Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Today, the world is filled with music. As Christ draws near, our joy takes the familiar shape of song and carol. What other season is so tied to melody? What other event in human history has sparked so much music? And for good reason. The anticipation of the arrival of Jesus at Christmas gives us something worth singing about.
It’s always been this way. The first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke read like a hymnal, recording the responses of Zechariah at the birth of John the Baptist, the Magnificat of Mary when she learns of Jesus’ coming, and the chorus of the angels filling the skies with brilliance and glory.
Why songs? They are not essential. They are not very practical. There are far more efficient and clear ways to communicate an idea. Songs are not essential, but instead they are extravagant. The overflow of the excess of the heart. They are a means of expressing the heart when mere words won’t do the trick.
Songs are an offered-up act of beauty. And what better way for us to respond to the act of beauty offered up in Christmas? They orient us again in truth that can’t be neatly contained within lists of pro and con, ledgers of black and red. Zephaniah charges us in this passage to sing and shout and rejoice, even in the face of fear. To raise our voices against the chaos that we face, not in anger, but with a song. As the farmer-poet Wendell Berry in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” put it, “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. . . . Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” Why? Because the one who defends us also delights over us. The songs we sing don’t start with us. They are echoes back to the Singer himself. Zephaniah tells us that our Mighty Warrior God is singing over us. What a strange thought. Yes, we sing to him from the overflow of our joy. But imagine a God so filled with love for his people that he sings to us from the overflow of his joy.
When there’s nothing you can say to capture the power of a moment, sometimes you have to let lyrics speak for you. Sometimes you have to let the melody translate what is happening in your heart. Sometimes all you can do is sing.
Holy Spirit, sing the truth and strength and grace over us and teach us to live in step with your music.
AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH, AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US.
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