Why is there so much singing at Christmas? From the beginning of Advent to the end of Christmas, singing dominates our experience of this season more than anything else. The general rule is that Christmas music doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving. But some people cannot even wait for that day. Music and Christmas are intertwined. And while it is true that joy inspires singing and music, it would be good for us to look at the foundation of this joy with more depth. And yes, you already guessed it. The joy is our Messiah, God himself come down from heaven! Jesus Christ is the central joy for all Christmas singing. The prophet Isaiah did not only prophesy about the Christ-child coming, he also prophesied the singing that comes along with this great news!
Isaiah 11 is a wonderful passage of Scripture to be read and meditated upon during the Advent season. The beautiful portrait in Isaiah’s words, that the root of Jesse will bring a glorious rest (11:10), gives us anticipation and excitement. The peace between the wolf and the lamb, and the child playing with the snake offer striking images of this radical peace. It is a peace that turns everything on its head. Isaiah prophesies Jesus’ coming with such assurance and relief. And in Isaiah 12, we read about what will happen when the Messiah actually appears. Isaiah 12:1 says, “In that day…I will praise thee.” Isaiah says it will be a day of praising God (12:2). The earth will sing!
4 And in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.
5 Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth.
6 Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.
Isaiah is prophesying about the reality that we know to be so true in our day. Christmas is about singing unto God. And singing was the reality in that first Advent/Christmas season Isaiah prophesied about so long before. The Gospel according to Luke gives us these wonderful Christmas songs in its first two chapters known as canticles. In Zechariah’s song recorded in Luke 1 (Benedictus), Zechariah is overcome by God’s mercy in giving him a child, and he sings about the coming salvation of God. Mary breaks out in song (Magnificat) in that same chapter when the angel visits her and tells her about God’s plan for her. Her song is saturated with the undeserved grace God gives—grace that rescues the helpless and exalts the humble. Simeon’s song in Luke 2 (nunc dimittis) reveals the reality of salvation going out to the entire world. The angels cannot contain themselves as they beheld God’s astonishing incarnation (Luke 2) and they shout, “Glory to God in the highest” (Gloria). Everyone and everything sings because of this great mystery!
And we too must sing. The reality of God’s incarnation must be shared. And no, we do not have to reenact this great gift, but we do retell it! We must shout the Gloria with all our might throughout this amazing season. We must humble ourselves as Mary did and ask to be used by God for the benefit of the needy. We must proclaim God’s continued salvation to the world like Zechariah and Simeon, and trust that God promises Himself to the world because we sing. So this holiday season, make sure you and your family, friends, and neighbors are singing. And as you do, remember that in your act of singing to God, you are a participant in the continued fulfillment of Scripture enacted through our Savior Jesus Christ. Gloria in excelsis Deo!