The musical maintains a hold in the American cinematic and theatrical repertoire, though its grip has loosened somewhat since its heyday in the 1950’s. For every Hamilton or The Greatest Showman, seemingly a dozen CGI-fueled spectacles spring up.
Where once Julie Andrews or Rex Harrison burst into song to provide an emotional catharsis, now the Hulk or Thanos is conjured up to lay waste to a city. But the musical never quite dies out, because we still recognize that some things are simply too important to be captured in mere prose.
If an old nun wants to give you truly life-changing advice, she is going to do a better job of it by belting out “Climb Every Mountain” than by droning on with a lecture about responsible decision-making. And if Cowgirl Jessie (Toy Story 2) is going to get abandoned by the side of the road, she is only going to capture that heartache adequately in the exquisitely sorrowful “When She Loved Me.”
I have often thought that the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel should be titled “Advent: The Musical.” As amazing as the content of Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:45-55 is, I introduce it here primarily as an example of the fact that throughout these chapters the characters can’t keep from bursting into song (or at least poetry). Mary, Zechariah, Simeon and even the bright and shiny heavenly host recognize that the birth of the Messiah is too awesome for everyday speech. The superabundant grace of God forces itself out into song.
May we recognize that grace ourselves this Advent season and join the chorus: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (vv. 46-50, NIV).
Sean McDonough, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament