A Joyful Song

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					                                   A Joyful Song
                             By Rev. Jonathan A. Malone
                           Preached at First Baptist Church
               Sunday, December 20, 2009; East Greenwich, Rhode Island
                                         Luke 1:39-55
                            “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”
                                           Advent 4

        This season is one of decoration and adornment. We decorate our houses, our
cars, our storefronts and even ourselves so that everything looks festive and pretty. We
wear antlers, Santa hats, and wrap ourselves in holly no matter how painful that may be.
We decorate the evergreen tree with ornaments and stars, we decorate the front door with
a swag, a wreath, or a picture of Santa, and we decorate ourselves any way that we can
with our sweaters and socks. Our houses start to glow with lights, flashing, blinking, and
performing a techno-beat calling us all to dance. This custom and culture of decoration is
part of the Advent season.
        This decoration does not stop with the visual, but seeps into the smells. The
smells of ginger bread and cinnamon waft through the air tantalizing our taste buds. The
smells of eggnog and nutmeg fill our nostrils. Baked cookies, honey baked ham, and
other delicious treats mixed with fresh evergreen, or spray on evergreen and the crisp
cool air all surround our sense of smell, decorating the air for Christmas.
        We decorate what we see. We decorate what we small (and taste), and we
decorate what we hear. Christmas songs fill the department stores, the coffee shops and
our own airwaves. We find ourselves singing songs such as, “All I Want for Christmas Is
My Two Front Teeth,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” “Here
Comes Santa Claus,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “I’ll Be home for
Christmas.” This is the only time we can get away with playing and singing songs that
are on the edge of ridiculous and silly because they are a part of the decoration of the
time. The list goes on and on of songs that we hear through the airwaves, songs that we
find ourselves subconsciously singing as we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our
Lord. We decorate what we hear as we near Christmas.
        Here in church we decorate for the season with sight, smell and sound. The
flowers and the animals all help to create the vision of that holy night. The smells of
cookies baking and melting candles all awaken our memory of Christmas. We sing
Christmas carols describing the night when Jesus was born, describing the little town and
the manger. We sing songs that talk about the angles singing, the shepherds quaking, and
the baby not crying. Here in the church we decorate the walls with the sounds of carols,
of expectation and hopes for Christmas. Here in the church we decorate with the smells
of Christmas. Here in the church we decorate with the signs of Christmas. Here we
decorate for Christmas.

        Have we ever stopped to wonder what such decorations mean? Have we ever
stopped to wonder what these decorations stand for or what they symbolize? The lawn
ornaments of an inflatable Grinch in a giant snow globe, the auto-tronic reindeer, and the
lights all around the house, blinking again and again, flashing different colors and

different patterns, what do they mean? The smells, the extra cookies, the sweets that we
are all expected to make and eat, what do they mean? The songs, secular and sacred, from
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause,” to “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front
Teeth,” to “Away in the Manger,” filling the air with every possible musical arrangement
from chiming chocolates, to barking dogs and everything in-between, what do they
mean? If someone were to come from another planet in this time of year and were to
observe the decorations, what conclusions would they draw? Perhaps they would see all
of the decorations, smell the food, and wonder if we are preparing for a great sacrificial
feast. Maybe they would see the lights on the houses and assume they are akin to the
plumage of birds – men (mostly) showing off their decorating skills. Perhaps they hear
the songs and come to the conclusion that Christmas is about an adulterous man who
sneaks into people’s homes, who has an odd interest in dentistry and somehow baby born
in a barn fits in the picture. What do our signs, our decorations, and all that we surround
ourselves with say about Christmas?

        In the New Testament, in the gospel of Luke we find a decoration of songs.
Zechariah sings a song when he embraces his son, John the Baptist for the first time. It is
a song of God’s mercy and promise to be with him and the people of Israel forever. It is a
song that declares that the John the Baptist will be called the prophet of the Most High, to
go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the
forgiveness of sins. It is a song that declares that through the tender mercy of God the
dawn from on high will break upon all God’s people, giving light to those who sit in
darkness and in the shadow of death and will guide the people’s feet into the way of
peace. This is one of the songs of the Gospels that look forward to the coming of Christ.
        We have the song from Simeon who was nearing the end of his life, who took the
baby Jesus in his arms and declared the Nuc Dimittis crying out that now he could die in
peace because he has seen the Lord. Simeon has been waiting and waiting for such a long
time and now he has seen the salvation of Israel. He has seen the salvation of the world,
and he sings of this hope for all people of Israel and for all the Gentiles. He sings of the
hope of Christ.
        We have the song of the angels in the air, above the shepherds singing of the
glory of Christ’s birth, and declaring what a joy and profound moment such a birth
brings. They sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those
whom he favours!” They sing of peace and a new time. This is a song that declares how
good the birth of Christ is.
        Finally we have Mary’s song. Her Magnificent that declares the glory and the joy
of the Lord. We have Mary’s song which speaks of God lifting up the lowly, filling the
hungry with good things and bringing mercy on those who fear him. We have Mary’s
song that speaks of God’s covenant with the people of Israel. We have Mary’s song
which declares her pregnancy as a blessing and a great moment for her. With the birth of
Christ will come grace and mercy and love. It is a song that speaks to the power of the
event of the birth of Christ.
        We have songs in the New Testament. We have songs in the New Testament that
declare the hope and the glory of God. We have songs in the New Testament that speak

to the power of Christ’s birth and declare it as a moment of hope for all humanity. These
decorations speak of something profound and powerful for all of the people.

        Today, during the service, we have been experiencing a liturgical decoration of
music. It is a special service that awaits, prepares, and celebrates the coming of our Lord
with music. It is a service that has embraced the carols of the Christmas season as a way
to declare our hope of Christ. We have joined the songs of the New Testament. We have
followed the examples of so many others and have offered our song as an exclamation of
praise and wonder. We have decorated our worship with sound. We have heard the choir
sing of hope. We have heard the choir sing of promise. We have heard the choir sing of
peace. We have heard the choir sing of Christ. Today we follow the tradition of those
who sang in the gospel of Luke and continue to sing of our hope and joy in the birth of

         With all of these songs, with all of these audible decorations, there is one essential
ingredient. It is not the technique of singing that is essential, nor is it the instrumentation.
It is not the number of people in the choir that is essential nor is it the number of people
listening. The one essential ingredient that will make or break these songs, these
canticles, these carols, is faith. If there is no faith, then the songs mean nothing and may
as well be cardboard displays surrounding us, having no depth. Without faith the words to
the sacred carols, the words to the songs in the gospel of Luke would mean just as much
as the words to the song, “Grandma got run over by a Reindeer.” It would be a silly,
simple song without any real meaning. Without faith the songs are empty no matter how
well they are sung and how great they sound.
         Yet with faith all we can do is sing. We hear Mary’s song embrace a hope that we
all need and her song speaks for us all because of her faith and ours. With faith we hear
Zachariah’s song speak of a promise of being led out of the darkness, a promise that we
all look for and embrace because of Zachariah’s faith and ours. With faith we embrace
grace, mercy, and love that is incarnated through the birth of Christ. With faith the songs
we sing, “Away in the Manger,” “Silent Night,” “Hark the Harold,” “Joy to the World,”
and others paint a picture that is powerful and life changing. With faith we can see the
baby in the manger and have hope. With faith we can look to the little town with hope.
With faith we can sit in the silent night with hope. With faith all of these songs have a
depth that reaches to the divine. Our faith in the power of Christ’s birth compels us to
sing, the songs have to be sung, for the spoken words never do enough. Our faith in the
presence of Christ leads us to sing, for the muttering and mumbling is not enough. With
faith we need the support of music to truly and fully offer a taste of what it is we hope for
and expect. Our faith compels us to sing and our songs fill us with excitement for Christ.

         Decorate your homes for Christmas. Decorate your lives for Christmas. Decorate
all that you have, all that you expected and all that you can anticipate for Christmas, but
do it with faith. Place the presents under the tree with the faith that the birth of Christ,
which we all celebrate, is a birth that will change our lives. Place the lights on your house

with the faith that the birth of Christ is something that brings a heavenly, holy light to the
world of darkness. Sing the songs of the holy night, the songs of that blessed night with
the faith that Christ was born, that Christ lives, and that through Christ we have life.
Decorate your lives with sights of good works. Decorate your lives with the offering
smells of mercy and justice. Decorate your lives with the songs of faith and devotion.
Decorate your lives with faith. Do it with the faith that soon we will be celebrating not
just the birth of a child, but the birth of the child who will change everything.


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