Have you ever had a song or melody in your head and were not able to shake it no matter how hard you tried? It just went round and round and on and on in your brain. Occasionally it may have even forced its way out of the inside of your head in the form of humming, whistling or even operatic singing, much to the enjoyment or discomfort of anyone within earshot. Advent and Christmas are seasons filled with music that stays with us. Both the melodies and the songs are often uplifting (Joy to the World), wistful (O Come Emmanuel) or unabashedly boisterous (the Halleluiah Chorus). Much of it is based on Scripture such as today’s reading from Isaiah. This reading has provided the inspiration for at least two movements of Handel’s Messiah, "Comfort, Comfort My People" and "Every Valley". Also several versions of "Like a Shepherd", contemporary as well as from older traditions, have their roots in this Scripture. And this is just one reading from the Advent cycle!
Christians often bemoan the belief that "Christ has been taken out of Christmas" in our secular American society and that the separation of Church and state must be absolute even in Holiday culture. But to even the most strident of secularists jingling bells and frosty snowmen and red nosed reindeer can wear thin when those superficial songs are heard over and over. There comes a longing for melody and lyrics of depth and meaning that can move the inner spirit to heights of hope and peace, to love, kindness and unity with others that may not last but at least comes once a year. May our prayer today be one of thanks for musicians and composers, ancient and contemporary, who have given us a very simple way to carry the meaning of Christmas in our minds, hearts and even voices.
Cathy Anthony is on the staff of St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center, Detroit, Michigan.