Sing! A Savior Is Born!
SING! THE SAVIOR IS BORN!
By Mark E. Hardgrove
Text: Luke 2:13-14
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others-the armies of heaven-praising God: 14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven," they sang, "and peace on earth for all those pleasing him." TLB
When we think of Christmas we make many associations with this holy holiday. We associate the colors of red, white and green with Christmas. I read somewhere that this goes back to the idea of the red blood of Jesus, washing us white as snow so that we could experience new life—associated with the color of green.
We also associate giving and receiving gifts with Christmas. This goes back to the idea that God was giving His only begotten Son to us as the supreme gift. It also has something to do with the three Magi giving their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. We think of the Christmas tree, the candy cane, and the Christmas lights. I’ve read various articles giving the historical Christian background behind each of these as well.
But before the colors come out, the tree is up, or the gifts are given, it seems to me that the first sign of Christmas are the songs. As we draw near to the month of December, even before the month of November, the choir and the children are practicing for the cantata or the play and the Christmas songs are being sung. We find ourselves humming or singing the songs we grew up with, “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” and so on. They are branded in our memories from the days of our youth as each Christmas season rolled around.
We may not know all the words, but we can usually sing the first verse and the chorus. I saw a comic spoof of carolers going out to sing and they forgot the songbooks. They would start various songs and as the song started they all began singing loudly and confident that they knew the song, but about halfway into the first verse they would all be singing different words. So they tried another song, with the same results. Song after song revealed that they didn’t know the words to any of the Christmas carols.
Why is it that singing carols has become such a powerful and memorable part of the Christmas season? It is, I believe, because singing enables us to express our joy, our wonder, our sorrow, and our worship in a way that unites us in a common emotional and spiritual bond. Furthermore, as I looked back over the birth narratives of Jesus I found that each stage of the story is punctuated by a song.
Let’s look back, especially at the Gospel of Luke, and mark the progression of the songs in the story. There are four songs associated with the birth and infancy of Jesus: the song of Mary (1:46-55); Zacharias (1:68-79); the angels (2:13-14); and Simeon (2:29-32). Look first at the song of Mary with me.
I) THE MUSIC OF MARY’S JOY (Luke 1:46-55)
Earlier Mary had been visited by the angel Gabriel who told the young bride-to-be that she was going to become pregnant and that she was being given the honor of giving birth to the Messiah, the Savior of the world. How heavy is that? How do you respond to an announcement like that? Mary’s response is somewhat muted at this point. All she says is, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, NKJV). Not exactly a celebratory response.
Later Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth who was experiencing a miracle of her own. When Elizabeth saw Mary the unborn baby John leaped in her womb and she was filled with the Spirit and began to prophesy concerning the blessing that Mary had been given to carry the Savior. It was at this point in the story that Mary breaks out into song.
Perhaps she needed confirmation from a trusted source. Maybe she was worried about what others would think. But it isn’t until her cousin affirms the promise that Mary sings her song.
When you read the birth narratives it almost sounds like a musical. The characters are going through the motions, they are living the drama and then suddenly, almost inexplicably, they break out in song. Beginning in verse 46 we read Mary’s song. We don’t know what the melody was like. We don’t know if it was a snappy tune or more somber note sung slowly. Look at the words with me in Luke 1, beginning at verse 46:
46And Mary said:
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
54 He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever." NKJV
Personally, I think that it was a happy, snappy tune. She said, “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Rejoicing suggests a hand-clapping, toe-tapping tune. In this song Mary celebrates the fact that God chose her. If she didn’t understand it at first, it appears that now she realizes that this is a blessing and not a burden.
The song suggests that Mary was not from a particularly wealthy family, or that she could boast of any worthiness on her part to be chosen. She rejoices, instead because God “exalted the lowly”. He didn’t choose a proud person, or a person of stature or wealth to give birth to the Messiah, but He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
When we sing the songs of Christmas, we should remember that none of us deserved the gift of the Son of God. None of us were worthy of the baby born in a sable and laid in manger. Mary acknowledges that God is not only mighty, but He is merciful as well. Merciful and mighty, good and great, God is wonderful and worthy to be praised in song.
I’m like Mary. When I think about where I was when Jesus found me, wrapped His arms around me, makes me want to shout, hallelujah, thank you Jesus! Makes me want to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
II) ZECHARIAS’ CHORUS (Luke 1:67-79)
It is an interesting fact of prophecy in Scripture that most of it is presented in poetic form. The words of Zacharias in chapter 1, verses 68 through 79 are no different. This is a poetic, lyrical utterance from Zacharias. In short, it is a song.
In this case, Zacharias has been mute from the time the angel visited him in the temple, until the eight day of the life of his son. It was on this day, at time of the circumcision of John, that Zacharias is given the power to speak again. When asked what Elizabeth and Zacharias wanted to name their son, Elizabeth said, “He shall be called John.” Since no one in their family was named John, they asked Zacharias what the baby should be named and he wrote on a tablet, “His name is John.” When he wrote this, he was given voice again and he began praising God. We are told that
67 . . . Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
68 "Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
74 To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
76 "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace." NKJV
Strictly speaking, this is a song celebrating the birth of John, but in this song Zacharias acknowledges the role and the responsibility that will be given to his son. He says, “You will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.”
His son was not the Messiah, but Zacharias broke into song simply because his son was going to be given the role of announcing the coming of Messiah. His son was going to prepare the way for the coming Savior. For Zacharias, this was an honor and a fact worthy of song.
Some folks won’t sing unless they are given the solo. Some won’t praise unless they are the person preaching. Some won’t show up for church unless their child has the lead in the Christmas play. Some won’t worship unless they are the one getting the blessing. Zacharias sings because he is honored that his son has a role in the drama. We may not get the spotlight, but just to be a part of the plan is a reason to rejoice. I might just be a shepherd in the nativity scene year after year, but I’m going to give it may all. Just to be called an heir and joint heir with Jesus, just to be a co-laborer with Christ is all the reason we ought to need to break forth in song and celebration.
It is interesting that the last words we read from John the Baptist are, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Think about this. Elizabeth was six months pregnant when Mary came to see her. So John was about six months older than Jesus. The early church chose December 25 as the birth date of Jesus because, according to their calendars, this was winter solstice, and from this point on the length of days begin to grow longer, the light increases.
Likewise, the early church placed John the Baptist’s birth date at June 24, which was where their calendars placed the summer solstice. From that day on the length of days decreased. Every Christmas season the truth of John’s final words are demonstrated in nature itself.
III) THE ANGELIC ANTHEM (Luke 2:13-14)
Only The Living Bible translates this text to say that the angels sang here. "Glory to God in the highest heaven, ‘they sang,’ and peace on earth for all those pleasing him." The King James Version of the Bible says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Many scholars see in this verse the chorus of a song that the early church sang.
I can imagine the shepherds making their way toward Bethlehem with this chorus stuck in their mind. You know what I’m talking about. That last song that you heard on the radio, that last song that the choir sung, that chorus that replays over and over in your mind and spirit. I can almost hear them humming the tune as they walked with visions of the Messiah dancing in their heads. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to all men.”
This is a powerful chorus extolling the goodwill of God in bringing to all men the Prince of Peace. This was a God thing, an act of God for which He alone deserves the praise and the glory. I know some folks would call me a stick in the mud, but my wife and I chose a long time ago to reserve the focus of Christmas for Christ alone. In our home you will not find decorations or ornaments, wrapping paper or cards that feature a man in a red suite. I’m not anti-Kris Kringle. I’m just extremely pro-Christ.
The song that resounds in my heart is not, “Here comes Santa Claus.” The song that resounds in my heart each Christmas is, “Hark, the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king!”
IV) SIMEON’S SONG (Luke 2:29-32)
The final song in this Nativity musical comes eight days after the birth of Jesus. His parents had not yet been visited by the Magi with their expensive gifts. They were people in a “lowly state,” visited by God and blessed to bring into this world the Son of God. Eight days after the birth of a male Jewish child, the Law of Moses said that the child was to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant that God had made with Abraham.
When this young couple came to the temple, they came with the child and with two pigeons to offer as a sacrifice. Pigeons were the offerings of the poor. If they could not afford a bullock, a ram, or a lamb, the worshipper was permitted to bring a dove or, at the bottom of the list, a pigeon. A young newly married couple came with a child born only eight days earlier. They started their family in a stable with a feed trough for the baby’s bed. But they were faithful to God and to the Law so they came with their sacrifice and with their infant son.
In the temple there was old man named Simeon. He had been promised by God that he would not die until his own eyes had beheld the Consolation of Israel, that is, the Messiah. He was a devout man upon whom the Holy Spirit moved. On this day the Spirit prompted him to go to the temple. On this day Simeon saw a young couple bringing their infant son to be circumcised and the Spirit told the old man, “This is what you’ve been waiting for. This is the Christ.”
As the young couple approached him, Simeon took the baby Jesus up in his arms, blessed God and said:
29 "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation
31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel." NKJV
Again, the lyrical and poetical nature of his words indicates that this elderly man of God broke out in song. This is a song of dreams come true, of promises fulfilled, of hope renewed. This was song of joy and a celebration of the faithfulness of God.
Sometimes we feel like we’ve been waiting most of our life
for God to come through for us. We’ve been clinging to that promise like a lifeline over a stormy sea of despair. In those times, and sometimes those times seem like a long time, we may be tempted to give in, to give up and go home. We may feel more like sighing than singing, more like doubting than dancing, more like crying than Christmas. But somewhere down deep, way down deep, there is a promise that we can’t give up on and we won’t let go of. Because despite what we feel like, or what things look like, we know that God is faithful. We’ve seen Him come through in His time, on time, every time and so we keep coming to the temple looking for the Consolation of Israel.
Simeon felt the Spirit moving that morning and something in that old man knew that this was the day. The melody was probably already playing in his mind before he gave voice to the lyrics. I’ll have to be honest, I feel like I will be alive to see the coming King. There is already a melody in my heart as I prepare to praise the Lamb of God who is coming to raise the righteous dead and to call His bride home.
Even now I feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit as He says, “Don’t quit, the end is in sight. Victory is at hand. Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but so much the more, because the end is approaching!” Hallelujah! I feel like Simeon, it’s been a long time in coming, but praise the Lord, Jesus is on His way!
God gave us a Savior on that first Christmas morn, but He gave us something else. He gave us a song. The government may take our Christmas songs out of the schools and replace them with holiday songs, but they can’t keep you from singing in your heart. They can’t take away the song that God has given you.
Our choir does a beautiful job every year as they prepare to sing the songs of the Christmas season. And in our singing we are in good company. With the examples of Mary, Zacharias, the angels and Simeon, we have ample precedence for singing during this season.
There may be many reasons why you don’t feel like singing. There may be many who don’t want you to sing. But like a character in a musical, be willing to break out in song and celebrate the gift of God to all of humanity.
Maybe you’re here today and you don’t feel the song. You can’t bring yourself to sing. Maybe you couldn’t purchase the gifts that you wanted to purchase. Maybe you can’t be with family this year. Maybe you miss those loved ones who have gone on to their reward. Could I encourage you today to find your song and sing anyhow? Sing because you have a right to, and sing because God is worthy of the glory and the praise. Almost two thousand years ago a baby was born, a man lived and died and rose again just so that you could sing the songs of Zion. Don’t disappoint the one who gave you the song.