Christmas is almost here, time to exchange gifts and glad tidings, all in celebration of a child’s birth.
What child is this is who grabs the world’s attention once again? The news of his unexpected birth comes not by way of email or instant messaging, no press conference or television coverage, not even a blog. No, the ethereal event that silent night was harkened by the song of angels heard on high.
Upon that midnight clear, the history of the world changed forever. It happened once in royal David’s city, where political conflict still bears witness to the ineptitude with which we humans fail to get along. It happens again with a promise for those who see and believe.
Not everywhere will this Christmas be white with snow, but every one of us shares the wish of being blanketed by that color’s climate of peace. To fulfill this global dream, we must wander again to the scene of that first noël and wonder anew about what it portends for us today. For the joy this day gives to the world will become a lasting reality only when we appreciate the primacy of the person and the fullness of humanity that this birth reveals.
The scene was ordinary, yet stricken by poverty like so much of the world still. There were no red-nosed deer, only sheep and oxen and other animals. There the Creator came to dwell, one with the simplest of creatures. No high-tech medical marvels accompanied this birth. Human triumph would come not through the technological advances but in a babe lain in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Yet this is not just any child. His birth is a mystery, one that reaches far beyond that little town of Bethlehem in years past. This is the nativity of God, the very One whom some scientists today consider a far-off fantasy, too distant from humanity to know as real. Yet in the event of that o so holy night, we celebrate the power of the divine Word still speaking to our world.
No wonder, then, that this birthday comes with carols. In contrast to the everydayness of political speeches or scientific formulas or economic strategies, this season is one of angelic song. Now ordinary speech gives way to the idiom of lyric, for “there is something new here that can scarcely be articulated, and the articulation must match the reality of the newness” (Walter Brueggemann).
Christmas caroling reflects that newness. These seasonal sounds have a unique musical character that may be attributed to a chord pattern dating back as far as the thirteenth century. Later, in the nineteenth century, church services combined the singing of carols with biblical readings (“lessons”) of the Nativity. Today, even outside of church, the lyrics remain so popular that they pass into the lexicon we adopt in this season, as readers might have detected in the fifteen allusions in this piece!
The music come in many forms: choir voices in melodious union, bells rung in harmonious tones, even drums played by little boys. Whatever be the words we use or the tunes we hum, the sound of the season is first and foremost played in our hearts and souls. There, no matter what else is going on in the world, we can recognize the gift our world has been given. Doing so will make this a Merry Christmas.
Featured image from kareneyates.com