Isaiah 62: 6-12 Psalm 97 Titus 3: 4-7 Luke 2: 1-20
I started singing Christmas Carols early this year.
Each month I go into the local aged care facility at Hilton and hold a communion service for the residents. We often have half a dozen or more people who come, and we share the bible readings, the bread and wine, and we attempt to sing one old well-known hymn together, but mostly I land up singing a badly-pitched solo. Some doze off. Some snore. Some have no idea what is happening around them. And some just sit and smile at me, while I press on through. But not this time.
I went at the start of December – still in the early days of advent – but suggested we sang a carol. This ordinarily quiet, subdued group of octogenarians became animated as they called out the names of their favourites; away in a manger, while shepherds watched their flocks, once in royal David’s city, hark the herald…and so they kept coming. And they sang! Oh they sang! Heads back, smiles on faces, they sang the Christmas story over and over. And there was such joy!
This past week we sang carols again…this time a group of us sang, with protest banners in our hands, outside the prison at Perth airport, where our friend Ned is detained indefinitely for seeking asylum in this country. We sang outside the window, seeing him through the mesh that keeps him locked up. He has spent the last 10 Christmasses there and has no idea how many more will come and go before he is released. He is so often in despair and sad, but hearing those songs made him beam with joy. At the end we sang ‘we wish you a merry Christmas’, which brutally clashed with the surroundings, but I dared to believe that our being there, singing the greatest story of light, life and hope, had contributed some merriness to his day. And he said it did.
And then we sang more carols right here this afternoon and again tonight. And in each of these places the Christmas story rang out and reminded me, clear as day, the importance of singing the story.
Singing the story woke those old ladies up and reminded them of christmasses gone by, and the truth of the glorious incarnation; the saviour who is Christ the Lord. Singing the story at the detention centre brought light and life to that horrendous place and brought joy to those who feel forgotten. Singing the story reminded them that they are human and held in our thoughts. And I hope that on some level it connected within them the deepest truth that the first Christmas celebrated a middle eastern baby, homeless, state-less and looking for a safe place to live…just like them. Singing the story told them that.
And this afternoon we sang the story with people from our local community as they played. And again, tonight, as people wandered in.
And on the first Christmas the angels sang the story, and the shepherds sang the story too.
‘Glory to God’, the angels sang, ‘and on earth peace among those God favours’.
And when the shepherds met the baby Christ-child they went back to their town singing the story to everyone they met…and everyone was amazed.
Singing does something to us, doesn’t it? It does something beyond the physical.
I mean, the angels could have just said their message…but singing it somehow underlines it, makes it bigger…and it gets into your head. Having an ear-worm can be super annoying but imagine having the angel’s song ringing around your head all day, singing in your soul.
There’s an old proverb that I love, often attributed to St Augustine, way back in the first century, that says ‘he who sings prays twice’ and that’s the crux of it.
Words are good. Spoken words are great. But singing the story is the most important of all. It is prayer. More than that, it is prayer…twice over! The one who sings, prays twice.
Returning to those precious old people at Hilton care home; as they sang the story, as they woke up to those timeless beautiful truths of the incarnation – that God came down to be with us and among us and to change the world forever – their faces shone. They became alert in a way I’ve not seen before, and they chatted together and wished me a merry christmas and I set them a challenge. I challenged them to go back to their wing quietly humming the story we had sung; casually sing these truths, under their breath.
And I believed those 7 or 8 old people could start a gentle revolution in that place as they sung the story…subversively communicating that the Lord Jesus was near, that the angels had sung, that shepherds had gone running, that wise men had travelled from far away in search of this new-born king, that light had dawned and the weary world rejoices. By singing the story, a quiet revolution could break out…not unlike the birth of a baby who is God. Because it is very like God to choose the most unusual of people to share the story; thief-shepherds, teen mums, a choir of angels, star gazers, fishermen, old ladies who often don’t even know their own name or where they are. That sounds like God to me.
And maybe it could also be true that God could even choose and use you to share this crazy, world-changing, life and light bringing story with the world. Maybe you could join and continue this revolution of love, simply by singing the story wherever you are.
So, as I challenged my dear friends at Hilton, so I challenge you this Christmas; sing the story to everyone you meet. Sing it with all your heart. Sing it at the top of your voice. Sing, even if you’re not sure which bits you believe and which bits you don’t. Sing it if you know the tune, if you know the harmonies, and even if you are tone deaf and sound dreadful. Sing the story until others join in. Sing as a lone voice or as part of a choir. Sing unafraid and unashamed. Sing of the birth of the messiah, born this night, because he is Christ the Lord.
Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth. Amen.