Year B; Christmas Day; 12.25.2020

Psalm 98; Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14


“Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”

Christ is here. Christ is born. “Let heaven and nature sing!”

Merry Christmas!

In a year that has been filled with struggle, isolation, fear, loss, virus and generally, bad news, people of faith are saying, “We are not afraid to greet one another with the hopeful words of, “Merry Christmas.” We even might ‘…shout with joy to the LORD…’, as the psalmist this morning commands us. “Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the voice of song. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy before the King, the LORD.”

That’s exactly what we are doing this morning. That’s exactly what we did last night, Christmas Eve. I’m so proud of our St. Paul’s choir. They took up the challenge of making song together-apart. Each choir member made an individual recording to each of the Christmas hymns for last night’s pre-recorded service. We have set up a sound room upstairs in one of the Sunday school rooms, and they listened to the organ tracks Randy Day recorded, and recorded their own voice to the tracks. Phil, Katie’s husband who is a musician and sound engineer put the tracks together and we had hymns to sing to with a choir last night!

“Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”

As a crowd of over 40 people of all ages stood in the parking lot last night with lighted candles in hand, we prayed and received a blessing with incense. Over the loud speaker the voices of our recorded choir sang “Silent Night.” There, in the candle light, in the dark parking lot, each person wearing a face covering and standing socially distanced, began to sing. I could hear the soft voices of the people singing with the recording! It was a sweet sound of relief and joy as the group seem to instinctively know that on Christmas Eve, when the candles are lit, “Silent Night” is the hymn that the people of faith always sing.

I remember my late husband John saying that the nuns discouraged him from singing, and put him in the back row of the children’s choir and told him to mouth the words. He got the idea that he couldn’t sing (Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot sing. It’s a lie!).

John believed the lie and only went to the early services because there was no singing. But even John, when the lights turned down at Grace Church at the Christmas Eve Mass and the acolytes went down the aisle to light the candles as “Silent Night” began – John was the first to chime in singing.

Last night reminded me of that. Even when it seems we don’t have a voice, even when it seems there is nothing to sing about, God’s people connect with the Holy through song. It’s almost as if we were born for it.

One of the most ancient hymns of our faith is the passage from John’s gospel assigned to us for Christmas Day. It is not a birth narrative of Jesus. It doesn’t include angels, shepherds, wise men or sheep. It simply includes a familiar line from Genesis, “In the beginning…” and the lead character in this passage is “The Word.”

Imagine that you belong to a first century house congregation. You have learned the story of Jesus through the leadership and writings of the Apostle John. You are located somewhere in Western Turkey or Greece. The Romans still rule. You found the love, beauty, joy, mercy and forgiveness of the Jesus movement.

You worship in a beloved community of faith in a house church and you sing songs of faith. The song you always begin with is this hymn: Imagine it set to a chant,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

You chant it with your beloved community as if the psalmist was right there giving you the command, “Sing to the LORD this new song.” And you glory in the majesty and the mercy of Jesus, “the light of the world.” You listen to passages from John’s Gospel like, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” and “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone,” and “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” and “I am the resurrection and the life.”

I’ll never forget a few years ago, a friend who had lost a grandchild just before high school graduation in a car crash, told me that she would chant, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” She would email YouTube clips of the most magnificent choral music to her friends, Lauridsen’s, “O Magnum Mysterium” and Bach’s C Minor Mass. Listening to and sharing beautiful choral music was her way to grieve and share her grief. It seemed instinctive to her to go to hymns and music for comfort and consolation.

Studies have shown that singing is a physical act that can reduce anxiety, stress and depression. I personally have been tuning in to Evensong with the brothers of the monastic order Society of St. John the Evangelist. I chant the psalms with them and sing the hymns. After Evensong ends, I spend time recording hymns into my phone and them singing the alto part to it. I end up having fun and feel the loneliness of my distanced life lift.

I think that’s what we did in the parking lot last night as we raised our candles in the darkness of these longest nights of winter, in the struggle to find safe human connection. I heard soft voices of singing that came out of the darkness as if to say, “Meeting and singing in-person right now is our comfort and consolation in a really difficult year. Christ is born and   that is our reason for singing.”

I wonder, what song will YOU sing to celebrate the “Word made flesh?

Merry Christmas!