A time to lift every voice and sing

Posted 12/27/19

Christmas music seems to begin around Halloween. Perhaps by now you’d just as soon take a break and have a little peace and quiet.

But if your ears are open, you can hear the music in the first …

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A time to lift every voice and sing

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Christmas music seems to begin around Halloween. Perhaps by now you’d just as soon take a break and have a little peace and quiet.

But if your ears are open, you can hear the music in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Mary sings. Elizabeth sings. Zechariah sings. Angels sing. Shepherds sing. It’s an ancient Broadway musical! Clearly singing was important long ago!

Why is singing still a holy act for us today?

Singing may give us hope. Songs have the power to offer a vision of what shall be in the face of what is. Looking for inspiration, people of faith have long gathered to sing in houses of worship.

But as those shepherds watching their flocks by night proved long ago, a mere building cannot contain the power of a song. Slaves sang in the cotton fields. Civil Rights activists sang in the streets. Such songs not only gave hope for the future but also strength in the present. In the words of preacher and scholar David Lose, “Singing is an act of resistance.”

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a few hundred citizens of East Germany gathered outside a church to sing. After two months, the number of singers had swelled to 300,000! Singing was their act of resistance. Reflecting afterward, an officer of the East German secret police admitted, “We had no contingency plan for singing.”

When our backs are against the wall, we do not have to despair. We can sing. Freedom songs can bring the walls tumbling down. Not just the physical ones, but also barriers with others who look and think differently.

A friend’s granddaughter is a junior at Dartmouth and a member of the Rockapellas — an all-female, a cappella choir. These young women from four different countries sing together in beautiful four-part harmony. Though different in ethnicity and skin color, they are one choir.

The Rockapellas went on tour the week before Christmas, performing in New York City, Washington, D.C., and just down the road in Raleigh. Of course, the group did a few holiday favorites, including “The Little Drummer Boy” with one of the young women on beatbox!

And the Rockapellas also sing messages of social justice. “Ella’s Song” is named after the legendary human rights activist Ella Baker and incorporates her actual words — We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

So, gentle reader, I can appreciate that you might desire a little rest and quiet after the holiday bustle. But if we are to have peace in such tumultuous times as ours, then we need a harmonious chorus for freedom, justice and equity. We must tear down the divisions, including the walls that brick and bar our hearts.

I’m reminded of a hymn written for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday celebration in 1900 by the great African-American preacher James Weldon Johnson:

Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the poet pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and the author of the book Gently Between the Words.


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