As Advent is nigh and the Christmas Season right around the corner (at least in the church). We are bombasted in the stores by Holiday and Christmas music. With all of this music floating around, we get to gather one extra night a week until Christmas Eve and sing some more. So what is it with all the singing and all the music? What differences, if any, should we look for in the church? What is it about Lutheran Hymnody that makes it so wonderfully beautiful and beginning to look a lot like Christmas?
Music is a great gift from God and has been given to His entire creation. This can be witnessed to if one looks anywhere across God’s wonderful creation. Music can be heard all throughout the world, and this is no different when it comes to the life of the Church. In almost every religious denomination, one can hear some type of music. Music is a very important aspect in our lives, and within the Church. In fact, Martin Luther once said, “We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” Luther well understood the benefits that music offered to the Church. Music could proclaim the Gospel, teach the Faith, praise God, and comfort the people in need.
This very high view of singing is characteristic of the Lutheran Church. When the Church unites in song, it is proclaiming all that God has done for her. Lutheran Hymnody proclaims the true faith as taught in the Holy Scriptures, and sings concerning the Word and Work of Christ on behalf of His Church. Wilhelm Loehe wrote, “Hymns express the true faith along with sermon.” Hymns are not separated from of the proclamation of the Gospel and the sermon, they are inextricably intertwined. They naturally flow from each other. Kantor Resch in an essay for the Good Shepherd Institute wrote, “Solid Hymns do exactly what the sermon does. They expound truths and apply them to lives.”
Using this very high view of singing, what makes a Lutheran Hymn distinctively Lutheran? The subject of the Hymn is precisely the focus of the Gospel. All of Scripture is centered on the life and work of Jesus Christ, and Lutheran Hymns are no different. Lutheran Hymns do not say anything that is not found IN Scripture. These Hymns tell of the wondrous things that He has done for His Church, for You! The center of the Lutheran Hymn is not us, but Christ. The focus is not on our life and works, but on the life and works of our Lord and Savior. Many of the Hymns will express how the salvation won for us by Christ is given to us and applied to our lives, but the center of the Hymn is not us; it is first and foremost about our crucified and risen Lord.
When the Lutheran Church sings these great truths about Christ in our Hymns, we do so as a community. Even when we sing alone in our homes, we are singing with the entire body of Christ. Lutheran Hymns do not sing about “my faith,” but about “the faith.” As Christ is the head of His Church, Lutheran Hymnody centers upon that which is true and applies to His entire body, you included. As the Church sings, she is singing the great confession of the entire Church. The Lutheran Hymn is confessional AND communal.
Because Hymns are about Christ, and because they sing of nothing outside of Scripture, Lutheran Hymns are a teacher of the faith. Hymns not only proclaim to us about Christ, but Hymns teach about Christ. They teach about His Work, about His Life, and they also teach how that is applied to our lives. Hymns were one of the ways in which Luther used to teach the faith during the Reformation. The children would be learning Hymns and singing them to their parents, the Kantors and Choirs would be singing the truths of the faith, and the adults themselves would be singing these truths. When one thinks of the words to “Savior of the Nations Come” (LSB #332) or “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (LSB #656), the teaching element can clearly be seen. These Hymns to do not simply tell us about Christ, but they teach us about who He is and what He has done for us.
Music has a very strong resonance within our lives. This powerful element of song is a clear one even in our own time. How many times have you gone home after Church and remembered what the sermon was about? Now how many times have you gone home and remembered one of the Hymns? Many times I have left the sanctuary humming or singing a tune, but I am not able to remember the exact words that I preached on. The truth is music stays with us. When the great truths of Christ, are placed with a great tune, this can and does have a great impact in our lives.
Another element of Lutheran Hymnody is its ability to comfort us in any situation. The ability of a Hymn to do this very thing, has to do with who is at the center. As I previously stated, it is Christ who is at the center of Lutheran Hymnody. We are comforted in these Hymns, because it is Christ who is there with us. It is Him who comes to us giving us His comfort and peace which surpasses all our human understanding. In every situation of our lives, Christ is our Savior, Redeemer, and Comforter. Because of what He has done, we can have peace. Our Hymns speak to us in our sinful condition. We as Christians, as human beings, are battered everyday by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Hymns show us our sin, and proclaim Christ to us who pulls us up out of that sin. They give us comfort in the only One where true comfort can be found.
Music is wonderful gift from God and the Lutheran Church has wonderful Hymns that use that wonderful gift. The Music of the Church is not for entertainment, and the Hymns are not centered and focused on the body of Christ, on us, and upon our works. The Lutheran Hymns have their center on the Head of the Church, on the life and work of Christ, and what He has done for His Body, the Church. Hymns proclaim and teach the entire life and work of Christ and the salvation that He has won for us upon the Cross. Because Christ is at the center, when the Church sings, she sings as an entire community that has been purchased and won, and knows that her Lord is with her always, in every situation.
With this gift we can truly deck the halls with jolly and walk through this winter wonderland because Joy to the World the Lord is come!