Just as the days begin to grow darker and colder, our college and campus communities are ready once more to fill them with the light and joy of the holiday season. Amidst all of the wonderful celebrations to come, one stands out as a unique opportunity to enter into the true spirit of preparation in these festive weeks: Bethany College’s annual Jultide Concert, Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. in Presser Hall. This year’s gathering will be especially timely as it coincides with a milestone moment in the history of the Lutheran tradition.
In the year of the Reformation’s so-called 500th anniversary, much ado is being made about the iconic moment of Martin Luther’s Wittenberg proclamation. Luther’s bombastic hammering of his Ninety-five Theses to the church door is a cultural favorite whether or not it actually happened. This rousing act of defiance tends to capture our imagination so much that we assume it alone made Luther famous; but the true impact of his legacy has many sources.
One of Luther’s most undervalued contributions is the simple act of congregational singing in one’s native tongue. In churches of all varieties, we take such an everyday activity for granted; but historians of Luther’s era remind us that hymn singing was once as shocking and controversial as other changes like clergy getting married, or lay people receiving the wine of communion. Singing spread the teachings of the Reformation like wildfire, more than any tract or lecture. Songs were shared by mouth and by letter, rewritten to familiar tunes and quickly set to harmony.
It is therefore especially appropriate that our Jultide program for this year is a festive celebration of Martin Luther’s own hymn “From Heaven Above.” What better way to commemorate the true spirit of the Reformation than with a hymn? It is a reminder of the heart of the Lutheran revolution: a calling of ordinary people into a “priesthood of all believers.” Hymn-singing is the best example of how people of all ages, even the youngest children, can be active participants in sharing the Good News of the season.
At this year’s celebration of Jultide, we are invited to experience a beloved Lutheran Christmas hymn in a new way. Luther’s favorite part of the story is that of a child born Prince of all Creation, yet lain in a humble manger. We’ll invite children to join us on stage in setting the scene of that stable with some surprise help from our musicians. We’ll be uplifted by a variety of musical expressions of the angels’ joy at Christ’s birth. And perhaps most important of all, we’ll set aside an afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the season to contemplate the true meaning of Advent, as we prepare to welcome God’s arrival in the most humble place of all: the human heart.
Despite the appeal of the holidays as a season for giving (and getting), Jultide offers us an opportunity to remember that Advent is most truly a season of waiting. It’s an invitation to look and listen for something unexpected, yet more precious than all the obvious material treasure surrounding us. In the wise words of Sister Joan Chittester, “Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.”
May the music, stories, and poems of Jultide invite each of us to search beyond the obvious, the glaring, and the glittering, to see and hear what truly matters. All are welcome to this free event as we prepare together for Christ’s coming into the world once more. Free will donations will be accepted at the concert. –Text by Rachael Pryor