Singing for Hope and Joy

Something is amiss this Christmas Season…

True. We are all trying to survive a pandemic and we are all affected by it in different ways.  However, Christians previously struggled and never failed to be joyful during the Advent and Christmas season.  So, why do I find it so difficult to ignite that spark in my heart to feel hopeful and joyful this year?

I wonder…I wonder if it could be the lack of singing as a community that puts a damper in my spirit!

Something happens when we sing.  When we feel the vibration from singing within the cells in our bodies, we are invigorated! When we sing with a community, we are encouraging one another with the meaningful lyrics that are readily understood by the other, responding to others by singing the exact same words that they offered! It’s true that we sing to praise God in our communal worship, but we also sing as one Body of Christ and get that mystery through the embodiment of our beliefs. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand and agree with the need to not sing together during this pandemic.  I read many good scientific reports on the possible spread of the coronavirus through respiratory droplets and aerosols. We really should not aid the transmission of this terrible virus with our vocal projections.  That said…I think there is a really a huge loss for our worship and spiritual experience when we cannot sing together at church, especially during this Advent and Christmas season.

Advent hymns are all often filled with hopeful messages, such as “Come, O long expected Jesus born to set your people free…from captivity”, “In sorrow that the ancient curse…You came, O Savior, to set free Your own in glorious liberty”, or “When hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away.”  These hymns were sung through generations. The words remind us of our Hope was here, is here and will be here, no matter what circumstances in which we find ourselves. Sure, we may hear a single cantor singing those words for us, but we will simply be bystanders to those words and messages. In fact, most hymns are not even sung with all the stanzas by the cantor at church these days. Without the congregation joining in singing, music is treated more like decorations to our liturgies. In the last few months, I often hear one single verse of the first hymn sung by the cantor, just long enough for the priest to reach the altar from the church entrance. The first hymn is no longer a gathering hymn. To me, there is simply nothing like feeling the vibrations of every syllable in our bones for the messages to be hammered into my soul.   

Earlier, I checked out Christmas hymns from hymnals of several Christian congregations. I realised our Catholic Book of Worship has only three stanzas for Joy to the World, compared to the printed versions of the same hymn in hymnals of other denominations.  I wonder why the third stanza of the original Joy to the World is left out from our hymnals. Perhaps, whoever compiled the hymns thought we should only focus on the joyful glories of the Lord?  The original third stanza reminds us that God’s blessings flow, regardless of sins and sorrows in our lives. For our sakes during this pandemic time, I think it is good to remember He rules the world with truth. That would include our first parents’ original sin, our pains and sorrows, and all the frustrations that come with our current pandemic.  There should be no fear of singing about that as we sing that at the end, the wonders of His love will bring us Joy to this world.

I prescribe myself one possible antidote for the lack of Hope and Joy this season: To sing my heart out, preferably with someone in my household.  We still have a few more days of Advent.  Let’s sing all the Advent hymns we know. And if no one else in your household would sing with you, there are lots of good recordings with lyrics on screen on YouTube. It’s not too late!

Wishing you a Hopeful and Joyful Christmas!

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