by Father Mike Stubbs
This time of year abounds with music. We hear Christmas carols everywhere — on the radio, in the shopping malls.
Even the readings at Mass will at times feature music. For example, at Christmas Midnight Mass, the Gospel from Luke will remind us that at Jesus’ birth, a choir of angels appeared, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” The music of the liturgy seeks to echo that heavenly choir.
However, we do not have to wait until Christmas to hear the Scripture readings at Mass mention music. Sunday’s first reading — Zep 3:14-18a — also devotes a section to singing. It is interesting, though. The passage from Zephaniah does not describe a choir of angels singing. Neither does it limit the singing to Israelites who have been saved, poor human beings like us who are praising God. Rather, the unexpected singer turns out to be God:
“The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.”
This is truly astonishing. It is one thing to affirm that God will save us. We have heard that before. But Zephaniah goes a step further in proclaiming that God will also sing a song of triumph. It will be a song which celebrates God’s victory over the enemies of Israel, the victory which Zephaniah anticipates in his prophecy: “The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies.”
If we were to look for a modern-day image that could correspond to this passage, we might visualize a football player who has just scored a touchdown and who performs a victory dance to celebrate.
But it is not only a victory song. It will also be a love song that God sings to us. That love provides the motivation for God to save us. It is also God’s love that promises to renew us, as the reading puts it: “and renew you in his love.”
People sometimes resort to listening to Christmas carols to put themselves in the right mood for Christmas. Certainly, music has a way of playing on the emotions, of touching the heart strings.
But we might ask ourselves, what would be the effect on us if we were to listen to God singing a song to us? What would it sound like, if God were to sing a victory song, a love song for us?