I experienced two kinds of singing yesterday. Both in St Michael le Belfrey Church in York. One was at a wedding – the happy marriage service of Sam Johnson and Georgia Edwards. It was a truly celebratory and uplifting occasion, with joyful praise and strong adoration! Then a few hours later we were singing again – but the music was different. It was no less real or sincere but this time it was tinged with sadness and sorrow. The region’s Missing Person’s Carol Service was moving and a privilege to lead, with families gathering to celebrate Christmas with a loved one absent, and not knowing where they were, how they were or if they’d ever return. Two kinds of singing.
Read the Advent stories and you find just the same thing – two kinds of singing.
Most of the singing that first Advent was celebratory. Mary sang when she learned that she was to be mother of God’s Son. Zechariah sang after his son, John was born, once he’d got back his speech (and singing voice)! The angels sang to the shepherds, announcing the good news of the Saviour’s birth. There was much celebratory singing.
But there was also a different sound and a contrasting song heard that first Christmas. The song of lament. Women and men of Bethlehem wept and mourned, no doubt singing sad songs to help them mourn the brutal murder of their infant sons by the meglamanic King Herod who’d heard that a rival King had been born there. Whilst it doesn’t explicitly say that they sang, the work of scholars such as Xuan Huong Thi Pham on mourning in the Ancient Near East has helpfully shown how singing played a crucial role in this culture’s mourning. We see it elsewhere in the bible too (eg Ps 102; 2 Chron 35:25; Ez 26:17). Songs of lament would have been sung. Sad songs.
There’s always two kinds of singing. Celebration and lament. Both were important that first Advent and still are today.
At the first Advent these two kinds of singing were different and yet shared something in common: they were sung with passion. These were not feeble, half-hearted songs! They were strong, stirring songs, expressing profound joy and deep grief. They were honest and real and true. They’d have been full of emotion and feeling. Whether celebration or lament, they’d have come from the heart. And that’s what I experienced yesterday. Two kinds of singing.
As we look around at the pain of the world this Christmas, many people (especially in Syria and the Middle East, but some in the UK too) need to sing a song of lament. And we must let them. In fact it should be encouraged – both to release sorrow and sadness but also as an authentic expression of worship to God. But this is also the season marked by ‘good news of great joy’ (Lk 2:10) and the sound of celebration must not be drowned out by the sound of lament. Both songs must be encouraged. Two kind of singing.
Examine your heart today. If you are genuinely sad, then express that to God. Don’t hold back from worship, but offer him your lament. Don’t avoid opportunities to sing – at home or in a church or a Carol Service. Pour out your heart in song, even if others are singing a different kind of song. Christ is Emmanuel (God-with-us) and with you in your pain, and he understands your sorrow. For the rest of us, may our worship this Christmas be hearty and happy. Joyful and triumphant. But have in mind that others – maybe people living next door to you, or in the row behind you in church – are singing songs of lament today.
Two kinds of singing. Let both be offered and gladly received by the One who deserves all our worship and praise.
ACTION: Write in a Notebook a list of things for which you are thankful today. Determine to find a way today to express that in strong praise and joyful song to God. If there is deep sadness in you, note that down too. And determine to express that to God too today – in worship and song.
PRAY: For passionate worship in God’s church this Christmas, expressing heart-felt adoration. Pray for joyful, celebratory worship. And then pray for one person known to you who is sad today. Pray that they’ll be able to express their sorrow in worship and that as they do that they’ll know the comfort and compassion of God.