As Christmas approaches, everything around us tells us to be merry and happy—and we should be as we rejoice at the remembrance of the birth of Christ. For us church musicians, though, this time of year finds many of us busy, anxious, and stressed, a far cry from the Christmas cheer everyone around us espouses. Fortunately for us, our tasks during this season lead us to the truth, the ultimate cause of rejoicing.
How Can I Possibly Rejoice?
My Christmas cheer hasn’t exactly blossomed this year yet. Maybe it’s Virginia’s relatively balmy and snowless December, but I think the more likely culprit is my lengthy to-do list and chock-full calendar. And this isn’t a calendar full of parties, Christmas shopping, and gift wrapping; no, this is long days teaching, attempting to piece together my school’s Advent service, running rehearsals, giving piano lessons, planning for end-of-semester in-class recitals, and coordinating auditions for my school’s talent show. That’s on top of Christmas shopping, planning for a post-Christmas wedding, trying to exercise consistently, attempting to tackle my apartment’s increasing state of chaos, and endeavoring to squeeze in a full night’s sleep.
Sound familiar? Mine, of course, is no unusual circumstance for teachers and, especially, church musicians (or church workers of any kind). I’m sure you can relate and can probably add more to the list! As I see Christmas lights being hung up, Christmas events happening around town, cute Christmas social media posts being shared by friends taking advantage of the fun activities this time of year, and so much more joy being expressed, I can’t help but think, “What’s wrong with me?” I don’t feel like it’s Christmas. I don’t feel very merry. I just feel tired and anxious. So much for joy to the world and peace on earth.
Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee
It’s now that I’m thankful for the Church Year. For as I consider my feelings, they are actually very appropriate at this time. For we are not yet at Christmas but are still awaiting Christ’s coming during this time of Advent. Advent is a time of repentance, a time of remembering why Christmas even had to occur in the first place. Advent hymns provide a way to contemplate and proclaim this repentance and remembrance. My school’s Advent evening service is using as its theme the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (LSB 357). Every single stanza of this hymn, which is based on the O Antiphons of the final days of Advent, is a cry to God for help, a cry to God for rescue. Let me tell you, I can relate.
But then, we get to the refrain, that familiar, age-old refrain: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!” The words, the exclamation points, the high notes, all point us to our hope—Emmanuel shall come. And not merely come, but come to thee. When we sing this hymn, we remember how God’s people of old looked to His coming, but we also cry out to God for Emmanuel to come again to save us. And this is why we rejoice: not because we feel like rejoicing but simply because we can rejoice. Thankfully, the salvation promised to us doesn’t depend upon our feelings. The only thing that matters is what is. And what is is that we are saved through Christ’s taking on of human flesh at Christmas and then dying and rising in that same human flesh.
Emmanuel Has Come to Thee
Our anxiety as church musicians during this time of year can actually lead us to a greater realization and appreciation of God’s saving work at Christmas. This is not to say that on Christmas Day we will experience a suddenly more joyful mood. But we know why we celebrate Christmas and we know the importance of it. We know we will ultimately rejoice. We know that Emmanuel has come. And we will rejoice with the best of them, even if our rejoicing doesn’t much resemble the Christmas cheer we see in ads and movies, hear in songs, and scroll through on social media.
And I am thankful that my work focuses on the real reason for rejoicing. The work I do leaves me humming and singing Advent hymns. It leads an entire school to raise their voices as one and sing “Gaude! Gaude!” Our work as church musicians is tiring but good. For through us, our schools and congregations sing and proclaim the truth, the truth that life is hard, sin is real, and anxiety, exhaustion, frustration, anger, and sadness overwhelm us all; but also that truth that we can rejoice! For Emmanuel has come and will come again.
Advent and Christmas are only the beginning of the year. As we look forward to the new calendar year and the remainder of the Church Year, we can rejoice. Rejoice not in the work that we do or that we have yet to do, but rejoice in the work God has done. Rejoice that salvation has come to us!
Listen to CPH Advent Selections on YouTube
Enjoy ninety minutes of choral music as you prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas.