The singing begins…
How often do you sing, if you don’t go to church or are not part of a choir?
Why do we sing so much at Christmas?
One of my favourite Christmas things to do, which I particularly enjoyed as a student in Nottingham, was singing carols at the Malt Cross, a former Victorian music hall. In the sensibly named ‘Beer and Carols’, our church would host a carol singing evening, complete with solo competitions, raucous singing, and an invitation to Christmas carol services. For someone who spent a lot of the year thinking about and praying about how to tell friends and fellow students about Jesus, it was something of a revelation that this was a way to do that, easily and naturally. Christmas is a time when, whether it is the last gasp of a religious hangover in the UK or the stirring of something else, people are reasonably happy to sing. This year some of us have sung carols at tube stations with our church, inviting people to Christmas services, and subverting the usual collection by handing out chocolate coins.
I think we sing at Christmas because Christmas can remind us of all the things worth singing about. Except that the preceding sentence to this one could have been uttered by any Radio 1 DJ waxing lyrical about ‘oneness’ and ‘togetherness’. That was what I heard whilst driving to my in-laws for Christmas earlier this week. And it made me somewhat sad and sober, because that isn’t what Christmas is about. I think we sing at Christmas because Christmas forces us to think, however superficially, about the one who is truly worthy of worship, worthy of praise, worthwhile to sing about.
Today’s passage is infused with the Spirit of the preceding passage. Here, perhaps at last, is a song worth singing. Here is something worth singing about. Here is someone of whom not enough songs could ever be written!
In that day you will say:
“I will praise you, Lord.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
2 Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense[a];
he has become my salvation.”
3 With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
4 In that day you will say:
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
Here is a passage to inspire worship. We can see the roots of some of the great carols, and the great language and liturgy of the Church throughout the ages. There is a day coming when the vision of God’s people united in singing together will become reality. Often, I’ve found, friends who don’t know Jesus compliment the singing of carols or worship songs. They find it puts them in touch with something more, something else, something attractive. And that is a great way to start a conversation.
Verse six is the key to this passage. A song that we can sing loudly, boldly, merrily on Christmas day. If you whisper, you can perhaps cheekily sing it now, before the Official end of advent:
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you
Someone is coming. Someone great, holy, joyful, who inspires singing among the people of God. There are hints of the greatest party the world has ever seen. You are invited.
And tomorrow is the day before Christmas. Who are we going to meet?