Monday, January 4, 2016

Love Songs

December 20, 2015, Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 52:7-10
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

The people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, were in exile, captives in Babylon. They had been taken away from their homes after they had again strayed from God’s law. Things weren’t quite as bad as they had been when they were slaves in Egypt. At least in Babylon, they had a little bit of freedom. But still, it was not home. They were waiting for God’s deliverance – some were waiting patiently, but mostly they were anxiously anticipating God’s deliverance. So when they heard the prophetic words of Isaiah that we are about to hear, they did not say to themselves, “Oh, that will be nice some day -- five or six hundred years from now!” They did not hear these words as a prediction of a Messiah to be born five centuries from then – they were ready to be delivered from their exile!

As it eventually happened, Cyrus of Persia – the area that is now Iran, was Israel’s deliverer, when he conquered Babylon and set them free. We, of course, hear this prophecy in a very different way. We hear the news of a Messiah, coming to deliver us. Let’s listen for the good news of God’s reign in Isaiah 52:7-10.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.

Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

What a vivid prophecy that is – this image of a messenger, running breathlessly down the mountain toward the watchtower! This messenger brings word of the battle won – God’s shalom has conquered the world! God’s peace has covered the earth! Even the rubble of the damaged city sings out: “God rules! The God of Israel reigns over all creation! It is a proclamation of victory, a victory that does not belong to this or that king, to this or that country, to this or that ideology. The victory belongs to God alone.” (Dirk Lange, Working Preacher) The song echoes out from the mountain and across the valleys, through the plains and to the watchtower. Even from a great distance, the sentinels on the watchtower perceive the good news and sing along – they burst into song along with the messenger: “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God!”

This shalom that God has promised –peace on earth – is not merely an end to war.
It is wholeness, health and harmony for all of creation. It is the restoration of God’s purposes for humankind, the rebalancing of nature, the realm of reconciliation promised in the covenant. For the Israelites, it is the love song that calls them home. For us, in this century, the melody of that promise rings out again, amid the strife and grief that surround us, louder even than our glad songs of Christmas. This song of love, of being called home, sings to our hearts, to our deepest, truest longings.

This music is more powerful than any individual song, more powerful than any solo tune.
It is a chorale, a joining of voices in a song of salvation, not personal salvation for me alone, but the salvation of the world through God’s love. The song of good news is the song of the church, the song we sing together.

I mentioned last week that singing is good for us, both physically and psychologically.
You already know that singing releases chemicals in your brain – endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin – chemicals that make you feel better. Singing makes you breathe more deeply, which makes you feel even better! Singing lifts your mood.

But even better than singing alone is singing with other people. Singing with other people just makes you feel good. Singing in a choir or a congregation improves your well-being.

It increases positive feelings, focuses your attention, gives you social support and brain stimulation. Choral singing improves social skills and overall mental health. It even makes you feel better about yourself – yes, even if you don’t think you sing well, choral singing increases your self-esteem!

And what I found amazing: when people sing together, they come together in harmony in body as well as spirit. Their breathing, neural functions, and muscular movements synchronize. Even their heartbeats synchronize. Not only do their voices harmonize, their hearts do too!

This wholeness and harmony, this synchronicity produced by singing is to me a reflection of God’s shalom, an expression of the cosmic harmony God desires for us. A simpler way to say it is “love.”

You know those cheesy old movie scenes, where the two people in love see each other and rush into each other’s arms, and they are saying “John!” “Marsha!” “John!” “Marsha!” and then they embrace and the violins come up in the background and the symphony swells and the angels sing? That’s almost what it is like in Isaiah’s vision of God’s shalom, the beautiful feet of the messenger, hurrying to the welcoming arms of the sentinels on the watchtower, all of them singing, all of creation singing, as God’s good news comes to pass!

This is indeed the song of the church, the song that when we sing it together in harmony, increases our well-being, gives us joy, and confidence, and actually makes our hearts beat as one! The song of the church throughout the year is the anthem of good news for all people, a melody of peace, of God’s shalom.

The people of Israel were awaiting redemption, waiting for salvation, and it would come to them, not five hundred years later, but in their lifetimes. We too await redemption, in this season. We anticipate the coming of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. And he does come to us, not as a mighty warrior, or even a prince of this world, but as a baby, small and helpless, like us.

He comes as a demonstration of God’s grace and mercy, the embodiment of the love of God.
How beautiful are the feet of the messenger, tiny pink baby toes, there in the manger;
how beautiful are those dusty calloused heels, walking through Galilee; how beautiful are those feet, bruised and pierced, nailed to a cross, the feet of the savior, the one who brings good tidings of peace.

So what can we do but join the choir, the choir of every time and place, every race and nation, every blade of grass, every stone, all creation –
Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted us!,
God has redeemed Jerusalem, and Washington DC and Sterling and all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

It is a song of hope and joy and deliverance, a song that rings out across the centuries –
God is redeeming the earth! Not five hundred years from now, but today, in this moment, salvation comes to this people.

That’s the song of the church.
That’s the song of Advent.
That is God’s love song.
It is our song too.

Amen.




Sources
"America Ranks Choruses as #1 Form of Arts Participation." Chorus America. Feb. 25, 2003.
http://www.rrcb.org/documents/chorusamerica.doc

Allot, Serena. "Why singing makes you happy." Telegraph. March 26, 2009.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/wellbeing/5050461/Why-singing-makes-you-happy.html

"Choral singing and psychological wellbeing: Findings from English choirs in a cross-national survey using the WHOQOL-BREF." International Symposium on Performance Science, 2007
http://www.newcastle.edu.au/Resources/Research%20Centres/ArtsHealth/Choral-singing-and-psychological-wellbeing.pdf

MacLean, Tamara. "Choral singing makes you happy: survey." Sydney Morning Herald. July 10, 2008.
http://news.smh.com.au/national/choral-singing-makes-you-happy-survey-20080710-3cyg.html

"Singing to females makes male birds' brains happy." EurekAlert. Oct. 3, 2008.
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/plos-stf100308.php

Does Singing Make You Happy? By Julia Layton
http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/singing-happy1.htm

A Fascinating thing happens to the heartbeats of choir members
http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/07/11/a-fascinating-thing-happens-to-the-heartbeats-of-choir-members-when-they-sing/

TIME – Singing changes your braing
http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/

Slate.com
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2013/07/singing_in_a_choir_research_shows_it_increases_happiness.html

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