A dear friend and mentor, Craig Hella Johnson, describes choosing music for a day like today as listening to “knockings” that happen deep inside. That is a very accurate picture of how certain selections seem to float to the top as the Christmas Festival takes shape in my head. Some results of those quiet voices need no explanation, but for a few, it might help to crack the door just a bit in order for us all to understand what we are hearing, and why. We begin this morning with an antique music box -— the 19th century equivalent of an mp3 player — which leads us into a setting of O Tannenbaum written for this morning by Rob Landes. I am struck at how simple life once was, and how much for granted we take being able to touch our phones a few times and hear most any music, anywhere.
The female gospel group, Sweet Honey in the Rock gives us We Are, which helps us recognize God’s renewed love for humankind when every child is born and how each birth reinforces the gospel story. The Barlow Bradford arrangement of
Sankta Lucia has haunted me for years, and despite most people’s assumption that it has 100 percent Italian pedigree, the message is actually about the symbolism of St. Lucy’s Day in Scandinavia. The tune is Neapolitan, but the words remind us of the beautiful young girl dressed in white (symbolizing baptism) with a wreath of candles in her hair, representing the light of Christ coming into the world during the deepest and darkest days of winter.
Last of all, from Craig Hella Johnson’s work, Considering Matthew Shepard, we conclude with unbridled hope and joy in, All of Us. And just like using some beautiful piece of ornamental art in your home that, while having nothing to do with the holiday, makes the ideal seasonal centerpiece or decoration, even though Matthew Shepard deals with a tragedy, these final words from the work are solidly planted in the season we are about to celebrate:
This evergreen, this heart, this soul,
Now moves us to remake our world,
Reminds us how we are to be
Your people born to dream;
How old this joy, how strong this call,
To sing your radiant care
With every voice, in cloudless hope
Of our belonging here.
It’s our hope that you will find in both the familiar and the new, a powerful message in the music today, underscoring these words from the service of morning prayer: “New every morning is your love, great God of Light, and all day long you are working for good in the world…”