Next year, in 2019, the world will mark thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. While many were surprised by this “breaching of a monument to division” (David Lose, Working Preacher 2009), it is important to remember that this event was preceded for several months by the peaceful protests of the citizens of Leipzig. They gathered by candlelight on Monday nights outside of St. Nikolai Church, first by thousands, and then with numbers swelling to over three hundred thousand - more than half the population of that city - singing songs of peace and hope and protest. And then the wall began to come down.
We should never underestimate the power of song.
Theologian David Lose notes that in the Gospel of Luke, the birth narrative of Jesus is suffused with song (David Lose, Working Preacher, 2009). After Mary’s Magnificat, Zechariah will sing of God’s faithfulness to Israel through the birth of John the Baptist, then the angels will sing of Jesus’ birth, and then Simeon will sing of God’s mercy extended to all the world.
Why songs? Why move from narrative to poetry in scripture?
Two women meet, two cousins. Mary and Elizabeth, and the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt in recognition of the baby in Mary’s womb, who would be his cousin, but who was also so, so very much more. And Elizabeth praises Mary and gives glory to the Lord who will be born of Mary.
And suddenly the text of Luke, that has been moving us along in the prose of written narrative, shifts to poetry and a song, as Mary proclaims the now famous words of the Magnificat: “My Soul Proclaims the greatness of my God.”
Perhaps the writer of Luke, like the psalmists before him, knew that when we want to express the inexpressible, when we want to give voice to the deepest of the deep, poetry and song are our best chance.
And what could be deeper than the incarnating event of God into human flesh and blood within Mary’s womb? What could be deeper than Mary’s faithfulness in response to the endowment of this awesome gift from God to the world through her? What could be deeper than God’s work through this Messiah, who will soon be born a helpless babe and someday die willingly and helplessly on the cross to save us from our sins?
And so Mary and Zechariah and the angels and Simeon break into song. And so do we, praising God and giving thanks for God’s faithfulness through the ages. We sing our way through Advent, preparing a way for the Lord. We sing our way through Christmas Eve, proclaiming with carols old-made-new the joyous truth of God’s love born of Christ for the world.
For while words alone can not approach and sum up the awesomeness of God’s power and love and faithfulness revealed and being revealed in this world, songs may get close. Songs may fill hearts and open eyes and open hearts. And the people gathered in song may even bring down walls – figurative and literal – song gathered to conquer hate and end injustice, just as our Savior desires to end injustice and heal this world.
Ultimately the power vested in Mary and Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon that leads them to pour out their hearts in song, this is the same power that will be vested in the disciples and in us: this power comes from the presence of Jesus in their lives, the presence of the Messiah changing their lives and ours.
This is the power God is using to help us to get ready to welcome the Messiah this Christmas. This is the joy and the wonder, the hope and the expectation that make babies leap in the womb, Mary burst into song, and smiles leap to our faces. This is the presence and power of God that will be born again in us, leaping forth with its world-changing desire in song and through the loving actions of our hearts and hands.
The arrival of the Christ is almost here. Indeed it is time to burst forth in song!