Saturday, January 3, 2015

Luke...The Musical!

Luke 2:22-40, Christmas 1B, December 28, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

This holiday season, I watched one of my most favorite movies - White Christmas. I love this story, set in a time long before I was born. The simple love story, the joy of Christmas, and the gift of reunion for the general enthrall me. Most of the music was written into the plot as performances, yet, like every good musical, the four main characters burst into song often. 

As the two gentlemen and two ladies meet on the train on their way to Vermont, they wonder how much snow will be on the ground. Then they start singing, "Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow. It won't be long before we're all there with snow. I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow..." As if it were normal conversation, they sing in four part harmony.

Most of us do not just burst into song instead of talking. Most of us cannot create four part harmony out of thin air. Yet that is the magic of musicals. Somehow, their sung conversations are often more poignant and memorable than simple dialogue.

Usually, this type of spontaneous song is relegated to modern musicals and classic operas. Yet some might consider the first two chapters of Luke to be a musical. Almost every important character introduced in these verses has a poem expressing how they understand God working in the world.

The first song is Mary's Magnificat that we heard last Sunday. Mary sings that God will work through the child growing in her womb to bring justice for all. Then, after Elizabeth gives birth to John, her husband Zechariah sings a long song of how John will lead the way for God to save the world from their enemies. 

On Christmas Eve, we heard the angels sing their song, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14 NET) Finally, the last song in these two chapters is the one which we heard this morning: Simeon's song. Simeon was not allowed to die until he saw the baby Jesus. So, as he saw the salvation wrapped up in this little baby, he sang how he was ready to die. 

Over the centuries, the church has found these songs to have immense beauty and authority. When monks and nuns created daily prayer services for various times of the day, they included these songs from Luke. Morning Prayer, also called Matins, includes Zechariah's song from when John was born. Evening Prayer, also called Vespers, includes Mary's Magnificat. Night Prayer, also called Compline, includes Simeon's song. Simeon's willingness to die is reinterpreted as our willingness to sleep. 

In some ways, seminaries feel like the monasteries of old. Amidst all of our classes and studying, we would stop to pray and reflect on God's majesty. Every weekday morning, we gathered for a short prayer service. At least twice a week, we practiced Morning Prayer where we sang Zechariah's song. 

We made his words our own as we chanted about God overpowering our enemies. Sometimes we would join together for Holden Evening Prayer when we would sing Marty Haugen's arrangement of Mary's song. 

And every weeknight at ten o'clock, some of us would gather for Night Prayer. Sometimes as few as three of us and sometimes as many as fifteen would gather in the quad to sing acapella. We would sit on the edge of the broken water fountain with our legs inside so we were gathered facing each other. One of us would lead the service, picking notes out of thin air to chant the liturgy. My most favorite part of compline is Simeon's song. Found on page 324 of the ELW, many nights I chanted, 

Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping.
That awake we might watch with Christ
And asleep we may rest in peace.
Now Lord you let your servant go in peace. 
Your word has been fulfilled. 
My own eyes have seen the salvation
Which you have prepared in the sight of every people.
A light to reveal you to the nations 
And the glory of your people Israel.
Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping.
That awake we might watch with Christ
And asleep we may rest in peace.

In this song, we hear Simeon proclaim that Jesus will bring salvation for all - for all of Israel, for all the nations, for all the world. Despite his old age, Simeon can see clearly how this little child will change the future of the whole earth. According to Luke, salvation does not mean entry into heaven. For Luke, salvation means restoration. Somehow, Jesus will make the earth whole again.

Even now, Jesus is working in the world to restore personal relationships and national relations too. Jesus is working in the world to bring justice for all people. Jesus is working to end all strife, hatred, anger, and despair.

Simeon somehow could see a whole new world realized in a small child. Simeon could see that all of our hopes and dreams will someday be fulfilled. We anxiously await the day when all will be restored to wholeness, to shalom. Until then, we will continue to sing Simeon's song, as well as Mary's and Zechariah's, to remind us of what is to come. Amen.

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