The following sermon was preached on December 24, 2022 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Merry Christmas everyone!

It feels so good to be with you in this space this evening. When I was preparing this sermon I realized that the last time I was at an in person Christmas Eve service was three years ago. Last year I was prepared to celebrate with you all, but then we were shut down at the very last minute and we shifted to a recorded service instead.

So as it’s been so long since I’ve gotten to do this, let me say it again, “Merry Christmas!”

Ok, so I know that you can’t see my footnotes when I’m speaking and I want you to know that large portions of what I’m going to share with you tonight come from Paul Fromberg’s excellent book, “The Art of Transformation.”

There has been a lot of things that have been incredibly hard about the past number of years, but one of the hardest things for me was the point in the pandemic when I learned that it was dangerous to sing with other people.  Having to tell my community that was already suffering that we couldn’t sing together is something I hope I will never have to do again.

I love music, but I have a special place in my heart for musicals.  I listen to them all the time and when I got to go to New York to the actual Broadway this fall, I cried the first time I entered a theater. I couldn’t believe I was really there.

Some people claim they don’t like musicals, but I don’t really believe them. I think they’ve probably just seen a bad musical and if they could see a really good one they’d change their mind.

The most common reason I’ve heard for disliking musicals is that they are “so unrealistic, I mean, people don’t just go around breaking into song all the time.”

Which, I think is really sad, because personally, I break into song all the time. I even compose my own at a rate of about one to two songs per day.

They’re not good, no one is buying tickets to hear me sing about how I forgot to buy milk again but singing makes me happy, so I keep singing.

Breaking out into song is also very, very Biblical.

People in the Bible break into song all the time. Cross over the red sea? Sing a song.  Sitting by the shores of Babylon? Sing a song.  Happy, angry, sad? Sing a song. Frustrated, joy-filled, mistreated by the ruling powers of the day? Sing a song.

There are about as many types of songs in the Bible as there are people willing to sing them. These songs express the whole range of human emotions and experiences. There’s even a whole book of really sexy songs, that we rarely use in church, called rather poetically, the “Song of Songs.”

It’s hard for me to just read the words from Isaiah that we heard tonight because whenever I hear those words I also hear the music of Handel’s Messiah. I don’t want to read them, I want to sing them.

The Book of Luke, where tonight’s gospel text is taken from, is filled with people bursting into song. There are four songs in the early part of Luke’s gospel that are still prayed regularly today. Whenever we sing “Glory to God” we’re echoing the angels’ song to the shepherds.  If you pray morning and evening prayer, you’ll likely pray with songs by Mary, Simeon, and Zachariah. All of these songs are taken from Luke.

Maybe the gospel of Luke is actually a musical and that’s why I like it so much.

The Christmas story begins when the angel Gabriel is sent to Mary’s home in a small town in Galilee with a message.  “Greetings favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

And Mary thought, “That’s an odd way to greet someone, I wonder what’s going on?”

And Gabriel continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

And Mary said, “Cool. But that’s weird because I know how babies are made, and what you’re describing doesn’t match with anything I’ve ever heard before.”

And Gabriel says, “You’re right, it’s totally weird, but God likes weird and all the details are already sorted. Don’t worry about it. And you know what else? Your relative Elizabeth, who is waaaaay too old to have a baby, is also pregnant. It’s all part of God’s plan to turn the world on its head.”

And Mary said, “Cool. Let’s do this.”

After this meeting with Gabriel, and after Mary has had some time to think, she visits Elizabeth and that meeting inspires Mary to burst into song.  A song that we still sing to this day. A song that we have given the fancy name, “The Magnificat.”

Mary’s song goes like this:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant.
Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;
50 indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has come to the aid of his child Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham, Sarah and their children forever.”

When people come to the limits of their lives, they sing. People sing in these liminal spaces because singing is the only thing that makes sense when you’re faced with a mystery.

Mary’s song is particularly powerful in the face of the mystery she bears in her body. She sings as if the good news she bears is already accomplished, as if the powerful have already been removed from their thrones. As if the lowly have already been lifted up.

She recognizes something about God that we still have trouble getting: God is siding with all of the beaten and excluded people that have dared to sing in the face of suffering and subjugation. Ever since there have been people who were denied their essential dignity, God has been right there, right next to them, preparing a way out of all that darkness. That’s who God is, and Mary knows it, and she can’t help but sing. (106)

As many of you know I take Advent very seriously and it’s a practice that I have developed a deep appreciation of over the past fifteen years or so.  One of the major objections I’ve heard from people who are skeptical of the practice is that they love Christmas carols so much they can’t imagine having to wait to sing them until the 25th of December.  They could get behind Advent if it had a better soundtrack.

Well, maybe it’s because I love Advent music or maybe it’s because I spent so many years working in retail but I know that listening to Christmas music for two solid months is just not for me. Starting to listen to it today and then listening for the full 12 days of Christmas is the perfect amount of time for me.

But there are some songs in Luke, that I need to hear every day. And the song Mary sings as a response to her pregnancy is one of them. The Magnificat is a song filled with good news. A song that invites us to image a different way of being, a song that invites us to participate in the re-creation and redemption of this world.

My friend Jaylene Johnson is an incredibly talented musician. She wrote a version of Mary’s Magnificat called “Amazing Love” and it contains this line, “My soul sings, God is great, and my spirit lets down her weight.”

My spirit lets down her weight.

Singing does this for me. It helps me realize what is weighing me down and it helps me set down that weight, even if I know I will soon need to pick it back up again. Even when I know that my words of praise are less an accurate reflection of how I am feeling in that moment and more of an act of defiance.   I don’t always sing about peace, joy, hope, and love because I am feeling those things. Sometimes as I am singing my soul is heavy with a longing to feel them.

Singing can be an act of comfort, an act of praise, an act of defiant hope.  Singing with other people amplifies those things.

I am so grateful that we are able to sing together again.

Singing allows our spirits to let down their weight.

To gather together on a cold dark December evening to sing together “may seem like a small thing in the face of the worries of this present darkness. But it has always been from such small things that greater light spreads across the world.” (107)

So tonight we are gathered to hear an ancient story. We are gathered to feast on bread and wine.  We are gathered to sing.

We are gathered to sing songs about hope in the face of despair. Songs about peace, joy, and hope and love coming into the world. We will sing about “Joy to the World” and “tidings of comfort and joy.”

We will sing with Mary, with the angels, with the shepherds who I also imagine couldn’t help but break out into song as a response to all they were experiencing.

And when we sing, may we sing like we really mean the words we’re singing – whether that’s because we believe each word with all our heart, our because we’re holding out a defiant kind of hope that, despite the fact that we can’t believe today, we may be able to believe tomorrow.

May our singing be filled with a longing for beauty, for a better world than the one we experienced today. May our singing let others know that they are welcome to join in the song. May our singing be free from the shame that we’ve been taught to connect to the quality of our voices.

What is your song like these days? I don’t necessarily mean, what is the song that when you hear it you turn up the volume proclaiming, “It’s my song!” I mean, what is capturing your attention? What is closest to your heart?

Is it a hymn of praise? of lament? of wonder? of impatience? Have you perhaps become so busy that you’re not even sure? Are you perhaps afraid to sing because admitting you long for something opens you to the possibility of being hurt? Have you forgotten how to listen to and sing your own song?

It can be a very worthwhile exercise to reflect on the songs that impact you deeply – those from scripture, popular culture, and the ones you write for yourself.

Where have you experienced moments of pure joy or wonder? When was the last time you let yourself play or embrace a childlike sense of wonder without worrying if other people might think you’re weird?

What are the things you hold closest to your heart? The things you might be hesitant to share with other people. The things that make you tear up when you try to express them.  What are you longing for this Christmas?

If you have stopped singing. If you feel so tired and wounded that you don’t even feel up to a song of lament, be gentle with yourself and ask these questions: When was the last time you sang? Why did you stop? What would it take to begin to sing again?

Whatever your song is, I hope you find time to sing it. Whatever your song is, I hope you can honour the feelings and the emotions that it expresses.

And I hope you’ll find time not just to sing that metaphorical song, I hope you’ll find time over this next year to literally sing with other people, to sing with us.

And may that singing allow you to put down some of the weight your soul is carrying and experience true peace and joy.

Merry Christmas everyone!

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.