“The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.”
But the world doesn’t quite resonate with that message anymore, as I see it. The whole idea that we should sing together as a group has become more and more lost in our culture. Choirs have become old-fashioned, even anachronistic. Public singing has disappeared in our classrooms and in our public gatherings. Even in many of our contemporary churches, public singing is often drowned out by the high decibel worship. The closest thing we have now is karaoke, which is participatory only in a spectator sense. And shows like “American Idol” or “The Voice” have taught us to be hypercritical and condemnatory of anyone who sings in public. To top that off, the stanzas and lyrics of our carols have also been lost to the younger generations. As a result, we have lost the importance—and unbridled fun—of what it is to sing together.
John Wesley, theologian, evangelist, and founder of the Methodist movement in the eighteenth century, knew the importance of public singing, especially in worship. In 1761, he wrote these instructions in the Methodist Hymnal:
” 1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others. 2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here. 3. Sing all. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. 4. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. 5. sing modestly. 6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. 7. Sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature.”
I love each of these instructions, and particularly the fourth point—to sing lustily and with good courage. During my four trips to the Philippines, where I was charged to teach courses in worship and the arts at the Bicol Center for Christian Leadership, I never had to teach them to worship. I only taught them the whys and hows of worship. I quickly discovered that they really loved the Lord, and congregational singing was a natural expression of that love. And it was always lustily full, lustily loud, lustily passionate.
As Buddy the Elf explains, singing is “…just like talking, except longer and louder, and you move your voice up and down.” So, as we approach our Christmas celebrations, my encouragement is to be more like Elf. Sing loud for all to hear.
And as Wesley reminds us, “Have an eye to God in every word you sing.”