You may have watched the scene, millions of people of all ages have. It is a generic North American mall food court. It could be anywhere, Denver or Des Moines or Dallas. And so you can easily place yourself there. If you have seen one mall, you really have seen them all. Maybe you didn't really want to go to the mall today. But you needed something, or somebody needed something, or somebody persuaded you to do something you were not that inclined to do in the first place. To make matters worse, the shopping excursion became an extended experience, and so now you find yourself eating lunch at the mall. Eating a meal at the mall is not on anyone's "bucket list", things I hope to do before I die list, and it was not in your plan for today, but there you are. One child is eating pizza, one is eating a hot dog, it really doesn't matter what you are eating.
There you are, on a November day at the mall, lots of conversations and sounds in the background and then a voice, a very clear, distinct, compelling voice, an out of place voice, but a voice you have heard before. You soon recognize it as the beginning of the "Hallelujah Chorus". Where is that voice coming from? Then, from a different direction another voice, then a few voices, then people are standing, singing the "Hallelujah Chorus", and it has taken on a life of its own. It builds, and gains strength, and all of a sudden you are no longer in a generic North American food court. You are in the holy of holies, in the unlikeliest sanctuary of all, to be honest God was the farthest thing from your mind, but yes, it must be true, "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever, hallelujah".
Well, someone recorded all of this, at a mall, and then they put it on You Tube, which is a website that is pretty much an open forum about American life, from unusual babies and cats to embarrassed celebrities and politicians. It's on You Tube and fourteen million people have viewed it, and millions of others have shared it via email.
After I was encouraged for about the tenth time by friends to watch it, I clicked the icon here...
and sat still, and what I saw was pretty much what I have described; an ordinary day at the mall transformed into an occasion to glorify God. And then I began to wonder:
- What is so compelling about this scene? Yes, it is beautiful music, but it goes beyond that.
- Is it the outpouring of the spirit in the marketplace, a reminder of the commercialism that dominates the last quarter of the year, when Christmas blends with Halloween and Thanksgiving?
- Is it a mild form of protest, against a culture that often takes Christ out of Christmas?
- Is it simply a burst of joy across our depressed economic landscape?
- What is it about the "Hallelujah Chorus" at the food court?
It has become, for me, a sign, a gift of joy in Advent 2010, a parable in cyberspace of rejoicing with joy and singing in the wilderness. If we open our eyes, the prophet says, we will see the salvation of God. Our weak hands will be strengthened to do the work of God; our feeble knees will be made firm to keep going, our fears and anxieties will be taken away. Joy and gladness will fill our hearts (see Isaiah 35. 1-10).
The choir that day in the food court had of course planned for the occasion----in the voice lessons, the rehearsals, learning Handel's piece by heart. It was a disciplined act that led to the gift of joy. A flash mob is planned and executed, and yet it has an element of surprise. It is an occasion of joy, the fulfillment of the promise of the prophet:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom, like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
A choir incognito, in a mall food court, can be a chorus of angels. God is always giving us a sign.
My prayer for us is that we will open our eyes and our ears, our hearts and our hands, to receive the gift of joy in this season, and then to share it with others.