Friday, December 25, 2009

Faith that Sings Back - Christmas Day (Psalm 98)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Redeemed by Christ, the Word made Flesh:

Sing to the lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel. [And] all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music. With trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn. Shout for joy before the Lord, the King. (Psalm 98)

One of the most crushing events anyone can ever experience is being asked by the director, after enthusiastically joining a choir, to only mouth the words while everyone else sings. Imagine being told: "We love having you in our choir — but please don't actually sing any of the words."
It is very unfortunate and it is completely disappointing because it is completely unnatural. Singing with nothing coming out of your mouth. It just shouldn't be because human beings were created to hear and take to heart — and then speak and sing.
That's why the Christian Church has always faithfully passed on the faith to the next generation through the Word of God spoken and preached and shared — and chanted and sung. It wasn't that many years ago when Grandpa would hand on his Bible to his son, and Grandma would hand on her hymnal to her daughter (in addition to both inheriting a well-worn copy of the Small Catechism).
But all of that seems to have changed these days — especially at Christmas. We have allowed those running the show to tell the faithful: "We love having you in the sanctuary — but please don't try to sing your faith — we have a praise band and a professional vocalist for that."
Five hundred years ago there was a reformation that not only put the Bible back into the hands of God's people, but the hymns of the Christian Church as well. By God's grace, Luther realized that faith wants to sing — true Christian faith needs to sing. No wonder one of the annual articles put out on the Reformation information table is titled: "If you sang a hymn in church this Sunday, thank Luther."
To a Church who thought song was the exclusive property of the monks and their choirs, the Reformation had something very definite to say. For faith — true Christian faith — cannot but sing back to God his Word and his Christ and his Font and his Table and his Birth, Death, his Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.
In this sanctuary this morning the Word of God spoken and sung is not the exclusive property of Italian-speaking opera singers or Latin-speaking monks and nuns. The song of Christmas comes from Prophets and Angels and Apostles — to God's people — to change hearts and strengthen faith as it returns back to heaven. Salvation through our ears and through our hearts and minds and then through our mouths back to God and to our neighbor.
That was the way it went in the days of great King David and in the days when shepherds who hadn't taken a music lesson in their life sang to all who would listen on the way back from the manger. (I wouldn't be surprised if, upon their return, the shepherds sang of Emmanuel in the manger even to their sheep.) And this is the way it will be in these last days before our Lord comes back in all power and glory leading heaven's armies upon his war horse to bring a final end to sin and death — to gather all believers in him, that we might sing his praises before his heavenly throne for all eternity.
On this, Christmas Day, true faith wants to listen to the Word of God and then sing — sing to God and sing to anyone else who will listen — about the deep despair of living in sin, cut off from God and from his grace by our rebellious thoughts, words, and deeds — about the poverty of our silly attempts to reconcile ourselves to the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth — about God's own answer to our estrangement and pitiful inability to redeem ourselves or anyone else in the sending of his most precious gift: his only-begotten Son.
On this day, Christmas Day, faith looks to do nothing else but listen to the Word of God — in, with, and through the prophets and apostles, in, with, and through the water of baptism, in, with, and through the bread and wine of the altar — and then, in a trust and joy and confidence that the world knows nothing about — sing back to heaven and earth.
In the manger, God is bringing all things to their fulfillment. He is putting into motion redemption that will bring the Son of God and Mary's Son from the donkeys of Christmas Day to the donkey of Palm Sunday, from the wood and nails of a manger to the wood and nails of a cross, from the cold and dark of a stable cave to the cold and dark of a tomb, that sin would be atoned for, that you might be bought back through the sacrifice of this holy, spotless Lamb of God.
This is the song of the angels. This is the singing faith of the shepherds. This is your song and my song. And we will sing it only as long as we keep our ears close to the Word of God — the Word of God made man.
Speak the Good News. Share the Good News. Sing with the angles and all of creation the Good News of Christmas morn: "Glory to God in the highest, and his saving peace on all upon whom his favor rests."
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit