Cute middle school kids filed onto the risers for the charter school holiday concert. Boys with hair slicked back, girls with Mom’s bright pink lipstick a bit clumsily applied. Some surveyed the audience, grinned once they located a relative, and waved shyly. High school girls swept in wearing long black concert dresses, followed by boys in tuxes and smart red bow ties.
I peeked inside the program. Christmas favorites like “Adeste Fideles” and “Deck the Halls,” songs in Hebrew to celebrate Hanukkah, and the Hallelujah Chorus as the finale. But I was in for a surprise, as was the audience—one surprise for me, and a different one for most of the others.
The students sang a jazzy arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” a lively spiritual urging listeners to “run to the manger,” and a few songs about snow and sleigh rides and bells. The singers kept their eyes on their teachers, following their cues to sing loud or soft. Soloists occasionally broke out of the ranks of their classmates to belt their parts into the microphone and then scurry back to the safety of the group. The audience applauded heartily after each piece.
During “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light,” I wondered what the students thought about the words they were singing.
This Child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making.
Peace and joy. In a world of climate change, a refugee crisis, corporate greed, sickness…the students in front of me sang from a background of poverty, drugs, homelessness, and violence. I watched their faces and listened to their voices singing about things that were perhaps truer than they know, truer than we all can know right now. Yes, there is still goodness in the world.
I watched their faces and listened to their voices singing about things that were perhaps truer than they know, truer than we all can know right now. Yes, there is still goodness in the world.
For the final piece, the Hallelujah Chorus, all the choirs, a brass quartet, a strings section, and percussion players crowded into the performance space. I got ready to stand, according to tradition, but no one else in the auditorium did.
I found myself humming the melody.
The kingdom of this world
is become the kingdom of our God
and of His Christ, and of His Christ…
The music reached its crescendo in the last few measures.
And here was my surprise: at the dramatic pause just before the final “Hallelujah!” the audience began to applaud. When the performers continued on to the last two measures, the applause awkwardly died out. At the song’s true conclusion, the audience burst into renewed applause, even louder this time.
The final notes were a surprise, I realized.
We live in the pause. The great Hallelujah is coming, but it isn’t here yet.
So let us preach–and sing–of this good news of the kingdom of God. That kingdom has indeed come in Christ and is even now spreading His peace and joy throughout the world.
And let us wait in this pause, that great silence before the final notes, for the completion of that kingdom. Let us join with all the cosmos to say,
When the final notes begin to sound, I think we will all be surprised at their gloriousness.
Allison Sheeler Duncan studied English and theology at Eastern University and is now a writer and editor at a university in southeast Pennsylvania. She writes about grace, beauty, and justice at her blog, Shining from Shook Foil, where this piece first appeared. She enjoys growing flowers and heirloom tomatoes, watching superhero movies, and writing in calligraphy.