Advent Meditation for Christmas Eve: Singing the Messiah

sing-along“Sing-along Messiah” events are Christmas traditions in many communities. They involve community members bringing their copy of George Frederic Handel’s Messiah and joining the choir to sing the choruses in the performance. It is traditional to do the “Christmas portions” of the massive oratorio composed in 1741, Part 1 plus the “Hallelujah” chorus from Part 2. (Note: Part 2 of the Messiah is the “Passion” section, sometimes performed at Easter, Part 3 is sometimes seen as the Pauline section, singing of the resurrection of the dead.) It has been my privilege and joy to participate in Messiah Sing-Alongs at least ten times by playing in the orchestra. I love it. The community orchestras I have played in used these events as fundraisers. Instead of paying the performers, they pay you! What a deal!

Singing and Christmas have a tight relationship in our annual celebration. How do you think a Christmas eve service would be received if no Christmas carols were sung? All the public spaces are filled with a repetitive list of Christmas music. My personal opinion is it might be good to expand this repertoire a bit. I’m not sure I need to hear Dean Martin sing “Let It Snow” more than five or six times a year.

Some claim the greatest music ever written is Christmas music. Beyond the Messiah, we think of Bach’s Magnificat or Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. Especially beloved is the Adophe Adam music written for Placide Cappeau’s poem “Minuit, chrétiens,” first performed in 1848 as Cantique de Noel. In America, a minister named John Sullivan Dwight offered an English version in 1855, and we still sing it: O Holy Night!

But why music and Christmas? Why a night that is more holy than others?

The Christmas story is full of paradoxes and there is none greater than the appearance of the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds. It was a visit of the most powerful created beings in the universe to some of the lowliest with the precious message of Christmas: the Savior of Mankind had been born! This could only be a message from the Lord God himself, great glad tidings, the good news of the Gospel for human redemption!

angels-and-shepherdsThe announcement by this lead angel was followed by something more astounding: the revelation to the shepherds of more angels, “a multitude of the heavenly host” (πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου), literally, “an army in the sky.” A singing army of angels, and this is what they sang:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

The KJV has the angels “saying” this refrain, but that misunderstands the variety of meanings of the Greek word lego (λέγω), which can refer to singing words as well as speaking.

These humble but obedient shepherds go to the place in Bethlehem village where the new Messiah has been born. Were they humming the angel’s tune? Were they singing it? Did they teach it to the new friends they made in the Jesus stable? Did the ox and ass keep time?

We live today in a world full of music. It is hard to escape it, our media saturation society drips music. How great it is to have at least some of that music focused on our Lord Jesus Christ! So in these last days of Advent, may we join the angels and sing.

Gloria in excelsis deo et in terra pax

Glory to God in the highest and on earth Peace!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

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