2014-12-18 Reflections from the Rector

Nowell Sing We

by the Rev. Poulson Reed


Nowell sing we, both all and some
Now Rex pacificus is come.

(15th Century Christmas Carol)

This is the time of year for singing, and I don’t just mean for our wonderful All Saints’ choirs, but for all of us. From Carols and Cocoa to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and on through the Sunday after Christmas, we will sing together the Christmas carols of our tradition, as faithful Christians have done for many centuries.

In our current American culture, the number of songs most people know well enough to sing is shrinking. A generation or two ago, our shared “American Songbook” was much larger: camp songs, folk songs, hymns, show tunes, popular and dinner table songs. Today, other than “Happy Birthday,” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” it’s hard to identify many universally known songs. Instead, in this YouTube generation, there are pop songs that trend briefly into awareness, only to fade away as the next one rises (my young kids are singing the Taylor Swift song “Shake it Off” recently, with great gusto. Before that, it was “Let it Go” from the “Frozen” movie). The fad reigns supreme.

But at Christmas time, we tap into the deep reservoir of cultural memory, singing traditional Christmas carols that are still known by many of us. It is the one season in the Church year in which most of our members and guests know most of the hymns. And that is such a joyful thing, because it is good for us to sing together. Young children sing without inhibition, but as we grow older, many of us become more reserved about our singing (and about other kinds of creative expression, as well). And that’s a shame, because singing together can be one of the most meaningful experiences we can have.

Singing together is ancient, and it is embodied: to sing requires nothing but the human body, and everyone can do it (to at least some degree). Singing is linked to our emotion centers in the brain: it expresses and amplifies what we are feeling. And it is Biblical. One reason we sing so much at this time of the Church year is that singing is ever-present in the Christmas story: from Mary bursting into song with the Magnificat on her visit to Elizabeth, to the angel chorus at Jesus’ birth.

As we finish Advent prayerfully and prepare to tell again the Christmas story, may our hearts become ready to sing with joy the Good News: the Messiah, the Rex Pacificus (“King of peace”) has come, and is coming, and will come again to save us. Nowell!


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