The town of Whoville was singing. But how could that be? The Grinch dressed like Santa and then stole all the packages, tree ornaments and stockings he could find. The Grinch, from Dr. Seuss' book, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," was Whoville's joy-stealer. The sound was beautiful, with voices singing praises. Then the Grinch thought of something - maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas means a little bit more. The Grinch was right. Christmas does mean so much more. Christmas began with angels' voices singing the announcement of the birth of Christ.
Singing comes from the heart of worship, which isn't just something we do. Worship is who we are. It gives us purpose and meaning to creatively express our faith. When we internalize the words we sing, we give honor and glory back to God.
Zephaniah 3:17 proclaims that God sings to us, too! "God takes delight in us and calms us with His love and rejoices over us by singing!"
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Wales, said, "Christian song, then, exists in part to give a map of the landscape of faith. It sets out the direction in which all believing life is going - toward God; so it needs to find vivid and forceful language to express why those on the journey are passionately committed to it."
St. Augustine said, "Some of the most beautiful poetry comes in the lyrics of hymns. A hymn then, contains these three things; songs, and praise, and that of God. Praise then of God in song is called a hymn. To sing hymns is to pray twice, addressing God with public praise as well as private petition."
Constantine's conversion to Christianity in the year 312 ignited the hymns of faith. Martin Luther wanted others to know of his newfound faith, too, and experience the joy of heaven in a language all could understand. His first hymn, "Christians, One and All Rejoice," was the first sung by a congregation.
It was King James who called for one definitive edition of a collection of manuscripts, using 47 scholars and linguists to draft the words. In 1611, the King James Bible was published. It was the Bible's beautiful language that inspired poets and songwriters to create songs that became our beautiful hymns, which have been a blessing to many faiths through the generations.
In the 18th century, three men -Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and John Newton, who were moved by their own Christian conversions in their spiritual journeys - began writing and composing illustrative hymns. The hymns included "Joy to the World," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and the most beloved hymn of all, "Amazing Grace." It was their personal way of sharing the good news of God's message and his holy presence, known in their emotional element as scriptural singing. However, they were forced to sing their reverent, emotional words outside the doors of the Anglican Church services. They were told their hymns were written beyond the confines of strict scriptural paraphrasing. This is the very reason their masterpieces of beautifully written music were unappreciated until the next century.
Even to this day, church attendees have differences of opinion in worship styles. The new generation prefers louder sound and brighter lights to accompany their Christian contemporary beat of pop, rock, rap or Goth/punk music. New radio stations featuring Christian contemporary music were added to accommodate these contemporary listeners.
Forms of worship may divide us, doctrines may keep us separated, but psalms and hymns and spiritual songs have had a great influence in the life of the church through the ages. The cherished old hymns are now more than 200 years old and heard less in our sanctuaries. Choirs are getting smaller and pipe organs have become a rarity.
But it's the growing congregations that recognize theology and worship as a deep expression of returning love to God and celebrating him, bringing honor to our theology, which never changes. Some churches have taken the old hymns and added new life to them, which enhances the words with renewed joy.
Music is not about struggling authors who compiled the songs from life's experiences, or agreeing on the beat of a drum or other instruments, but instead about unity in the spirit of worship. Where there is unity, there is love for God - the true meaning of worship, the message of Christ, the intimate, joyous fellowship between God, others, and ourselves.
Isaac Watts described his penned words as "breathing toward heaven." God used gifted hymnists such as Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby and poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Henry Van Dyke as voices from past centuries to change lives. New writers are still finding inspiration in God's holy words.
Let's be grateful for our heritage of worship. Burst forth in praise for God's blessings and "breathe the breath of heaven' during your Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. "I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me" (Psalm 13:6).
Dona Fisher is vice president of Friendship Foundation Inc. She is also a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.