Advent Reflection #24, 2016


Psalm 96
O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts. Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

I’ve been dealing with a case of chronic laryngitis for the past few months. I primarily noticed it when I could no longer sing. Instead of decently on pitch singing, I was producing squeaks and rasps, and nothing close to proper pitch. This continued for about a month until I finally went to the doctor, realizing this was more than just some weird cold. She prescribed the use of a steroid inhaler that I already had (but almost never used) for allergies. It immediately began helping, but I’m still no where close to 100%. I can talk fine, though my voice is weaker, and my singing is hit-and-miss. (To be honest, I begin teaching two large classes at Seattle Pacific University in 2 weeks and I’m a bit worried about my voice. I would appreciate your prayers!) Anyway, throughout this process, my desire to sing has grown exponentially. Especially as we prepare to sing Christmas Hymns, which are my favorite, the next couple of Sundays.
I am not really a musician, but I can say that having lost my singing voice, I can feel the overwhelming desire to sing, and to sing to God in particular. The desire to shout forth in song, to lift our voices and cry out is strong in most of us, even if it is kept covered up. Worship and music are deeply connected. Music ≠ worship, but worship is intimately bound up with music. We have musical souls, in that we are creatures made for worship (homo liturgicus, as theologian Jaime Smith has suggested).
In this passage, the Psalmist uses a phrase that is used often in the Psalms and some of the Prophets, “sing a new song.” To sing a new song is to be overwhelmed with creativity, love, and praise, so that new words leap off of our tongues, in addition to all the old ones. In other words, the old songs are still wonderful and should be sung, but the human (body, mind, and soul) is made to sing new songs because we were created and redeemed by the God who makes all things new. To sing a new song does not mean scrapping all the old songs. It does, though, require an openness towards novelty and fresh expressions of God’s goodness and love, and of our thankfulness and praise for God. This of course reminds me of the so-called “worship wars” that still rage, though quieter today than a decade ago, as well as the contemporary trend for worship bands from larger churches to write their own songs, changing them frequently. Such novelty is often met with a great deal of resistance. I will admit that these trends are not necessarily my favorite. But they also reveal a deep and profound love for God that cannot help but issue forth in the singing of new songs. If we never sing new songs, does that mean God is done working?  Perhaps it means that we simply have enough of God and need no more, thus nothing new to sing about? I’m convinced that singing new songs is fundamental to a life of discipleship and transformation. (But of course, that doesn’t excuse bad theology – I am a theologian after all!)
Today, pray through song. Put a song on your car stereo, computer, CD player, or iPod/iPhone. Sing out loud, perhaps on a walk, in your home, car, or office. Sing to the Lord. Perhaps you find a song you haven’t sung in a while and you sing it again. Then perhaps you might find a new song and listen to it repeatedly until you can sing along. In all of this, let the fountain that is your soul burst forth in joy, thanksgiving, and worship. In the process of this prayer, pray that you will be more open to new songs in worship: be they ancient or contemporary. Pray that God will help you to understand the purpose for song, especially musical worship, allowing your to embrace, and even delight in, the singing of songs to the Lord, both old and new. Who knows, perhaps you will even sing a new song to the Lord!

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