Do Muslims and Jews Have This Problem?

In the mood of the season, I found a Youtu.be video with Frank Sinatra’s rendition of Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.

Maybe yours doesn’t but my mind boggled (again). Frank Sinatra, the singer alluded to in The Godfather, with real ties to the Rat Pack, and no model of family mores, is singing Charles Wesley (one of the original Methodists’ better verses). Again, the mind boggles.

This is how familiar Christmas is for Americans (and people in the West more generally). Not only did Sinatra sing Wesley. But producers in the recording industry believed that Frank singing a batch of Christmas songs would be a revenue enhancer. And these entertainment geniuses decided not only to include some of the secular and corny songs, like Jingle Bells, but also the sorts of material that Anglican cathedral choirs include in Lessons and Carols services.

Is your mind boggling yet?

Do Muslims have songs to sing about the birth of Muhammad? Do Jews sing about the birth of Abraham? One way to tell is to live in a Muslim or Jewish society during the holy days? How much religious music seeps out into the larger commercial world?

I don’t know (and am willing to learn from readers).

But one of the things that makes Christmas great (in all senses of the word) is that recording celebrities have put out so many albums and cds devoted to the birth of Jesus.

For the New Schoolers out there who like to chalk such cultural expressions up to the church’s (which one?) transformatalistizational powers, the pervasiveness of Christmas cheer is a sign of the longing that many people have the good news that the nativity narratives begin. Yes, we need more Christ and less Frank in Christmas, but for Americans to devote the better part of six weeks every year to the celebration of Christmas is an indication of Christianity’s abiding appeal.

For Old Schoolers, though, the relentless persistence of Christmas in all its schmaltz and devotion is an indication of how little discomfort Christians feel about making their own holiday an affair for Muslims, Jews, and secularists to enjoy or endure. Imagine thinking that Frank Sinatra’s Christmas albums would sell in Istanbul.

At the same time, Old Schoolers who know the history of the church calendar should not blame Roman Catholics for the ubiquity of Christmas sales and music. Protestants in the United States did not observe Christmas (minus some Episcopalians and Lutherans) until the late nineteenth century when department store entrepreneurs like New School Presbyterian, John Wanamaker, connected the dots between God’s gift to man in sending his son, and the gifts that Americans could give to friends and family to participate in that incarnational spirit.

Protestants made the world safe for Frank Sinatra singing Wesley, not the bishops.

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What’s In Your Hymnal?

I am generally sheepish about singing Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts since both hymn writers knocked the Psalter off its congregational song pedestal and the former, Wesley, is a — well — Wesleyan. But on Sunday, when we sang, “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” the cold heart in this vinegary Calvinist warmed:

Arise, my soul, arise,
shake off your guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice,
in my behalf appears;
Before the throne my Surety stands,
Before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

Chorus: Arise (arise), arise (arise), arise
Arise, my soul, arise.
Arise (arise), arise (arise), arise
Arise, my soul, arise.
Shake off your guilty fears and rise

He ever lives above,
for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love,
His precious blood, to plead;
His blood atoned for every race,
His blood atoned for every race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears;
received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers;
they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

My God is reconciled;
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child;
I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

After attending a marriage service at a Roman Catholic parish this winter, I was surprised to learn that Christians in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome have Wesley and Watts available to them. But I can’t imagine any Roman Catholic who thinks he or she will wind up in purgatory singing “Arise, My Soul, Arise.” I know for some of the readers here, the sense of guilt and fear of condemnation that gripped Luther is not the sort of angst that full confidence in the magisterium, or papal supremacy, or 2,000 years of uncontested (really?) history yields. At the same time, sentiments like Wesley’s were the target for Trent’s condemnations of Protestant teaching on assurance.

So for those Christians who put so much confidence in the papacy, what kind of hymns would they sing? How about the Pontifical Anthem?

O happy Rome – O happy noble Rome
O happy Rome – O happy Rome, noble Rome
You are the seat of Peter, who shed his blood in Rome,
Peter, to whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given.
Pontiff, You are the successor of Peter;
Pontiff, You are the teacher, you confirm your brethren;
Pontiff, You who are the Servant of the servants of God,
and fisher of men, are the shepherd of the flock,
linking heaven and earth.
Pontiff, You are the vicar of Christ on earth,
a rock amidst the waves, You are a beacon in the darkness;
You are the defender of peace, You are the guardian of unity,
watchful defender of liberty; in You is the authority.

Pontiff, you are the unshakable rock, and on this rock
was built the Church of God.
Pontiff, You are the vicar of Christ on earth,
a rock amidst the waves, You are a beacon in the darkness;
You are the defender of peace, You are the guardian of unity,
watchful defender of liberty; in You is the authority.
O happy Rome – O noble Rome.

Or, how about “Long Live the Pope His Praises Sound“:

1. Long live the Pope! His praises sound
Again and yet again:
His rule is over space and time;
His throne the hearts of men:
All hail! the Shepherd King of Rome,
The theme of loving song:
Let all the earth his glory sing,
And heav’n the strain prolong.
Let all the earth his glory sing,
And heav’n the strain prolong.

2. Beleaguered by the foes of earth,
Beset by hosts of hell,
He guards the loyal flock of Christ,
A watchful sentinel:
And yet, amid the din and strife,
The clash of mace and sword,
He bears alone the shepherd staff,
This champion of the Lord.
He bears alone the shepherd staff,
This champion of the Lord.

3. His signet is the Fisherman’s;
No sceptre does he bear;
In meek and lowly majesty
He rules from Peter’s Chair:
And yet from every tribe and tongue,
From every clime and zone,
Three hundred million voices sing,
The glory of his throne.
Three hundred million voices sing,
The glory of his throne.

4. Then raise the chant, with heart and voice,
In church and school and home:
“Long live the Shepherd of the Flock!
Long live the Pope of Rome!”
Almighty Father, bless his work,
Protect him in his ways,
Receive his prayers, fulfill his hopes,
And grant him “length of days.”
Receive his prayers, fulfill his hopes,
And grant him “length of days.”

I’ll stick with the Wesleyan.