The music of Christmas is truly wonderful, isn’t it? It’s so, well – joyful. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” we sing. The message of Christmas seems to inspire composers to bring out their best, uplifting musical stuff. There is a delightful, joyous lilt to the music of Christmas. But along with joy, Christmas music also has this underlying theme of hope. In celebrating the birth of Jesus, the composers seem to say, we are reminded of the hope we have in God. And it makes for beautiful music.
The carol we just sang, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” evokes this meme of joyous singing. In the second verse these questions are asked:
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
which inspire your heavenly song?
Why, indeed, this jubilee? What’s got you so excited that you can’t stop singing, you shepherds? What gladsome message inspires you? Well, of course, the answer is found in the next verse:
Come to Bethlehem an see
Him whose birth the angels sing
The One you have longed for, the One you have hoped for, is here, sing the angels. In all your struggles and difficulties of life as you sit out here on this hillside with these darn sheep, comes a message of joyous hope. It is, indeed, a jubilee.
Another carol which we aren’t singing this evening is the Sussex Carol from old England. It has a similar theme:
On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King’s birth.
Then why should people on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty?
All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night:
“Glory to God and peace to all,
Now and for evermore, Amen!”
“News of great joy, news of great mirth.” Such a bold assertion! But even bolder is the line, “Then why should we on earth be sad, since our Redeemer made us glad?” Why, indeed, should anyone be sad? For his coming means that we have been set free and have gained our liberty. We have life and health in its place. That is, indeed, what this jubilant message of Jesus’ birth should mean to all.
Ah, but I recognize that might not be our experience. For, indeed, we can find ourselves to be sad. We can be sad because of the condition of this world, where greed and despair and violence and war run rampant. We can be sad because of the condition of our own families, with tensions and conflicts and broken relationships and death. We can be sad about the condition of our own selves, with unfulfilled dreams and misplaced desires and loneliness and the specter of meaninglessness. Yes, I suppose there are lots of reasons one can be sad.
But, into the midst of that sadness comes the Redeemer who makes us glad. Christmas is not just a celebration of an historical event that took place two thousand years ago. It is a celebration of Emmanuel, God with us, who breaks into the sadness of our very existence today and makes us glad. It is a celebration of the hope that permeates the music of Christmas. It is the celebration of hope that despite the condition of our world, our families, our own selves we are redeemed, made whole, restored to fullness by the work of grace in our lives. In the birth of Jesus, God declares to us that we have life and health. In God’s eyes we are OK because “out of darkness we have light.” So on this night, on this Christmas night, we sing, with the shepherds, unending songs of jubilee because we have heard the “gladsome tidings” of hope that this night brings. May we all experience Christmas with such “joyous strains.”
And may we do so right now as I invite to stand and sing “Joy to the World.”