Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sermon for Year C Christmas Day 2012

Sing to the Lord a new song

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things....

Those are the opening words of our psalm this morning,
this Christmas morning.

Biblical scholars tell us that most if not all the psalms
were originally meant to be sung.
The name “psalm” comes from the Greek word psalmoi
which means “to sing to the accompaniment 
of a harp or lyre.” 
(from "Prayer Shock Therapy: Praying the Psalms" by Robert L'Esperance, SSJE, Cowley Magazine, Vol 39 Number 2, Winter 2013)

Even though this morning
we are using a spoken word service,
usually here at St. John’s we sing the psalm,
using a rhythmic pattern called simplified Anglican chant. 

Even when you speak a psalm,
if you speak it aloud,
you can still hear the rhythmic pattern.

I have recently learned that chanting 
is one of the few human activities
that engages both sides of the brain--
left and right hemispheres--
What that means is that chanting
puts our bodies in a very relaxed state
and yet heightens our attention
at the same time.

Sing to the Lord a new song...

There was an interesting article recently
that little magazine has been around a very long time--
it was established in 1958.

The article I read pointed out 
that so many of our Christmas traditions and carols 
have very Anglican/Episcopal roots.

Even our image of Santa Claus/St. Nicholas
was shaped by a professor
at an Episcopal seminary.
Clement Clarke Moore taught Hebrew and Bible
at General Seminary in New York City.
He actually donated the land where the seminary is built.

His poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,”
published in 1823,
is largely responsible for how we envision Santa Claus--

...He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

That poem formed our image of Santa Claus--
an image which lives on today.

And then there are the Christmas carols--
O little town of Bethlehem was written by Phillips Brooks,
an Episcopal priest who later became Bishop of Massachusetts.

Of the father’s love begotten was written by John Mason Neale.
who also did the translation of the O Antiphons into the Advent hymn
we have been singing at communion throughout the season of Advent--
O come O come Emmanuel.
Neale also penned 
Good Christian men, rejoice 
(which has now become Good Christian friends, rejoice) 
and Good King Wenceslas.

Charles Wesley,
who many people think of as a Methodist,
was actually an Anglican
and he wrote Hark! the herald angels sing!.

Issac Watts of the Church of England wrote Joy to the World
and Christina Rosetti an English poet and devout Anglo-Catholic
had two of her poems
In the Bleak Midwinter and 
Love came down at Christmas put to music
and become popular carols.

Cecil Alexander, wife of a bishop in the Church of England,
wrote the hymn Once in royal David’s city.
Nahum Tate, son of a priest and England’s poet laureate,
wrote While shepherds watched their flocks by night.

So you get the idea...
we Episcopalians may not start singing Christmas carols
on the day after Thanksgiving,
but if it weren’t for faithful Episcopalians and Anglicans
there wouldn’t be quite so many carols to sing!

Sing to the Lord a new song....

Even our reading from the prophet Isaiah mentions singing--

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace...
...lift up your voices, together they sing for joy....

I admit it.
It is rather ironic 
that there are so many references to singing 
in our scripture readings for this morning
and we are having for a worship service without any songs!

But ultimately this day,
this Christmas day, is about the Word.
The Word that was God.
We hear this in the beautiful verses that open the gospel of John,
our gospel reading for this morning.

The really good news that the messenger brings us this morning
is this:

..And the Word became flesh and lived among us...

That is the true meaning of Christmas.
It is this Word that became flesh and lived among us
that inspired all the hymns and the carols
and the scripture and our very lives.

Christmas is when we remember
that God came to us as a human being,
so that we might understand and believe
because we understand what it means to be human.

And occasionally we understand
what it is to be divine.
The arts--painting, music, poetry, dance--
are often doorways to the divine.

The Word becomes flesh
but the Word sings divinely.

What new song will Christ inspire in you?
What new song will you sing this year?

Perhaps you will follow in the footsteps of those Episcopalians
who have gone before you
and write your own song,
perhaps a new Christmas carol for us
and generations to come to sing.

Or perhaps your new song won’t be a literal song
but this will be the year when you make some choices,
guided by the grace of God,
that will make your life sing.

Sing to the Lord a new song....

Sing your song.
Sing to the Lord this Christmas Day!

Information about the various Christmas carols was inspired by the article "Christmas without Anglicans?" in the Winter 2012 ANGLICAN DIGEST (pages 4-5).

1 comment:

Margaret Almon said...

Some of my favorite hymns! I am new to the Episcopal church, having grown up in the Moravian church, but we sang most of these carols.