A New Song

It’s still Christmas, my friends, and we are in a season of singing songs. At this point, I wonder how many times you’ve heard Nat King Cole singing, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” or maybe a little Brenda Lee, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Or perhaps, the one and only always and forever, Amy Grant…”Breath of Heaven, Hold Me Together, Be Forever near Me”…. Perhaps at this point, though, you’re kind of sick of those songs.

At Kirkwood United Church of Christ, there’s always a little tension as we sing the songs of Advent – waiting, waiting, waiting for the songs of Christmas . . . and this year was especially challenging as the 4th Sunday of Advent was also Christmas Eve. By then we were ready to sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “Go, Tell It on the Mountain!”

When someone asks me about my favorite Christmas song, I’m quick to wonder, do I have to have just one? Can I have a couple of them? So, I wonder, what are some of your favorite Christmas songs?

It seems that the Gospel writer Luke had several favorite songs, in all different kinds of genres. Beginning with the Magnificat – a song of justice as Mother Mary sings of how her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit exalts in God her savior for God has brought down rulers from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. The hungry are filled and God’s promises fulfilled and not just for her, but for all who live in the margins, on the sidelines, waiting, watching, hoping for God to come near…for righteousness to rise up!

Zechariah is next to pick up the microphone, and finding his voice again, bellows out a ballad of praise to God for his son John – his son, who by the tender mercies of God will prepare the way for the rising sun who will shine on all people guiding their feet into the path of peace.

And then, with a perfect pitch of proclamation, the choir comes in as the angels hover in the heavens with a harmony matched by no other multitude, serenading the whole of creation, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to everyone, everyone, everyone.”

And the child is born, “O Come, Let us Adore Him.” And the shepherds and their sheep snuggle around him and Mary holds this moment – all of it – in her heart.

For a new Song has come into the world, and the world will never be the same again. Because in this Song is every note on every scale, every chord ever imagined, with a rhythm and a beat like no other, a Song to be shared with both diminuendo and crescendo, a Song that was and is and ever will be.

But for now, for now, the music is quiet, more like a lullaby “Lalalallula, Lalalallula, Jesus is sleeping, sweet dreams and good night.” And Mary and Joseph change his swaddling clothes and they feed him and they hold him and they love him.

They are faithful parents, faithful followers of God, and faithful to the Jewish laws, rituals, and customs of their ancestors. On the eighth day, they took the baby to be circumcised and celebrated the name given him--Jesus.

Forty days pass and the Holy Family make their way to the Temple. For dear Mary, it was a ritual and a rite of purification and for her son Jesus, the firstborn, a dedication. All of this in keeping with those who had gone before them, a covenant kept, a blessed beginning.

Now, at the same time it seems, there was another making his way to the Temple – Simeon, the scripture says, was guided by the Spirit into the Temple. Luke doesn’t give us an enormous amount of information about Simeon, but we do know that he was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. We also know that he knew the Law and the Prophets and the Promise, and he could not wait to get his arms around the Promised One.

Simeon reminds me of some of us, when the new baby in the congregation comes to church for the first time and we all just gather around, waiting for a turn to hold that baby in our arms to squeeze that chubby little body with love.

I wonder what Mary thought when Simeon took Jesus right out of her arms? Did she let him go, willingly – did she try to hold onto him…this tension she would wonder about and wrestle with her whole life.

But there he is, the Song in Simeon’s arms, in Simeon’s heart, the Song that Simeon waited his whole life to hear and then Simeon sings – a song of hope, The Nunc Dimittis…a departing song, an evening prayer, a blessing, a peace, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation prepared for all people - a light – a revelation to the Gentiles and your glory to your people, Israel.”

And the candles burn bright in the Temple and the shadows give way to God’s glory and Simeon blesses the parents and gives them back their Song – his Song – our Song, and Simeon says to Mary, “This kid is gonna break your heart – wide open – and it will not be easy, but when he sings, He will turn the world around.”

And as if that weren’t enough, in walks the Prophet Anna, who overheard the song, for her home was in the Temple, where she too seemed to be guided by the Spirit, with fasting, prayer, and worship, night and day.

Anna doesn’t sing. Not everyone sings. Everyone can make a joyful noise unto the Lord, but not everyone feels comfortable singing. My best childhood friend Glee Smith, she never sang songs – at least not solos at all of the pageants we would put on at Warrenton First United Methodist Church. Singing was not her thing, but she was so smart – is so smart – she practically memorized the whole Bible and spoke the story as the rest of us sang it. Anna speaks. Yes, she speaks up and out, in her old age, in her grief, she finds her voice and she praises God for this Song, this song of freedom, this redemption song.

The scripture says, “When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the Song grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.”

Do you still hear the Song – the song of justice, of praise, of proclamation, of peace, of liberation, of redemption?

There are so many other songs out there and many of them are quite spectacular, beckoning us to join in, you know the tune. Sing along, it goes something like this, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “We are the Champions,” “It’s All About the Benjamins Baby,” “Shake It Off,” “Try That in a Small Town.”

A cacophony of melodies calling us to listen and believe that somehow the Song is in harmony with a culture caught up in the Empire – the realm of wealth and success and drive and determination to win. There is only the crescendo – the increase. But we so often find ourselves in the diminuendo – the decrease.

Yet, as the noise fades around us, the Song becomes clearer. Often in a minor key, where God’s favor rests, with the poor and the broken-hearted, with people of color and women, with Muslims and Jews, with the LGBTQ+ community, with the refugees and the incarcerated.

These are the ones for whom the Song came to sing. I am one of them, maybe you are, too. Even so, the Song, in his infinite grace, radical welcome, and unconditional love beckons all of us to join in the chorus – as the conductor leads us – lifting our hearts and our voices, bringing all of us into that grand and glorious major key.

And you know the words and everyone can make a joyful noise: • Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and mind and soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. • As I have loved you, you must also love one another – this is how people will know you are my disciples. • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Forgive one another, as you have been forgiven. • This is my Body broken for you. This is my love poured out for you. Remember me. • You are in me and I am in you. I will be with you always.

On the eve of this new year, in this Christmas season, as you look toward 2024, perhaps you are already working on your resolutions, but maybe instead, or along with, you’ll pick out a song – your theme song for all that is ahead.

And maybe it will be your favorite song. A song of justice, of praise, of proclamation, of peace, of liberation of redemption? A love song, for the whole world.

I’ll close with this beautiful offering – it is poetry in motion – an anthem for the ages, a spoken word, by Howard Thurman.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart.

May it be so, my friends. May it be so. Amen.