December 7, 2018

Advent 2018

"The Sounds of Christmas"


The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.  (Johann Sebastian Bach)


Christmas is my favorite time of the year, always has been, always will be.  For me, one of the most treasured aspects of the season is its glorious music.  Advent is defined as the "anticipation of something momentous," and the Advent season, in which we celebrate the anticipated birth of Christ, is and always will be glorious and momentous!  Luke's Gospel records Christ's first visitors as humble shepherds who were awed and inspired by "an angel and a great company of the heavenly host, singing the praises of God:  'Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace and good will.'"


I believe that it is God who inspires and enables composers to write glorious music.  Those composers were inspired by the beauty and wonder of the Christmas story.  And we, in turn, find that music can inspire and fill us with awe and wonder, maybe just a little tiny bit like that which the shepherds experienced.  Let's look at a few of them.


Johann Sebastian Bach was a gifted organist and composer.  His "Christmas Oratorio," written in 1734, tells the entire story of Christ, the Son of God, from Gabriel's announcement to Mary, his birth, and the arrival and adoration of the Magi.  Royal trumpets represent Christ, and listeners can feel the triumphant joy.


Christmas is hardly Christmas without some performance of Handel's "Messiah," although usually only the first part.  George Frideric Handel was born German but became a British citizen in 1727.  Thus, his masterpiece was written in English and we can sing along when "Hallelujah Chorus" is performed. 


Felix Mendelssohn was a musical prodigy.  When only twenty years old, he conducted the first-ever performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" after Bach's death, and is credited with the revival of Bach's music.  The Mendelssohn family had been Jewish but converted to Christianity in 1816--without which we may not have had one of our favorite carols.  Mendelssohn composed the music for "Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing," which captures the awe-inspired exuberance of Luke's angel choir, and Charles Wesley's lyrics tell the rest of the story. 


Finally, Christmas can't be celebrated without the simple and beautiful all-time favorite "Silent Night, Holy Night."  In 1816 Father Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the verse, but not until shortly before Christmas, 1818, did he ask Joseph Mohr to write the music.  It was played for the first time on Christmas Eve.  The rest is history.  It has been translated into over 300 languages and declared "an intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO.


As we enjoy the music of Christmas, we can marvel that Christians around the world are singing with us.  Thanks be to God for the gift of music!

-- Lynne Hallman Davis


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