Music as Witness to the Heart of the Gospel ©

Over the past three weeks I have had the privilege of attending three different Advent worship services that were structured around hymns and carols, choral presentations and contemporary praise, full throated singing and quiet prayer music. Each of the three services has brought a deep joy and great blessing to my life.  So too the congregations were blessed and spiritually lifted. As I mentally gaze back over those services of worship, I am struck again on how music and theology intersect at the heart to the gospel, the core of our faith. In the music, the hymns, carols and praise choruses – we spiritually soar above the shattered landscape of modern living and offer, both to ourselves and to those who do not know Christ, the heart of the gospel. Today in my devotional time I was reading E. Stanley Jones’ The Way.  This great Christian called attention to Luke 11:9-10. (“And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened.”)  Dr. Jones noted that in “asking” we move from question to quest by knocking on the door of faith.  What else can be done in faith but journey metaphorically and spiritual once again to a Bethlehem stable?  What else must be done but to give Him, the Lord, once again our gifts? As I reflected on this teaching in my own mind I made the connection about the way music itself helps us ask and seek after the heart of the gospel. Music compels us to inquiry and searching through its very beauty.  This is what happened to me as I participated in these three worship experiences.  One of the most evangelistic things a Christian can do is to invite a non- (or nominal) Christian to such a worship.    What great theology and even greater witness is taught in the faith songs of the season!  Consider the witness: “O come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh; To us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go.” (“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” Hymn No.211, The United Methodist Hymnal)  Or “What child is this who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; Haste, haste to bring him laud, the baby, the son of Mary.” (“What Child is This,” Hymn No.219, The United Methodist Hymnal) Connect the hymn-song witness with the way the Apostle Paul focuses us on the heart of the gospel. “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I didn’t come preaching God’s secrets to you like I was an expert in speech or wisdom. I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified” (I Corinthians 2:1-2).  I suspect Paul could have almost as easily said, “and to preach him born in a manger.” This is the heart of the gospel. The outrageous claim that the God of the Universe, the Lord of creation itself, was born and “dwelt among us” (literally pitched his tent in our midst! See John 1:14). This too remains at the heart of the gospel witness as expressed in the very closing verses of Holy Scripture.  “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God’” (Revelation 21:3).  It is still true today! Here revelation is piled on outrage, illuminated by a star, and proclaimed to shepherds and kings; and yes, in music proclaimed again as God’s great truth and even greater love to you and me. “In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.” (“In the Bleak Midwinter,” Hymn No.221, The United Methodist Hymnal)