Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 20, 2015
The 4th Sunday of Advent (Advent 4, Year C)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
Sing Out Loud

Take our lips, O Lord, and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire for you. Amen.

My mother always had a tune under her breath.  She was constantly humming and occasionally breaking out in song.  As a music major, she studied all the major composers and practiced diligently on the piano, modeling for us how to be disciplined and faithful towards a passion.

My mother always had a tune under her breath – maybe to change the subject away from a difficult situation, or maybe to lighten up the mood when things were tense, or maybe just to express her joy.  I thought about her singing habit all week as I would occasionally sing out, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” Which is, of course …the first line of The Song of Mary, one song in a series of songs offered in the Gospel of Luke.

Mary sings when Elizabeth greets her, Zechariah sings when his son John is born, the angels sing with the multitude of the heavenly host when they bring good news of great joy, and Simeon sings his song of release once he realizes that God has kept God’s promises in Jesus, the Christ child.  Jesus might have even sung his first sermon as he read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”

It seems that many people have a tune under their breath, but why?

Pastor David Lose[1] suggests that it is because singing is an act of resistance. Singing is an act of resistance. While singing is an act of joy and a way to share companionship, it can be, and is often, an act of resistance. 

Scientifically speaking, Psychology Professor John Lennon suggests that singing is an inborn response that fulfills a need to communicate with the larger Self.[2] (with a capital “S”) Singing is a way to push against, or to resist the world as we see it from our small self and to bring to bear the More, what is beyond us, the community’s whole Self.

In other words, singing is a body-mind-soul response to re-member our little selves with a larger community – and all of creation. This act of resistance, of pushing against our reality, serves to remind us who we are and whose we are.

American slaves knew this. The spirituals they sang praised God and gave voice to their protest. They sang a protest against their masters who kept them from worshiping, but could not keep them from deliverance as promised in the Bible.

Civil rights leaders knew this too – singing “We Shall Overcome,” when many people did not allow a movement of justice or a triumph of equal rights.

Protesters in Leipzig, Germany (1989) knew this as well, “…for several months preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, citizens gathered by candlelight …to sing. 

Over two months their numbers grew from a little more than a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand (over half the citizens of the city), singing songs of hope and protest and justice, until their song shook the powers of their nation and changed the world. (Later, when someone asked one of the East German secret police why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied, “We had no contingency plan for song.”!)”

And Mary and Elizabeth knew this. They must have known how absurd their situation was: Elizabeth, too old to bear a child and Mary too young and not yet married. Yet, (in the hill country of Judea, a long way from any place of power and influence) they were both called to bring God’s promises through their little selves to their larger community, the people of Israel – and all of creation. 

When they looked at the situation squarely in the face, they did not retreat. They did not apologize. They did not despair.  They believed that nothing would be impossible with God.  And what did they do?  They sang.

And the Magnificat – Canticle 15 – (which we say every day at Evening Prayer, here in the chapel, 5pm [won’t you join us?]) The Magnificat is Mary’s answer to the blessing she received from Elizabeth.

When Mary sang, she did not do so under her breath. She sang out, affirming God’s greatness.  She sang out, proclaiming good news for the poor. She sang out, declaring freedom from systemic injustice.  She sang out, announcing the end of oppression by political rulers. She sang out, beholding God’s redemption of her and her child. 

She sang of God’s redeeming work not as future, but in a voice of prophets, that God’s work was already fulfilled. Such is the confidence of faith in the face of darkness. Such is her prophetic word of liberation, with authority, from her soul. That is how she responded to her lived darkness, of fear, humiliation, oppression.

That is how we can respond to our lived darkness, the darkness that we have faced in recent weeks – the threats of terrorism, the violence to innocent people, the unkind words expressed by politicians, the unexpected death of loved ones – given this darkness that we have faced in recent weeks, what do we do?

We sing.  We sing songs of hope that resist current darkness.  Sing songs of hope that require us to look beyond ourselves for rescue and relief. Songs of hope that give us clear voice and fresh ears for God’s promises God’s promises made to Abraham and all God’s people that God will come among us and be with us, forever.

When the world seems dark, we sing. When God seems distant, we sing. When it seems the powers & principalities are winning, we sing. Why do we sing? 

Because through God’s goodness we resist our small selves in favor of the Self who is More, the Self who is Love, The Self who connects us to each other, to all of creation, in community. 

We sing because we believe in God’s ultimate scandal – that God would enter human life with all it’s depravity, violence and corruption.  We sing because it is our song.

And in our song, we breathe together. For God’s breath fills our hungry hearts with good things, God’s breath lifts up our vocal cords, God’s breath strengthens our whole being. God’s breath arises from our soul to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. God’s breath fills us with light and love to resist the present darkness. That is why we sing.  That is why Mary sang.

My sisters and brothers, this week you might find yourself humming a tune under your breath. Share that tune with your friends and family. Breathe together in joy and love and resistance. And when you do, you will be proclaiming the greatness of the Lord in your life.

Keep this song under your breath, and resist the darkness of our lives.  

God has – and will – do great things for us, and Holy is God’s name.



[1] Inspired by cited on December 19, 2015

[2] Reported at cited on December 19, 2015