Singing us into Life

By Andrew Belt

In C. S. Lewis’ books The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan creates the world by singing it into existence.

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth, Eru Iluvatar (the chief god) instructs the council of the other gods, that he created, to sing a song that will result in the formation and story of Middle Earth. Of this song, Sauron’s master, Melkor/Morgoth, sang discord. Of this discord came all the sorrow and evil of Middle Earth. In this universe, it is promised that at the end of all things, Eru Iluvatar will sing a second song that is greater than the first.

Both men get these ideas from their understanding of how music is used in Scripture. Related to these two fictional worlds, Job 38:4-7 tell us that as God created the heavens and the earth, the sons of God, i.e. the angels and archangels, sang together and shouted for joy.

Quite a picture: as the Word of God spoke the earth, the sea, and all that is in them into being, God’s heavenly hosts were singing in festive shout.

In the book of Revelation, we see more of these moments that are packed with the redeemed of the Lamb singing new songs, and the host of heaven singing festive shout as God in his mercy and love restores His creation anew. When God creates, creatures sing!

We see this again at the birth of the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, that these heavenly hosts gather to sing to the packed house of sheep and shepherds. This moment alludes to something that we should flesh out a bit more.

Because, likewise, when salvation occurs in Scripture, there is singing! In Exodus 14-15, the Lord saves the people of Israel from the fury of Pharaoh by drowning Pharaoh’s hosts in the Red Sea. The response of Moses and Israel is to break out into song. “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation!” (Exodus 15:2).

In 1 Samuel 1, when the Lord remembers Hannah, he creates in her Samuel. This is not only an act of creation but also of salvation for Hannah! She has been saved from disgrace, and like Naomi in the book of Ruth, she has someone to care for her in her old age. Hannah notes this in her song in 1 Samuel 2 by “rejoicing in your salvation,” and by stating, “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world.” Interesting that she sings of God’s work of creation and salvation.

This suggests that there is close kindred between creation and salvation in the Word of God. Both are a work of God and both result in the Created Order singing.

No wonder why David is the author of many Psalms. He was the recipient of the Lord creating for him a house to endure forever, ultimately in Christ, the Son of David (2 Samuel 7). David also received salvation many times by the Lord from all his enemies.

St. Paul more tightly twines these two together: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a New Creation: the old has gone the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The salvation wrought by Christ, given out in the baptismal waters, creates you anew.

In Luther’s Small Catechism, we read under the 6th chief part, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.” What joys we are given to sing!

This is why Christians sing when gathered together. This is why the first Lutherans were often called the “Singing Church,” because when you encounter the work of God’s ongoing creation and salvation, the natural response is to sing, and boy is there much to sing about!

There still is. Every church service is concerned about delivering these gifts of God, creation and salvation, to you! As a pastor myself, this is what I am charged with doing. When sins are forgiven, we sing! When celebrating the work of Baptism, we sing following! When receiving the Sacrament, we sing, because God’s work is right now happening to us!

Our culture has infected the Church’s understanding of singing. The big names and flashy performances have cultivated an unhealthy view of singing in the Church. The Church is forming people who see themselves as spectators and not as responders to God’s activity in our life.

This is tragic, because when a child looks over at his father and sees him mute, he will come to know that God’s activity means nothing to his father, and subconsciously that child will come to think the same. Instead of being participants in God’s activity to us, we are becoming silent. This suggests to me that we risk seeing salvation as something that is not “for you.”

And once we lose the “for you,” we lose the Gospel. We lose the song the angels sang that “unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

My dear fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow heirs, this twin work of our God becomes the driving point for our gathering, and it becomes what sets us apart from this world. Which is why it is that the Church should foster a desire and understanding for music. Parents, especially fathers, I charge you to sing and thereby teach your kids to sing. Make it your goal to join your voices to the heavenly anthem which drowns out all music but its own!

Awake, my soul, and sing

Of Him who died for thee,

And hail Him as thy matchless king

Through all eternity.

May we as pastors and also fellow Christians never cheat our people out of the opportunity to sing of Christ and of his work for you. Alleluia!