Mourning in lonely exile. Such was the description of the Israelites, for a time exiled in Babylon, who awaited the day the Messiah would come.
The advent carol “O, Come, O Come Emmanuel” features minor chords and a contemplative tempo. It describes the human condition well.
These same adjectives described Naomi and perhaps also Ruth in the opening chapters of the book of Ruth. These women had both lost their husbands, and Naomi her two sons. They were lonely. They were mourning. And Naomi, at any rate, was in a foreign country, far from home and extended family.
Realizing how our own lives often parallel that of Naomi and Ruth, we sing this mournful song in hopes that Christmas will somehow dispel the gloom. The confident refrain: Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel, reminds us that when God chooses to come to us, there will be rejoicing. Even in our loneliest, most sorrowful moments, the idea of God With Us, or Emmanuel, is more than comforting.
When we have God with us, we have the creator and redeemer of the world living right with us. Thank you, Lord for the gift of your presence with us. There is no greater gift.
And as Christmas Day 2014 fades into memory, we look ahead to how we might model emmanuel for others. How can our presence be the personal touch that someone else needs? And who can we share time with? When we give our time, our presence to hurting people, we share God’s love and presence as well.
Lyrics express the poet’s message. Music is the vehicle for taking the message into the heart and soul.
Emotions like love, mourning, despair, joy, sadness, and melancholy find expression in music that reflects them. Upbeat, major keys strike a chord of happiness. Minor keys and slower tempos speak of sorrow or loneliness, even without lyrics. Loud, heavy metal speaks of anger. Rap often resonates with a grinding monotony that may speak to boredom or hopelessness. Peace accompanies certain melodies, and soft refrains. Creativity and exploration come with musical surprises, often in the form of jazz.
Steve Martin once sang a funny song about the music of atheism: “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” People of faith have always used music. The Psalms were mostly written 3000 years ago by a shepherd king named David. Some songs are even found in Exodus. And new songs are written every day about the same God who delivered the Hebrew slaves.
Christian hymns have long been a means to greater, deeper understanding of our faith. It has been said that the Bible is God’s Word to us, and the Hymnal is our response to God. Great hymn writers like Charles Wesley gave us poetry to fit our faith in words like these: ‘Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!” Or like the song of invitation, “Just as I am, without one plea, …” Or the evangelical testimony of “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.” “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!”
Contemporary songs often cut to the core of relationship. “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God.” “I could sing of your love forever.” “He’ll break open the skies to save the one who cries out his name. The one the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save you.”
Whether we need to be reassured of God’s love for us, or convinced of his power to heal and help, songs and hymns can open a space in our hearts for these deep convictions. Whether we are thankful for blessings or perplexed over tragedy, songs can connect us to God. Whether we are tired of striving and persecution and pain or suddenly freed from the weight of sin, there are psalms and songs to sing through the tears.
Using music in Bible study has great potential, especially with teens. Peter Rock Star from Galilee uses contemporary songs and a few hymns in playlists at the start of each chapter. The themes in the selections match the study and discussion topics of the week.
Music reaches deeper into our hearts than words alone. Music is a vehicle for praise and thanksgiving. I hope there is a song in your heart today.