Can anyone imagine the Advent and Christmas season without music? Just as we see the heavenly hosts are singing in the Gospel of Luke (“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace . . .”), we sing on occasions of great joy — we sing to express some of our deepest emotions.
This Sunday in traditional worship we’ll open “The Gift of Song,” the next in our Advent worship series, “We Have Gifts to Open.”This Sunday is our annual Christmas Music Festival — a service of music and message, featuring virtually all of our choirs and music groups. Each year in this special festival we celebrate the message of the Advent and Christmas season — the glorious message of the promise and hope of the birth of the Christ Child and the fulfillment of that promise. The service is also a celebration of all the ways that music — especially Christmas music — speaks directly to our hearts. It evokes a deep sense of joy because of what God has done — and is doing — for us in Christ.
As we approach this third Sunday of Advent — the traditional Sunday of joy, symbolized by the pink candle in our Advent wreath — we discover a lot of joy imagery in our selected passage of scripture. The dry desert erupts in beautiful blooms, the crocus bursts into bloom, and the wilderness itself rejoices with joy and singing. So amazing is the transforming power of God that “the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared . . . the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless will sing. Waters will spring up in the desert, and streams in the wilderness. The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground, fountains of water . . . Happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and groaning will flee away.” It is especially appropriate, then, that this Sunday we will be reflecting on all the instances of joy we find woven throughout this passage by filling our Sanctuary with music.
Among my earliest memories of singing in the little church in East Texas where I went until I was about nine years old was Christmas Eve. It is the first time I remember singing in a choir in public, and we all had on these robes our mothers had made. Believe me, no boy there wanted to wear a robe, but because we were all dressed in the same short, blousy, white robe-like things, we were all in the same boat. We were all so nervous that we were shaking. We had all been given candy canes wrapped in cellophane to hold as we sang. We were trembling so hard that the sound of crinkling cellophane became part of the “joyful noise” we made as we sang our Christmas carols.
Among some of my best Christmas memories as a youth and young adult are the memories of singing the songs of Christmas in a madrigal Christmas boar’s head feast, in the church youth choir, and in the Centenary College Choir. The Centenary Choir even taped a television Christmas special every year that aired on Christmas Eve. When I think back over Christmas music and the feeling of deep joy it evokes, I realize what a powerful expression — and experience — of joy our Advent music creates.
So it is for all these reasons I especially look forward to opening “The Gift of Song” with you this Sunday in our Sanctuary — and making new music memories to enjoy this year and in the years to come.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
The desert and the dry land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the crocus. They will burst into bloom, and rejoice with joy and singing. They will receive the glory of Lebanon, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the Lord’s glory, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and support the unsteady knees. Say to those who are panicking: “Be strong! Don’t fear! Here’s your God, coming with vengeance; with divine retribution God will come to save you.” Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared. Then the lame will leap like the deer, and the tongue of the speechless will sing. Waters will spring up in the desert, and streams in the wilderness. The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground, fountains of water. The jackals’ habitat, a pasture; grass will become reeds and rushes. A highway will be there. It will be called The Holy Way. The unclean won’t travel on it, but it will be for those walking on that way. Even fools won’t get lost on it; no lion will be there, and no predator will go up on it. None of these will be there; only the redeemed will walk on it. The Lord’s ransomed ones will return and enter Zion with singing, with everlasting joy upon their heads. Happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and groaning will flee away.