What the Hymns of Nativity Teach us in this Moment

By Angie Hong

The meaning of weekly church worship has changed, and many churches have met the challenges of engaging technology and online streaming to be a worshiping “community” for the sake of safety and wellbeing. We have risen up to learn the ins and outs of online conference calls. We have risen up to sing in harmony together through edited music videos and virtual choirs. We have risen up to pass the peace and greet each other via text messages and online chats. Some of us wonder when we can go back to the way things used to be in worship. Others of us have concluded that we will never go back to the way things used to be.

Stretching Boundaries & Imagination

Multicultural worship initiatives in the past 10-15 years sought to diversify and unite many worshipers along the racial and cultural divides. Through the integration of different worshiping traditions, genres, and languages, we learned to make room at the communal table for our neighbors who were unlike us and hear stories vastly different than our own. Although the road has been bumpy at times, our imaginations of the vastness of the Kingdom have been and are being stretched to include our neighbors as siblings through communal worship. This has spilled into the virtual space. And now an expansion of our imaginations has once more been stretched to a journey beyond even that. 

Recent awakenings and calls to racial justice have populated our newsfeeds as much as the Pandemic headlines, and the Church is once again called to task. If multicultural worship initiatives taught us to welcome the neighbor into our churches, and worship during the pandemic taught us to worship beyond the physical walls of the church, what would worship beyond the four walls with these neighbors look like? How do we do this with conviction and faith while still being physically distant? And how is this reflected in worship, especially during Advent? We can learn from the four hymns of the nativity in the gospel of Luke.

Embrace reality. After the angel Gabriel gave Mary her life-altering news, she was truly perplexed. She pondered all that was at stake, and what her future would be. Yet, she embraced the task before her, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38a). Her embrace turned to holy praise to God (Lk 1:46-55). The Magnificat goes beyond a personal song, however. It is a declaration that God’s divine reversal and holy intervention, and that this was the best possible news specifically for the lowly and the hungry. There are plenty in our communities today who are suffering. Do our songs reflect a divine reversal for all?

Serve without fear. Through Zechariah’s song, we are reminded of God’s covenant that dates back to our holy ancestors (Lk 1:67-79). This covenantal relationship allows us to go boldly to love our neighbors and proclaim that Jesus is Lord.

Leave the sheep, take the message. I still laugh out loud whenever I read the fact that a heavenly host of angels put on a grand praise session for a group of random shepherds and their sheep in Luke 2:8-14. The worship led by the angels provided a space for the shepherds to cross the boundaries of their field jobs and everything they knew to boldly join in the work of God. 

See the fruits. All of the bold actions and crossing boundaries were affirmed through Simeon’s prophetic praise in Luke 2:29-32. After this, the worship continued at the temple through Anna and the good news of redemption spread throughout Jerusalem.

Our witness and actions as Jesus followers during this time are made known to God and the world. As worship leaders, we are called to imagine and explore worship beyond the walls our church buildings and computer screens. We are called to be creative and prophetic, providing spaces for others to cross boundaries, stand with others, and embody solidarity with the lowly and hungry. Let our Advent worship propel us to embrace reality, serve without fear, boldly bring a message of hope, and inspire more worship to our loving God-with-us.

The Magnificat

And Mary said:

My soul glorifies the Lord    

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 

for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,  

 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud

in their inmost thoughts. 

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty. 

He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

just as he promised our ancestors.

Luke 1:46-55 

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Glenn Packiam (Doctor of Theology and Ministry, Durham) is the associate senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the songwriter of more than fifty worship songs, including “Your Name” and “Mystery of Faith,” and the author of several books, including Blessed Broken Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus and Discover the Mystery of Faith: How Worship Shapes Believing. He is also a visiting fellow at St. John’s College at Durham University and an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary.
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