Virtual Voices

Finding community in the city

Religion

Far more than a thousand voices joined to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," and other favorite Christmas hymns last night before the lights were switched on all the trees along New York's Park Avenue from 54th to 96th Street.

This has become a tradition since 1945, when the casualties of the just-finished Second World War were remembered and honored with thousands of lights. Since then too many others have lost their lives in efforts to restrain evil around the world. Beneath the surrounding tall, elaborately sculptured apartment buildings along New York's finest avenue, people join in as shadows, like scissor portraits, to watch the crowd of parents and children who gather outside the old Brick Presbyterian Church at 91st Street. The words to 12 hymns are passed out to enable all to join joyfully in the merry sound of "The First Nowell," "Angels We Have Heard on High," Away in a Manger," Joy to the World," and "Silent Night".

It is surprising to see how many know the words by heart, and how gladly they sing, "Joy to the World! The Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King." Led by a children's choir and accompanied by four brass instruments and the church's organ, all join in, lips move and eyes make contact. While the pastor invited Christians, Jews, Muslims, and "whoever struggles with belief" to participate, at this time it seems to matter little whatever one's religious orientation. It is a festive occasion, an event of a community surrounding the need to honor its servicemen and -women, to pray for them, and to sing once again together: "Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning. Jesus, to thee be all glory giv'n. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. . . ." The Bible puts flesh to real history in a person, who alone can redeem a broken world.

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At the appropriate time, after about an hour, "Taps" is played, then the pastor throws the switch and the Christmas trees all along Park Avenue come alight for the season!

"A Merry Christmas to All."

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