CHRIST, THE NEW SONG

Isaiah 12:1-6; James 1:16-21; John 16:5-15

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

St. John 16:13-14 “However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  He will glorify Me…”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  Today is Cantate Sunday, a Sunday that traditionally has something to do with singing.  The name is Latin for the first words of the Introit for today from Psalm 98.  There we are encouraged to “Sing to Yahweh a new song, for He has done marvelous things…”  Six times in the Psalms we are told about singing a new song, and once in Isaiah.  Questions about music and singing naturally come to mind: Is this a divine command for perpetual creativity and innovation in music?  Is this a directive to throw out that which is for one reason or another determined to be old music?  And what is the content of the new song?  What is to guide this music that Christians are instructed to sing?

Many people have used Psalm 98 and the other “new song” passages to prove their right to be creative in worship.  They claim that this is part of the Holy Spirit’s continued activity in the Church, inspiring people to write new music, and livening up the congregation through the singing of these new songs.  All that is old becomes questionable in terms of use.  That was fine for back then, but today we need a new song, like the Psalm says!  And the content of this new song, must of course, be praise for God.  And so the terms “praise” and “worship” abound, and people’s hearts are warmed, imagining that what they are singing is, for the moment, the new song both David and Isaiah envisioned.  But then the new song grows old, and must be replaced by a newer one, and likewise that one needs to be replaced eventually by a still newer song.

None of this is what David or Isaiah had in mind when they spoke of the new song.  The music of which they speak is new not because of its age, but because of its message.  The new song is the song of God’s salvation for His people.  Listen to the subject and message of Psalm 98: “Sing to Yahweh a new song, for He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.  Yahweh has made His salvation known; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.  He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

And so also Isaiah directs us to sing in the Old Testament lesson for today.  And what is it that prompts his call for the Church to sing? “O Yahweh, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.  Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For YAH, the Lord is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.”  The new song of the Christian is the Spirit-given song… of Christ.

Yes, while the Spirit’s role in the creation of the “praise and worship” music is at best questionable, He has clearly inspired this song.  For where Christ and His Gospel are declared, there we are most certain that the Spirit is at work.  Listen again to our Lord’s promise to send the Holy Spirit: “I will send Him to you.  And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment… when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is mine and declare it to you.”  The Spirit’s work is centered on Christ.  The Spirit is sent by Christ, He guides into the truth of Christ’s Word, He convicts by that same Word, He declares the things of Christ, and thereby glorifies and points to Christ.

Indeed through the power of the Holy Spirit working in the Word of Jesus, our Lord Jesus is truly present with us.  But the issue is never whether or not Jesus is everywhere; the issue is always where He promises to reveal Himself and give His blessings.  The issue is to what specific things and places has He attached His promises?  That revealing and giving happens where the Spirit is active.  And the Spirit is active in the things and activities to which Christ has attached His promise; specifically in His Word and in His sacraments.

Furthermore, there is a Trinitarian shape to this giving of Jesus.  Jesus sends the Spirit to us.  But Jesus is first Himself sent by the Father.  And the Word Jesus delivers to the Spirit for us to receive is first delivered to Him by the Father.  In John 12, Jesus said: “I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”  Likewise in John 14: “The word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.”

And so today, describing the things He has given the Spirit to declare, He says again: “All things that the Father has are Mine.  Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”  Through Christ’s Word and Sacraments we receive this powerful giving of the Spirit and we receive and are made one with Jesus; and in Jesus we are united with the Father.

None of this was possible under the old covenant, the covenant of the Law, but only under the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.  Yet these operate side by side to this very day.  The one brings despair, the other hope.  In the old covenant the Spirit is working to convict of sin and judgment.  But by the new He convicts of righteousness.  The old condemns us, revealing our sin and threatening the wrath of God.  The new declares the mercy of God: “though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation.”

This new covenant is the covenant that is confirmed by the blood and death of Christ.  This is the new covenant that brings forgiveness of sins with its proclamation.  This is the new covenant that gives new and abiding life in Holy Baptism.  This is the new covenant that brings salvation through the eating and drinking of Jesus in His Supper.  And here the Spirit is at work bringing and applying Jesus’ saving work on the cross to us now.  Here is the Spirit taking of what is Christ’s and declaring or giving it to us.

This new covenant is, above all else, about Jesus.  And only through Him does it connect us to the Father and the Spirit.  Only through His cross are we reconciled to God.  Only through His death is God’s anger turned away.  And through His resurrection His new covenant is shown to be valid and powerful for our salvation.

Here, again, we see the point of singing a new song.  It has nothing to do with age, for indeed the new song is older in years than the old song.  It has to do with the content; for the new song sings of Jesus.  It is no coincidence that the next time we see the term “new song” in the Scriptures, it is in the heavenly worship depicted in St. John’s Revelation.

And why do they sing only of Jesus?  Our Lord Himself gives the answer, again in Revelation chapter 21: “Behold, I make all things new… It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.  He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”

This is the new song taught by the Holy Spirit to the faithful.  It is the song of Him who makes all things new by accomplishing our salvation.  It is the song of Him who gives to drink freely of water that perpetually satisfies, the water drawn from the wells of salvation, flowing from the pierced side of Jesus.  It is the song that can be chanted only by the faithful, for it is their confession of faith in this world.  They have received the Spirit’s work, and thus have received their Lord Jesus.

And having received, they must sing of Jesus before men.  Having received through proclamation they will in turn, by the power of the Spirit, burst forth in the confession of His name and work.  And that song and confession is nothing but Jesus.  Where the Spirit is active, Christ is present.  Where the Spirit is active, Christ is declared.  And where the Spirit is active, salvation is delivered.

So let us joyfully by the grace of Holy Spirit, and with all the saints of old, continue to sing this new song; the song of Him who makes all things new. “Oh, sing to Yahweh a new song!  For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory!”  

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.