“O sing to the Lord a new song; / sing to the Lord, all the earth” (Ps. 96:1, NRSV).
In a literal sense, this could refer to writing and singing a new, original musical composition - given the tenor of Psalm 96, especially a praise song.
Yet, the Psalm will go on to say, “Then shall all trees of the forest sing for joy” (v. 12).
I’ve known trees to make songs (just sit quietly near a grove of trees on a windy day), but they sing not in a language that I know, nor am I sure if they’re “joyful” or “trembling.” The literal interpretation is workable, but I’m convinced there’s imagery beyond the literal in the instruction to “sing to the Lord a new song.”
We approach one of the most important festivals in the Christian calendar - Christmas. But, as we prepare to celebrate this festival, we are confronted with a world very different from the one that almost all of us have ever known - a world in the midst of a pandemic.
When I was growing up, the only time that we attended church was on Christmas Eve; so, I can safely say that, for me, no part of Christianity bears the tradition of this festival.
How am I, now, as I prepare for Christmas, to “sing to the Lord a new song”? Maybe this can mean to sing an old song, tell an old story, but to do it in a new way, the online way? After all, I was having a really hard time envisioning Christmas Eve worship without it being filled with singing many of my favorite “classical” Christmas hymns - something that is more important, at least to me on this occasion, than physically gathering in worship.
In these days of ongoing COVID-19, we’re all called to think about new ways to do our old “normal” that honor both the tradition as well as the safety and well-being of our neighbors and ourselves. From experiences during the past nine months in work, education, worship and life in general, we all know that COVID brought challenges that almost none of us could have imagined a year ago.
But I would invite you into seeing at least some of these as “opportunities,” or, to hold onto my metaphor, “a new song.”
I’ve mentioned this before in earlier columns: Another hat that I wear is as the assistant speech coach at Pine River-Backus School. We just started our season. At this point, all our practices are online; it’s looking extremely likely that the entire season will be able to happen, but that it will consist of only online tournaments.
Speech season this year will not look like it has in the past. The collegiality and social aspects will be reduced, and some people will have trouble with their technology and broadband width. However, there are interesting and creative performance aspects that we can now explore that would not have been doable in person.
There may yet be a “new song” that can come out of this experience.
Given the many parallels between worship and speech, many of the same challenges and losses occur. We should mourn these - but not dwell on them, for the opportunities also are paralleled.
For our online Christmas Eve service, we’re going to sing Christmas hymns; the couple of us in the sanctuary will invite those online, perhaps ones who would never show up to an in-person worship service or are distant, to go ahead and join in as jubilantly and as freely as they would when they’re driving in their car listening to Christmas music.
Jacob Burkman is pastor at First Lutheran Church in Pine River.