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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
24 December 2001

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 2, No. 51

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Christmas Choir in the Colonnade

The sounds of a high school girls choir singing a West Indies spiritual spanned the centuries and renewed the spirit of Christmas.

by Jerome F. Winzig

Christmas is a time of complex contradictions. It's a cultural celebration of happiness and joy. It's a time of shopping, presents, and parties. It's an occasion for music, carols, decorations, and lights. Almost lost in all of this is the awesome central event that is truly Christmas -- when God came down to become a helpless human infant to a poor couple in a remote and seemingly insignificant province of the Roman Empire.

These days I'm working on-site for a client officed in the Colonnade Building, a lavish 17-story building west of downtown Minneapolis. The huge, multi-story glass atrium features marble floors and walls and flowing fountains. During the noon hour one day this week I took a walk down to the atrium and discovered a high school girls choir was performing there.

I hadn't seen any publicity about the choir. Perhaps they came because of the wonderful acoustics of the soaring atrium. Except for the people in the restaurant on the opposite side of the atrium, there wasn't much of an audience. Most of the people passing through the atrium didn't linger long. They were on their way to lunch or appointments or errands. However, a few of us tarried for awhile.

We were in for a special treat, because the choir was excellent. They sang with intensity and focus. As they sang, they ignored the people passing by and kept their eyes were on the director, a tall young woman who brought their parts into one harmonious whole.

As they sang, I wondered where they were from. Not from a city high school. There was none of the rich racial diversity of my children's high school; except for one girl who was Asian, all of the choir members appeared Caucasian. Nonetheless, they had their own diversity in looks. Neither did they seem pampered; they were there to sing Christmas carols, not to make a fashion statement.

Their best moment came when they sang the West Indian spiritual, "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy." Again and again the atrium was filled with the sounds of the refrain,

    He came from the Glory,
    He came from the Glorious Kingdom,
    Oh, yes, Believer, oh, yes, Believer,
    He came from the Glory,
    He came from the Glorious Kingdom.

In the midst of the Colonnade's lavish marbled atrium this mostly-Caucasian girls choir from a Minneapolis suburb was singing words and music composed in the days of African slavery about the birth of a little Middle Eastern boy 2,000 years ago. They sang with fervor and intensity and the atrium echoed with the sounds of a spiritual sung the way it was meant to be sung.

The coming of the Messiah continues to intrude on our lives 20 centuries later. In the midst of affluent suburban America, the choir's music reminded us of how stunning our God's love for us is. The events of this year have reminded those of us who were comfortable that the world can be a dangerous, fearful place. When Jesus was born, the poor people of King Herod's kingdom needed no such reminder.

Daily life was hard. Roman rule could be harsh, and even when it wasn't, it still meant rule by an occupying empire. Many children died young, and even when they didn't life expectancy was short. Most diseases went uncured and there was no middle class; most people were poor all their lives.

That God would come down and become a human being is utterly amazing. Skeptics are right to say the idea is preposterous. Even more incredible is the fact that God chose to do so at a time and in a place where He would be most vulnerable, where there would be no doubt whatever he would be exposed to the vagaries of human existence.

I think God was delighted to hear the sounds of that suburban American girls choir singing words and music composed during slavery in the West Indies. The lyrics, "The Virgin Mary had a baby boy, And they gave him the name of Jesus," came closer to the real meaning of Christmas than any gift any of us could have purchased during that lunch hour. The challenge and call of Christmas are the same as they were 2,000 years ago -- responding to the coming of our Lord.

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     Minneapolis, Minnesota

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