Music gives life to our anticipation, joy
By Father Paul Turner
Key Scripture Columnist
The Good news for the Feast of the Holy Family
December 31, 2006
and the Feast of the Epiphany
During the first week of Advent this year I heard someone say, “I’m tired of
Christmas music.” An editorial in the local newspaper voiced the same opinion.
Christmas decorations went up in stores as Halloween decorations came down, and
some radio stations broadcast Christmas music round the clock. Before Advent began
this year, satellite radio offered five different stations of commercial-free
Meanwhile, we sang Advent music at church. Throughout the first 3 weeks of
December, you can hear Christmas music everywhere except in church. Then, when
we start, everyone else stops. As we plunge into the Christmas season, stores throw
out their evergreen, and radios switch back to rap, country, hip-hop, and
classical. After December 25, you can’t hear Christmas music anywhere,
except in church.
For Catholics, Advent has its own songs of anticipation. Christmas has its own
songs of celebration. For us this music comes to life once we have entered the
season. A good Christmas carol tells not just that Christ the Savior is born, but
why he is born. A Christmas carol is a little homily on the Word made Flesh. It
announces good news, while it urges fidelity to the Wisdom of God.
Over the next two Sundays the lectionary invites us to sing Psalms 84 and 72. They
may not sound like carols to you, but they are similar. In the light of Christmas
these psalms are prophecies that announce who Jesus is.
Psalm 84 is a processional song for pilgrims to Jerusalem. In anticipation of
seeing the Temple, each one sings, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of
hosts! My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.” With some jealousy
they regard those who live and work in the holy city.
“Happy they who dwell in your house! Continually they praise you.” We sing this
psalm next week because the dwelling place of the Lord appears in the first reading
(1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28) and the Gospel (Luke 2:41-52). After Samuel is born,
Hannah takes him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh, a little north of * These
Scripture readings are from the New American Bible. Jerusalem. She dedicates him to
the Lord “to remain there forever.” In the Gospel, the child Jesus sits in the
Temple in Jerusalem, where he listens to teachers and asks questions. In both
cases, people make a pilgrimage to the place of the Lord. They may have sung Psalm
84 or something like it on their journey.
Psalm 84 makes a good choice next Sunday for another reason. One of the verses
prays, “Look upon the face of your anointed.” The pilgrims ask God’s blessing upon
the king. The responsorial psalm omits several verses of Psalm 84, but it keeps
this one. The psalm is pointing forward to Jesus. In the Temple he astounded those
who listened to his understanding. Psalm 84 does what a Christmas carol does. It
tells who Jesus is: the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.
Psalm 72 is a royal song. It praises God for the gift of a good king. In our
culture, we criticize our political leaders, so it is unusual to think of
songs that praise God for the remarkable qualities and judicious character of the
Head of State. But there you have it in Psalm 72. The king shall govern God’s
people with justice and judgment in a place like Camelot: “Justice shall flower in
his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.”
For Christians this psalm prophesies the coming of Christ the King, who will rule
with justice, and who brings profound peace. Psalm 72 is favored during the Advent
season because of this prophesy.
But it also works as an Epiphany song because of verses 10 and 11: “The kings of
Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts… . All kings shall pay him homage.” In the
well-known Gospel for this solemnity (Matthew 2:1-12), magi offer gifts to
the newborn Christ. It took a Christmas carol to make us think of kings instead of
magi. They appear because Psalm 72 prophesied they would. By offering gifts, they
proclaim that the newborn baby is the Messiah.It may be hard to open the hymnal and
sing yet another Christmas carol over the next two weeks,
but it is important to do so. Pay attention to the words and rejoice in what they
proclaim. And when you sing these psalms, remember that they too are
like carols, announing to the world that Christ is king.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron.