Have you ever sung a song that had a long rest in the middle of it?
Have you ever sung a song that changed time signatures?
Sometimes it works and sometimes you really have to practice it to make it work. That is the worship song sung when we are waiting. It’s a song of stops and starts. It’s a song of death and sacrifice.
Doesn’t sound much like Christmas, does it?
The problem is that most of our worship songs are about our emotional response to God. They are songs with a lot of emotional language. They are songs that are “heavy on the Spirit (and it’s accompanying imagery of flames, wind, and doves), but usually thin on (if not bereft of) the topic of bleeding birds and beasts.”* In other words, our songs don’t deal with bloody sacrifice.
I admit, it’s a hard concept for us in the modern world. Most of us don’t even go deer hunting! We buy our meat at the grocery store wrapped in clear plastic and with little blood. We don’t think much about blood or sacrifice.
The other problem is that we forget two crucial facts: the holiness of God and the sinfulness of fallen man. We tend to forget how holy God is and we discount how sinful we are. Let me tell you a Christmas story to illustrate it…
Once upon a time, there was a King. This Good King David (not Wenceslas!) wanted to bring the Ark of God up to Jerusalem so God would be close to his people and could live in a house, not at tent. Sounds like a good idea, right? Anyway, despite what God had previously commanded, Good King David decided to put the Ark on a cart pulled by two oxen. When one of the oxen stumbled, a man walking beside the cart, named Uzzah, reached out to keep the Ark from falling in the dirt. When he touched the Ark, God struck him down and he died.
Ok, that wasn’t really a Christmas story. But it illustrates what happens when sinful man comes in contact with the holy God. Writer R.C. Sproul once said,
“Uzzah presumed his hands were cleaner than the dirt. God said no.”
But all is not lost. This IS about a Christmas song after all! The good news is that God comes down into history and redeems. He did that through the bloody sacrifices of Israel. He did that through sending his son as a baby who would die a bloody death for the sins of the world.
It’s a song of sacrifice from Abraham that becomes a song of freedom from the chains of Egypt with a bridge that sounds like the song of the road through the desert. The last verse is the a song from the Promised Land that God is with us. It’s the song of Israel…it is a hopeful song of waiting through the stops and starts and changing time signatures.
The amazing thing is that this song was started by God.
It wasn’t started by us.
It doesn’t end with us.
It was started and ended by God. So the song always comes back to the hope of a baby who is the Prince of Peace.
That sounds like a Christmas carol I could sing.
**Many of these ideas and the metaphor of the “song” come from “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper.