December 1, 2020

Words Fail Me

“Love and gratitude require unlimited vocabularies.”

Bill Knott

At the very edge of language, well beyond the verbs and adjectives we use to win our daily bread and tell our daily stories, there are ideas so sublime that we must stretch to find the words.

Such is our fascination with the Incarnation that even two articulate apostles groped for language to describe the wonder of it all. Twenty centuries later, we have found no better words:

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16, RSV).1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God;all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5, RSV).

“Love and gratitude require unlimited vocabularies.”

And yet, because it is in the heart of every follower of Jesus to say the finest thing we know of Him, each Christmas we sing our anthems, write our hymns: we release whatever poetry we have in us to bring still greater glory to the One deserving of it all. The latest expression of our praise, the fullest heart from which we sing, is never quite the final word, for love and gratitude require unlimited vocabularies.

A grateful tongue, suffused with love, is in Christ’s mind as great a monument to grace as Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” or any carol sung for centuries.

This Christmas, for the first time in a century, too many of us will not be able to gather in the places where we worship for the music that we love. We will turn to Alexa, albums, and to YouTube to hear again the words and tunes that are the cradle of our faith. We will gather at pianos and on Zoom to sing the music we dare not skip—not any year, especially not this year.

This remarkable edition of Adventist Review is itself a testament to the power of the music that we sing. It also represents a growing synergy of technologies: print is no longer two-dimensional, and symbols happily can lead to song. Within these pages, you can access prose and video, art and song, reflection and the soaring voice of hope.

No fewer than 10 remarkable songs are available to you as you read this edition by simply using the QR code app from your mobile phone, or by entering this URL on a website: Recordings by solo artists, choral groups, and small ensembles present a uniquely Adventist understanding of the wonder of Christmas, for we celebrate the love that brought a Baby down to us and will ultimately bring Him back as King of kings.

Begin your musical journey here, with the QR code and the URL below, to witness one of my own attempts to celebrate the wonder and glory of our Saviour. This hymn, “The Light of Christ,” was written in 2016, and fitted to a marvelous tune composed by Mark Willey. His article, “Our Priceless Instruments” (pp. 22-25), also enriches this special edition.

You came once to save Your people;

You were born to break our chains;

Come again, O great Redeemer;

Be the end of death and pain.

  1. Texts credited RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971, by Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.