The Christmas Light

Reflections on our Advent Cantata, The Christmas Light. What do you trust more: what you see, or what you hear?

We know that both sound and picture can be manipulated. Photoshop has changed the way we see the world: any two celebrities can be stitched together seamlessly for the supermarket aisle. The same is true of sound. In the era of 24-hour news cycles, the sound byte has the power to make or break political careers.

So which do you trust more?

Daniel Barenboim, conductor and pianist, points out that the ear has an advantage over the eye. Sight doesn’t have a chance to develop until after birth; but studies have shown that we can hear in utero. We can also, he says, control the eye: “If you don’t like the way I look…you close your eyes and I disappear. But if you don’t like the sound of my voice…then you cannot shut your ears in a natural way. Sound literally penetrates the body.”

Sound, music in particular, has a powerful hold on us, even for those of us who can’t carry a tune in a bucket. We associate certain memories with songs. We may not remember important dates, but a song can find its way into our ear where it will set up residence and stay forever. If you’ve ever been on the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney, you know what I’m talking about.

There is probably no time of year more intimately associated with music than Christmas. We sing carols, tune into the radio stations that play 24-hour Christmas music, put on Vince Guaraldi. But today, as our worship service centers around music, we are reminded that song has a purpose for us as a people of faith. The Psalms, after all, were the hymnal of the people of God. Scripture is full of references to singing praise: “Make a joyful noise…” “I will sing a new song…” “How long to sing this song?”

St. Augustine, the influential theologian of the fourth century, wrote that “to sing is to love.” And Martin Luther, the Reformer and hymn composer, said, “As long as we live, there is never enough singing.” Music is praise. When we sing, whether we are making a joyful note or a joyful noise, we join our voices with the choir of angels whose song filled the sky that holy night: “Glory to God in the highest!”

As we move through these final days of the Advent season, as we continue to prepare the way of the Lord, may the songs that we sing be ones of prayer and praise to the God whom we know in Christ, the incarnate, reverberating, eternal Word.