Summary: Jesus is the Savior, the Christ, the Lord.
CHRISTMAS EVE 2005
December 24, 2005
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
“The Music of Christmas”
“When he awoke, the song was there.
Its melody beckoned and begged him to sing it.
It hung upon the wind and settled in the meadows where he walked.
He knew its lovely words and could have sung it all, but feared to sing a song whose harmony was far too perfect for human ear to understand.
And still at midnight it stirred him to awareness, and with its haunting melody it drew him with a curious mystery to stand before an open window.
In rhapsody it played among the stars.
It rippled through Andromeda and deepened Vega’s hues.
It swirled in heavy strains from galaxy to galaxy and gave him back his very fingerprint.
‘Sing the Song!’ the heavens seemed to cry. ‘We never could have been without the melody that you alone can sing.’
[from The Singer by Calvin Miller, p.6 ]
The Gospel of Luke is the most musical of the gospels. It begins as if it were an ancient history book, but at the first announcement of Jesus’ birth, Mary breaks out in song, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (1:46-47). The church calls Mary’s song, the Magnificat. When Zechariah the priest is told that his wife Elizabeth will bear the one we know as John the Baptist, he too breaks out in song, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…” (1:68). At the birth of Jesus, a chorus of the heavenly host responds in song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom God is pleased” (2:14).
At Christmas time, we sing carols because we recognize that music is our best response to the mystery of God made visible in a baby. Praise set to melody and musical harmony best expresses the joy of our hearts.
“Before the song all music came like muted, empty octaves begging a composer’s pen. The notes cried silently for paper staves and kept their sound in theory only.
In the beginning was the song of love.
Alone in empty nothingness and space
It sang itself through vaulted halls above
Reached gently out to touch the Father’s face.
And all the tracklessness where the worlds would be
Cried ‘Father’ through the aching void. Sound tore
The distant chasm, and eternity
Called back – ‘I love you Son – sing Troubadour.’
His melody fell upward into joy
And climbed its way in spangled rhapsody.
Earthmaker’s infant stars adored his boy,
And blazed his name through every galaxy.
‘Love,’ sang the Spirit Son and mountains came.
More melody, and life began to grow.
He sang of light, and darkness fled in shame
Before a universe in embryo.”
[ibid., pp. 37-38]
Calvin Miller’s story, The Singer, begins before creation and continues with creation. Miller’s story is set out like poetry because poetry makes melody out of words. The Magnificat of Mary was set to music by the church. Zechariah’s song was only words until the church provided the melody and named it the Benedictus. The angel’s praise at the birth of Jesus became the Gloria in Excelsis. Beautiful words such as these deserve musical accompaniment; they deserve to be sung.
Miller comments, “In hell there is no music – an agonizing night that never ends as songless as a shattered violin” (p. 69).
Over a hundred years ago, Episcopal priest and later Bishop Philips Brooks broke out in song, and the world has been singing with him ever since. “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…” [Hymn #79]. A century earlier, Charles Wesley composed, “Hark! The herald angels sing glory to the new-born king!” and the world has been singing with him ever since. In the days of Wesley, another hymnist caused the world to sing, “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem…” [#83]. On this, the most splendid of nights, we sing, because we don’t know a better way to extol the wonders of this child born in Bethlehem.
When Jesus was born, did He hear the music? It was everywhere, how could He not? If you will listen intently enough, you too can hear it. Even when we aren’t singing, someone is. All of creation sings in praise at the angel’s message: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:14).
Philips Brooks understands this birth. This child born to Mary is the Savior of the world, and so Brooks writes for us to sing, “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” Yes, this is the glorious message of Christmas! Unto us is born the Savior. He is the One whom God sent to deliver us from our sins. It is our sins that separate us from our God who is without sin. Jesus is the sinless one who alone can deliver us because He alone is good enough. As Philips Brooks understands, Jesus in the crib already points to Christ on the cross.