By Deborah Webb

Posted by on Jan 12, 2014 in Faith Words |

Let Everyone Sing Amen

It is just four days after Christmas and we are tired, solemn and spent.  We lived in anticipation and excitement of Christmas Day.  Three months of build-up through shopping, cooking and Christmas music.  What has happened?  Now is when we should be celebrating Christ was born!!!  God has given us the greatest gift ever, His Son.  Why aren’t we more like the shepherds and Wise Men, moving closer to Christ in praise and worship?!

So much of the Christmas holiday season is the music, we hear.  It is rightly said, music is the universal language of the world.  The sacred and secular worlds have both chosen music as the language of the holiday.  Music, like the telling of Jesus’ birth, reaches and touches our hearts.

Knowing the origin and/or meaning of a song may help it take root in our lives, just like sharing the birth of Jesus reminds us how much God loved us to give His only son.  Now is the time we should be celebrating the love of God and the gift He gave.

Let’s look a few familiar hymns of Christmas, the stories of the shepherds and the Magi.  They are a guide to what we should be doing since the child’s birth.  Examine “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” whose author, James Montgomery, was described as a devoted noble person.

He greatly contributed to English hymnody.  This hymn was first published on Christmas Eve in 1816.  It told of the angel’s proclamation, the shepherd’s whereabouts and response to the “Good news,” and the prophecy and hope for the future carried by the magi.  We know from scripture that there was more than one shepherd in the fields near Bethlehem that heard the angel’s message.  We don’t know how many, if they were tending the same flock or several flocks.

The shepherds were on the night shift and already extremely vigilant because you can’t see anything in the dark.  Out of nowhere appears a glowing being in the sky talking to you.  No wonder the first words the angel said were “Be not afraid.”  Once the shepherds heard everything the angels had to say, did they leave the sheep for God and the angels to tend?  Did someone stay behind? Did they take the sheep with them?  After the Good News pronouncement the shepherds’ focus changed from the sheep to worshiping the infant King.  Is your focus on the infant King or is it on the gift you did or didn’t get?

Now, the Magi traveled a lot farther and longer.  A two year trek on a camel and/or walking is a painful trip.  They focused on the star.  Tradition – not the Bible – says there were three Kings. Tradition – not the Bible – named them.  It is supposed there were three because of the three gifts named, Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh. These gifts were probably named because they were the most valuable.  Customs of that time lead me to believe the Wise Men from the Orient brought many more gifts.  They were astronomers and scholars.  The Wise Men were persistent in their search for the light.  The Magi offered gifts of love, devotion, and service to the infant King.  Jesus was probably walking and talking by the time they reached him.  We know that Joseph moved his family from Bethlehem to Nazareth.  It is hard to calculate the position of a star when you and the star are both moving at the same time.  The Wise Men also knew they made a mistake stopping to tell Herod of the child’s birth.  They took the first big detour route.

John Hopkins, the composer, examines the significance of the three gifts to the baby.  Hopkins was an Episcopal minister and seminary teacher.  He is credited with the development of music in his denomination.  This carol was written in 1857 and a dramatic presentation was done in 1863.  Are we persistent in our following the light of Christ?  Do you stay on the path when it is long and painful?  Are we here to love and serve the Lord?

The infant King’s birth interrupted a silent night and His divinity made it a holy night.  Father Joseph Mohr and organist Franz Gruber wrote the beloved carol, “Silent Night, Holy Night” in

1818.  They served a parish in the Austrian Alps and often talked of the ideal Christmas hymn.  Father Mohr is believed to have written the text after visiting a parish family to welcome a new baby.  Upon his return to the parish, he learned the organ was not functioning.  Mohr wanted special music for Christmas Eve Mass.  Father Mohr showed the text to his fried who exclaimed

“Father Mohr, you have found it – the right song – God be praised.”  Gruber created the melody.  The words and music were a perfect blend and the two preformed the piece with guitar accompaniment.  The carol was first heard in the United States in 1839.

About 8 years ago , I attended a Christian Singles Fellowship Retreat at Jumonville over the Labor Day weekend.  The speaker for the weekend was Sue Thomas, a deaf former FBI agent.

She told of the difficulties and abuse she suffered because of her deafness.  Her parents were determined she would speak like any other child.  They refused to allow her to use sign language.  Sue told of being sent away, feeling lonely and unloved and unwanted.  She talked about a lesbian lifestyle and searching for something else.  A friend led her to Christ and every aspect of her life changed. The FBI employed deaf people for fingerprint identification.  They were put in a room to count the rings on a fingerprint, thus verifying the prints.  A surveillance tape of a mobster was made but the audio portion was not working.  It was important to the FBI they find out what was being said.  They knew that Sue could read lips and assigned her to that task.  During the retreat Sue learned that her story had been accepted as a television series, “Sue Thomas, FBI.”   Ms. Thomas left the best story for the last day and last session of the retreat.

Sue told how her mother taught her to play the piano.  Sue would sit on her mother’s lap as she played and allowed her to feel the vibrations.  Sue saw fingering and felt rhythm.  She played for us her mother’s favorite hymn, “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and a sweeter sound has never been heard.  We all cried with joy.

The two final songs I want to talk about come from my heritage and traditions.  They are “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Amen, Amen.”  African American spirituals evolved from community life and worship.  Slaves were not allowed to read and write and those who could kept that knowledge hidden for fear of punishment.  Spirituals took root in the 18th and 19th centuries at Southern Camp meetings.   Our stories and music were passed down through oral tradition.   Most stories and songs carried double meaning.   Literal content and codes for escape, means of travel and movement were part of the music and stories passed on.  Spirituals told of hope for a people of despair.

Even though all knew the songs, none were published before 1840.  “Go Tell It on the Mountain” consisted only of the refrain until John W. Work, Jr. and his brother promoted them.  John was a professor at Fisk University and wrote the stanzas.  Around this time the Fisk Jubilee Singers came into existence.  It was first published in 1897 in the  Folk Songs of the American Negro. The origin for “Amen” words and music are  only listed as traditional.  (Believe me, I looked.)  Spirituals give the message “here is your God.”  God is personal.  He is mine when I have nothing else.  No one can take Him away.

It is important that the whole church sing and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  No gift will ever be more personal, more valuable, or more needed.  God is here with us always.  Let the whole church sing “Amen!”