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Why We Sing

St. John’s Lutheran Church
24 December 2023 + Advent 4b
Luke 1:46b-55
Rev. Josh Evans

Between two concerts, Beer & Carols, and a Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, it’s been a very musical week.

It started a week ago Saturday, when I had the opportunity to attend Joy & Harmony, the Albany Gay Men’s Chorus holiday concert, in the packed sanctuary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. After a line-up of sacred and secular holiday pieces, the concert ended with its trademark finale, “Why We Sing.” The text written by composer Greg Gilpin reminds us of the power of music:

A sound of hope, a sound of peace…
A sound of love, a sound so strong…
Soothe a soul, mend a heart…
Music builds a bridge,
it can tear down a wall…
This is why we sing.

Music has power.

Think about your favorite song – holiday or otherwise. Why is it your favorite? There’s almost certainly a story behind it for you.

It’s more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s scienceMusician and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin talks about the ways feelings can affect our bodies — or what we might call nostalgia:

“When we hear a song we haven’t heard in a long time,” Levitin says, “it can trigger long-dormant memories, even ones we thought we’d forgotten. And the reason is that a lot of songs we hear are attached to a particular time and place, and so they get tagged with all the events and feelings and sights and sounds of that time and place.”

Levitin also goes on to talk about the ways that music can even evoke a “beautiful sadness” in us. “Sad” music, he says, can release the hormone prolactin – the same soothing, even tranquilizing, hormone that’s released when mothers are nursing their infants.

Music has power. It unlocks memories, and stirs up emotions.

The same is true of the music we sing in church. Did you ever notice the tiny red italicized rubrics in our hymnal under the hymn of the day in the order of service? The assembly stands to proclaim the word of God in song.

Music has power, and it tells a story.

Today, Mary sings – a song so important that the lectionary includes it two weeks in a row.

Mary’s song has power.

At the center of her song, Mary describes the works of God. She sings of a God who shows mercy to those who fear God and who scatters the proud, who brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things and sends away empty those who amass and hoard their wealth.

Mary sings of a God who flips the world on its head – defying the status quo and subverting our expectations of how the world-as-it-is operates. Mary’s song subverts all expectations and shows us God’s mighty power to save and to bring about the world-as-it-can-be.

Mary’s song has power.

On this Advent Sunday, as the world again anticipates the birth of the Christ Child at Christmas, as the very land of his birth cries out in pain from amidst the rubble of war, Mary’s song boldly, defiantly, and subversively looks at the world around her and proclaims: There is a different way.

Mary’s song has power – and it empowers us to proclaim: The world is about to turn.

Because of Mary’s song – and the promise that it holds and brings to birth – this is why we sing.

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