’s praises and letting loose glorifying and praising God!
Music, next to the Word of God, is a precious gift from God. So tonight it is most appropriate that we join the song, and celebrate our joy as we remember Jesus our Saviour’s birth. Some of you may not be familiar with the story of how we got one of our best loved Christmas carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Tonight I think it is appropriate that we tell that story.
Philip Brooks was a big man, six feet six inches tall, with a big heart and a brilliant mind. He was fascinated by the message of Christmas, had an immense love for children, and wrote many carols for them. One of them was the famous carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The carol was written while he was rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.
Brooks had visited the Holy Land a few years previously. On Christmas Eve he stood on the hills where many centuries before, the shepherds heard an angel announce the good news of a great joy. Christ the Lord had been born!
Below, the town of Bethlehem lay asleep in the darkness as it had been on that night when the shepherds hurried to see this sight for themselves. Later, Brooks attended midnight worship at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He was deeply moved by this whole experience, and could not forget what he saw and heard on that marvellous night.
Some time after his return, Brooks was asked to write a Christmas hymn for a Sunday school celebration at Holy Trinity Church. He penned the thoughts that had been incubating in his mind into the beautiful carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
The author asked Lewis H. Redner, the organist and Sunday school superintendent of the parish, to compose the music. Redner waited for inspiration, but this had not come even by Christmas Eve. During the night Redner dreamed he heard angels singing, and he woke up with a melody ringing in his ears. He quickly jotted it down and next morning he filled in the harmony. Redner insisted the tune was a contribution from heaven. Both authors have given the world a great gift.
In the carol, Dr. Brooks shares the message of Christmas from St Luke’s Gospel. But he closes with the beautiful invitation for us to open our hearts to Christ, invite Him in, and live in the fellowship with Him: O holy Child of Bethlehem,/Descend to us, we pray:/Cast out our sin, and enter in,/Be born in us today./We hear the Christmas angels/The great glad tidings tell;/Oh, come to us, abide with us,/Our Lord Immanuel!
Philip Brooks later ministered at Trinity Church, Boston, again with much success as a preacher and spiritual leader. He was deeply loved by young and old. Brooks preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead, at a time when Unitarianism was sweeping the continent. His preaching made a positive impact on society. Brooks became Bishop of Massachusetts for two years.