Monday, November 22, 2010

Lectionary Reflections: Over the Rhine, Matisyahu, John Legend, and Zechariah’s Prophetic Lyric

The invention of programs such as iTunes has effectively resulted in the deconstruction of the artistic brilliance behind musical compilations. That is, instead of buying a whole record we pick and choose the songs we prefer from a particular album so not to waste money on other, less favorable tracks. However, this money-saving habit leads the consumer to miss the carefully crafted storyline or thematic overtone that provides context for each song. Yet, there also are advantages to the plucking of preferred tracks, e.g. our ability to piece together our own narratival playlists that incorporate a variety of artists. In other words, we become the artists who write musicals conducive to our particular experiences and personal stories. These playlists generate emotional and experiential rhythms that move in harmony with our life experiences.

The music industry’s encounter with the downloadable world bears resemblance to what has typically been done to the Christmas story and the birth narrative of Jesus. The church has often plucked the baby Jesus out of the compilation we call the biblical narrative and celebrated the coming of Immanuel outside of the context of the whole. We then lose the brilliance, beauty, and prophetic thrust behind such tracks as Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the angelic announcement to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20), and even this past Sunday’s lectionary, Zechariah’s priestly lyric (Luke 1:68-79). In that light, in my feeble attempt to provide a brief and not-so-developed context that surrounds these sacred texts and the real experiences of those whom first experienced them, I have crafted a mosaic of sorts that combines three tracks from three great musical artists coupled with a related biblical reference (click on each for the song, maybe open the Scripture as you listen):

o Idea #21 (Not Too Late) by Over the Rhine // Psalm 13

o Thunder by Matisyahu // Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 65:17-25

o Wake Up Everybody by John Legend and The Roots // Luke 1:46-55 and Luke 1:68-79

The movement of these three songs moves us from despair and struggle, questions of suffering and the hope for change as in "Idea #21" and Psalm 13. Then there is the promise of deliverance, movement out of exodus, and the assurance of a new “break of day” to come as in "Thunder" and the texts from Isaiah. Finally, John Legend, The Roots, Melanie Fiona, and Common invite us, as did Harold Melvin who originally wrote the song in the 70’s, to wake up to the “God hour” that will “reboot us” through love. The same rings true as Mary and the angels announce the “God hour” that is to “wake up” God’s people through the birth of this Messiah, whose special concern and ensuing work of liberation is for the poor and the oppressed in the land. The playlist above could be titled something like, Despair. Faithful Endurance. Deliverance. Moreover, it could be suggested that these are the themes of the biblical narrative that runs throughout Scripture and culminates in the coming of the Christ child at Christmas.

Despite the premature nature of our consumer-driven culture, Advent is a season of waiting, hoping, and pondering the arrival of our Deliverer, who is Jesus. It is a season where we reenact the story of God’s people who were moving from despair, pursuing faithful endurance, and expecting deliverance. As we enter into this Advent season next week, I invite you to rest, to wait, and to ponder. You may be in a season of despair. Speak that to existence and let God meet you there. You may be faithfully enduring a difficult and dark season. Speak that into existence and let God meet you there. You may be in a season of hope and joy. Speak that into existence and let God meet you there. Wherever you are, know that in Jesus, who is “God with us,” the Creator of all things will meet you there.

What’s your Advent song? Mary had one. Zechariah had one. I have one. Write it. Post it. All the more, know that as we journey through Advent we are an expectant people, believing that in Jesus God has met us right where we are…and will guide our feet, as a community, a people of God, into the way of peace. And may we live into that peace with those lifted up in the songs of Mary and Zechariah, not only during this holiday season, but especially all the days thereafter…