Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Getting in the Spirit

This year I've been finding it hard to get into the spirit of Christmas. It seems like it's just too early -- or maybe there's so much yet that needs to get done before I can get into that holiday feeling.

That all changed this past weekend, however. My wife and I drove up to visit our son at Concordia University in Chicago. He sang bass in its annual Service of Lessons and Carols. We went to two of the three services: Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. (If not for work on Monday morning, I think we would have stayed for the third service on Sunday night.)

The music was exquisite, which was my focus during the first service. And the leap in musicianship and ability from high school to college was impressive. Four different choirs, pipe organ, hand bells, and a chamber orchestra presented amazing music.

The second time through I was drawn into the Christmas story, as it unfolded in the service. There were a total of nine readings taken from the Old and New Testaments. Each was followed by an anthem or carol. These gave the audience a chance to dwell on the promises of God, contemplating how He stepped into human history in the person of His Son to fulfill them.

One piece that struck me was sung in German. It began with the four voices singing Isaiah 9:6, "To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given." Then while the lower three voices continued on, repeating this Scripture, the sopranos soared into a German stanza from Luther's incredible hymn "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come," with this line: "To you this night is born a Child, of Mary, chosen mother mild, This little Child, of lowly birth, shall be the joy of all your earth." Hearing it sung in the words of Luther impressed me. I remembered we are all part of this magnificent body of Christ, celebrating together throughout time and eternity.

Another was an extremely sweeping and powerful piece called "Bogoroditse Devo." It was sung in Church Slavonic: "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos (God-bearer). Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of our souls."

At the end we sang "O Come, All Ye Faithful." As the sopranos burst into the famous descant on the final stanza, the combined choirs of Concordia filed out into the aisles and encircled the congregation. As they lit the candles, the house lights dimmed. We were soon surrounded by their white robes and angelic faces, singing the hauntingly beautiful "Noel" by Carl Schalk. I felt like I was sitting among the shepherds in the Judean hillside at night, surrounded by the angel choirs. I didn't want it to end.

Music is truly one of God's remarkable gifts. It draws our hearts and emotions into the text or, it could be said, draws the text into our hearts and emotions. I encourage you to take time during your busy preparations to immerse yourself in the hymns, songs, carols and anthems of the Christmas season at your church. If available, attend a special Christmas concert and let God unfold the birth of His Son -- the marvel of His love -- and the incredible mercy that caused Jesus to leave His throne and become one of us.

How has Christmas music been a part of your holiday celebrations over the years? Are you an avid listener to the beautiful melodies of this wonderful time of the year? Do you like to sing? Do you play an instrument? When was the last time you and a few others went caroling through a neighborhood?

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