Monday, January 4, 2016

Breathless Joy

December 13, 2015, Third Sunday of Advent
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Luke 2:8-14
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Truthfully, it is really hard to imagine how I could add anything to the presentation we’ve all just enjoyed. But, it is Sunday, and somebody gave me a microphone…

The Sunday of the children’s program is one of my favorite days of this season of the year, and for me, the singing is just about the best part of Christmas. I love to sing any time, especially with other people, so when we sing in church, it just makes me happy. When we sing in church this time of year, everybody knows most of the songs, and almost everybody likes to sing them, and almost everybody sings louder, and stronger. You should hear you sometime – it’s pretty great!

I’ve known people over the years who thought they couldn’t sing. Admittedly, I’ve known a few people who really couldn’t sing, but very few, and even they could enjoy singing! One man told me how the elementary school music teacher made him lip-synch during the Christmas program – “Just move your lips,” she said. “Don’t let any sound come out.” This guy LOVED to sing, but he would only sing Christmas carols, when there were lots of other people singing, and lots of eggnog.

I’ve also heard some great stories about people who ran out of breath, literally ran out of breath while singing, and passed out cold. Curiously, according to their stories, this happened while singing either Panis Angelicus, “Bread of Angels” or “Angels We Have Heard On High” – you know, that Gloooooooooooooria part? Something about angel songs makes humans breathless, I guess!

This is our third week of our series “Hark the Glad Sound!” and once again, we have heard a song in response to God’s promise, a melody of God’s grace and justice. Zechariah’s song, Mary’s song, and the angels song have different words but the same message – in the birth of Jesus, a new world is about to be born. Those who have turned away from God will turn back. Those who have relied on their power and wealth will be knocked off their high horse and the lowly will be lifted up. Those who have glorified themselves, those who have made war, are about to hear the angels singing “Glory to God! and peace on earth!”

Everything is going to change – God’s realm is going to shift the balance and the rich, mighty and powerful are going to change their tune. All of the earth will rejoice and sing a new song. In the birth of a Jewish baby in an obscure town in an occupied country, God is breaking into the world. God is breaking into the world and the world is breaking into song.

The angels’ song of joy invites us to join in. Don’t you wonder what it might sound like?
Wouldn’t just hearing it make you breathless with joy? We sing when we are joyful, but did you know that we become more joyful when we sing together? I’ll be talking about that more next week, but for now, take my word for it…

Singing releases chemicals in your brain – endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin – that make you feel better. And because singing requires breath control, you have to breathe more deeply, which oxygenates your blood, which makes you feel even better! Singing actually can lift your mood, even singing sad songs. And there is nothing like singing to express joy. The joy of Christmas, the joy that makes us breathless, and the joy that gives us breath to sing with the angels, is the joy that God loves us so much.

The joy of Christmas is that God loves us enough to break into our world, not as a mighty conqueror but as a helpless baby.

God is breaking into the world.
God is breaking into the world
and the world is breaking into song.

Immanuel, God-with-us, has come to be in our world.
That’s why we sing.
That’s how we live.
That’s breathless joy.

Allot, Serena. "Why singing makes you happy." Telegraph. March 26, 2009.

"Choral singing and psychological wellbeing: Findings from English choirs in a cross-national survey using the WHOQOL-BREF." International Symposium on Performance Science. 2007.

Layton, Julia. Does Singing Make You Happy?

MacLean, Tamara. "Choral singing makes you happy: survey." Sydney Morning Herald. July 10, 2008.

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