Christmas Eve, Year A
Christmas Eve, Year A
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Worship, singing, music, praise, celebration and joy—that’s what Christmas is all about for we who have gathered here tonight to honour the Christ-child’s birth. It was Thomas Carlyle, the great 19th century Scottish writer, who said: “Wonder is the basis of worship. Music can be part of that worship. It is a kind of articulate, unfathomable speech which leads one to the edge of the Infinite and compels one to gaze in.” That’s what we’re here tonight to do—to come and worship our newborn King. In the act of worship, God touches our hearts, minds, souls and bodies. God invites us to gaze in through the door of worship, to meet the Infinite in the birth of baby Jesus.
On this Christmas Eve, it is most appropriate that we celebrate Christ our newborn King’s birth with music and song. In so doing, we are following in the traditions of early Christians and ancient Israel. Indeed, in Psalm 96, the author instructs and invites all worshippers of the LORD by saying: “O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.”
According to the author of I Chronicles 16, which quotes portions of Psalm 96; the occasion for singing this psalm was the placing of the Ark of the Covenant in the Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle by David in the city of Jerusalem. On this occasion, King David instructed the Israelites and the religious leaders—the Levites and priests—to play and sing Psalm 96, in celebration of God’s presence and blessing among the people and David as their king; symbolized by the ark of the covenant. This was King David’s and ancient Israel’s way of worshipping their God with heart, mind, soul and body. In this act of playing and singing their music they were praising and thanking their God by acknowledging God’s sovereign rule and power over all of creation. They were filled with joy, wonder and reverence as they celebrated God’s workings and presence among them. In this psalm, the Israelites and David confess their faith in the One and Only True God; and call upon all of nature—all of God’s creation—to sing and worship God with them.
On this Christmas Eve, we too are instructed and invited to worship our God with the playing of music and singing. It is quite appropriate that we come and worship Christ, the newborn King of kings tonight. Music and singing stir our deepest thoughts and emotions; when we are fully participating in the act of worship through music and singing, we are experiencing something of heaven right now, here on earth. Somehow, music and singing is able to transport us away from the immediate troubles, hurts and pains into a state of joy—to gaze in on the Infinite, the eternal, losing our sense of time with its limitations. As “the universal language,” music and singing draw us into a deeper sense of Christ among us—our Emmanuel is here. He is our word-become-flesh; he is our tabernacle from heaven come to earth in the person of a tiny baby. This is our occasion to make music and sing a new song of God’s love to and for us and the whole world.
Tonight of all nights of the year we are bound to worship our LORD God who gave us the greatest gift of his creation—Jesus our Saviour. It is most appropriate that our focus tonight in this worship time is on God. The music and singing is, at its best, able to help us with this focus on God by increasing our sense of awe, wonder and reverence to our Most Holy God. There’s a beautiful story about this out of the life of composer, Franz Joseph Haydn. The story goes like this:
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was present at the Vienna Music Hall, where his oratorio The Creation was being performed. Weakened by age, the great composer was confined to a wheelchair. As the majestic work moved along, the audience was caught up with tremendous emotion. When the passage “and there was light!” was reached, the chorus and orchestra burst forth in such power that the crowd could no longer restrain its enthusiasm.
The vast assembly rose in spontaneous applause. Haydn struggled to stand and motioned for silence. With his hand pointed toward heaven, he said, “No, no, not from me, but from thence comes all!” Having given the glory and praise to the Creator, he fell back into his chair exhausted. 1
The ancient psalmist, Haydn, and a host of God’s faithful people down through the ages have worshipped in spirit and in truth by giving God alone the glory and praise that God is forever worthy of. We worship God aright—according to our psalmist and Haydn—by giving God alone glory and praise. It’s interesting and instructive that the word glory—Kabod in the Hebrew language, means weight and importance or influence. In the Greek language glory is doxa, from which we get our English word, doxology. In the Hebrew Bible, glory is weighty or heavy because of God’s powerful and saving activity in the world. God’s glory is revealed to Israel when God chose them to be God’s people; when God revealed the Law on Mt. Sinai to Moses; when God delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery; when God provided Israel with a Promised Land. God’s glory is shown to us in his creation as well—especially as we discover more and more how vast our magnificent universe really is and how it keeps functioning so efficiently each and every day.
Most of all though, for us Christians, God’s glory is revealed in and through a tiny baby, Jesus our Messiah, our Saviour. His glory will grow from strength to strength, as salvation—his saving activity—is made known throughout the entire world. Imagine that! God, Creator of the entire universe, chooses, out of all the options to choose from, to save and love us; to claim us as his own through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus! What glory this is, that the Incarnate Jesus; the Word-made-flesh; came to live among us as a human being like us, except without sin. His glory; his influence on humankind is most profound. When other human figures, however famous have had “their day in the sun,” they are soon forgotten. But not so with Jesus of Nazareth. He continues to influence and powerfully direct the lives of millions of people—even today, some 2000 years after his death. People today are still inspired by his teaching and preaching; healed by participating in his sacramental presence; given a new strength to face and overcome life’s many challenges and sufferings through his suffering and death on the cross; and are charged with an indomitable hope, living as a resurrection people.
That’s why we, like the ancient psalmist can “worship the LORD in holy splendour;” or in the old King James Version: “in the beauty of holiness.” Again, the “holy splendour,” or “beauty of holiness” is not ours—rather, the focus is on God and on Christ. Thanks to the holy splendour, the beauty of holiness, we have life abundantly through the forgiveness of sin and the all-sufficient, divine grace and love for us all. Thanks to God and Jesus our Messiah-King, the beauty of holiness is revealed as God’s kingdom comes to “judge the peoples with equity, the world with righteousness.”
Is this not why we celebrate Christmas? Is this not why we worship our God and our Saviour with music and singing; giving him glory and praises? Is he alone not worthy of all our worship, at all times and in all places? Is it not precisely because the day is coming when all injustices; all divisions; all inequalities and forms of discrimination shall be obliterated forever and ever and God’s realm is ushered in completely; that we worship with hope and joy tonight? When all sin and evil shall be eternally destroyed and God’s perfect realm of love and peace exists among us.
So may our music and singing fill us with awe, wonder, joy and praise! As we celebrate the birth of Jesus. May his love and light always live in us!