Christmas Eve Worship Service December 24, 2021 7.00 PM
Christmas Eve Worship Service
December 24, 2021
“Click” on the arrow to watch the livestream video.
“Our Hearts Can Still Sing”
I understand why art and images of the nativity scene are always depicted as so serene and peaceful, but just once I would like an artist to try and give us a more realistic picture. I understand that because Jesus came to be seen as the Son of God people have wanted it to seem like a perfect, holy moment, but just once I would like an artist to show the difficulty of taking care of a baby, especially a newborn. I would like to see Joseph pacing back and forth frantically rocking Jesus in his arms and shushing him in attempt to stop his crying. I would like to see Mary with bags under her eyes and her clothes soaked with sweat as she yells at Joseph to get those smelly animals out of the stable so her kid can sleep. How prepared were the two new parents anyway? I’m sure this is not how they had planned things. Did they have enough diapers? Were there enough clean blankets? Did they know what to do to calm their new child? Did Mary even know any lullabies to sing?
When my wife I were expecting our first child, I remember how much we wanted to be prepared. We started reading books like “What to expect when you are expecting.” We took a birthing class and talked to people who had kids. We were both excited and scared, and wanted to be as ready as we could be. Somewhere my wife had read that if you pick a song and sing it to your baby while they were still in womb, the baby will recognize it after they were born and it would therefore be more effective in calming your baby down. We were not sure how true that really was, but we had heard about the long sleepless nights when a baby won’t stop crying and we were willing to take any advantage we could get.
The first step was to pick a song. After some discussion, we agreed upon a song we had heard in a movie that went along with a scene where many people were being baptized. The song goes like this, (verse from “Down to The River to Pray”). We sang the song as we were driving in the car. We sang it as we were hanging out in the kitchen, and we sang it as we were going to bed.
After our child was born, we then began singing it to her. It’s hard to say whether she really remembered it or not, and it wasn’t like she just magically stopped crying every time we sang it. But like any good lullaby, the song did help to calm our daughter down when she was getting fussy. Because we had already talked about it, when those moments came up when she needed to be soothed, we had our go-to song. We didn’t have to think about it. At times the song actually soothed me in an unexpected way as well. As a parent there are times when you just don’t know what to do. You don’t know why your child is crying or what will help them calm down. At moments like that, I could remember that I could still sing. I could sing the song we had chosen and that would help me not feel so stressed. As I hummed the words, “down to the river to pray’ it would remind me that I could pray and give my worry and concern to God, and that when I was at my wits end, God was somehow still in control.
For centuries lullaby’s have been a source of comfort for parents and children alike. They have been a go-to source of soothing before naptime or going to bed. People have instinctively known that there is something mysterious about music that can have an effect on us that shapes our feelings and emotions. Modern science is just beginning to understand more about this powerful effect. Studies have now shown that melodies such as those in a lullaby can help regulate the emotions of a baby or child. They can work to foster a stronger bond between the child and parent, and they can help establish a routine and atmosphere that can allow a child to go to sleep more easily. Another interesting thing that some studies have shown is that almost every language and culture has its own version of the lullaby and it doesn’t really matter if it is sung in a baby’s native language or not. It still seems to have the same calming effect.
I have to think that Mary sang lullabies to Jesus when she was trying to get him to sleep. Perhaps she even sang a lullaby that first night when he was born. I can imagine Mary would have heard other mothers in her village singing to their children and instinctively a melody would have come to her as she held the newborn Jesus. She may have started humming a tune and perhaps the words would have come to her as well. Some traditional song may have arisen from her heart at the moment when she was at her wit’s end — when she wasn’t sure what she could do to calm her child down. Perhaps it would have reminded her that when everything seemed chaotic and out of her control, there was a spiritual strength she could tap into outside of herself. There was a God out there that had set her on this path and would be with her still.
As we come to the end of this year, I think a lot of us adults could use a good lullaby. We could use something to soothe our anxiety and worry as we are often on constant high alert as the pandemic we thought would be over continues to spread and affect so many aspects of our lives. We could use something that will calm the rage and anger that has seemed to permeate so much of society this last year.
Just as things were getting better in the spring, the Delta variant hit. Just as things were getter a little better in the fall, the Omicron variant hit, and now cases are on the rise once more. Instead of coming together over this public health crisis, people seem to be divided more than ever. Even when there have been times when the pandemic appeared to be getting better, many people still seemed to be on edge. Incidences of unruly passengers on airplanes skyrocketed this year. Violent crime has been on the rise. Misinformation has increased and seems to create different realities for different folks, making the possibility for civil conversations more difficult. It can feel kind of chaotic in our culture these days and like things are a little out of control.
This is why we need to pause on Christmas Eve to recall the ancient story of God becoming flesh, of God becoming human. Not to recall some perfect ideal that we could never attain, but to remember that it has never been perfect. It was never the ideal image we may have thought it was, yet God was still there. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, they were all people who were living on the edge. They were people on the margins of society, wondering if they were going make it. Maybe things had gotten so bad they had forgotten the promises of the prophets. Maybe they had forgotten that the Messiah was still coming.
Then the angels burst through with a song in heavens, shattering the silence of the night sky, waking up the Shepherds and alerting them to God’s presence being born in a stable. The music of these celestial messengers draws them to the manger. It inspires them to visit and bring their worship to the child which awakens in Mary the realization that her baby will bring a new kind of hope to the people just as the angel had told her.
A couple days ago, I experienced a taste of how music can continue to awaken the spirit in someone who may have seemed to have forgotten it all. I had gone out with several students and a couple of adults from our church to do some Christmas caroling and one of our stops was at an assisted living home. As we gathered outside the sliding glass door of our church member’s room, I noticed that some of the staff had brought a few other residents to come hear us as well.
We began singing Joy to the World and O Come All Ye Faithful. As we were singing, I could hear some clapping from inside the room. It was a little off beat, but I figured it was just one of the residents enjoying the music. On our way out, the spouse of our church member thanked us for coming then shared how nice it was that some of the other residents had gotten to come over for the caroling. She said there was one woman in particular who had surprised her. She explained that the woman usually just sits in her chair all day and stares blankly at the wall, never really talking or responding when people speak to her. Yet during the caroling the woman suddenly started clapping. The music had seemed to awaken some memory within her. I don’t know if she was a Christian or not or if she had heard the song at church or over the speakers at the mall, but she remembered something in the music and responded with joy. With all it seemed she had forgotten, she hadn’t forgotten those songs.
Tonight we are once again awakened by the music of the angel chorus. We are called to come down to the manger to hear the song that Mary might have sang as she tried to calm the baby Jesus. We are called to come down to the manger where we can hear the lullaby that reminds us we can draw upon a source of strength that is greater than ourselves—that reminds us there is a river of love we can drink from whose waters sing with the mercies of a graceful God. There is melody that comes even through the chaos, revealing the Christ-child who can show us the way when all seems out of control.
(verse from “Down to The River to Pray”)
-Pastor Erik Goehner