Among the popular items now on YouTube are videos of “The Hallelujah Chorus” from The Messiah. One performance was at Macy’s in Philadelphia recently and another at a mall food court in Canada. They are called “Random Acts of Culture.” Many more of these events are planned for the next three years, so they are random only in that they are staged in unlikely public places among crowds of unsuspecting people. That makes them similar to “flash mob” events, though considerably more elevated in purpose than the mass pillow fights and silent discos of previous years.
The Macy’s performance, which you can view here, gives the impression of taking place in a cathedral, with a huge pipe organ and airy, expansive spaces filled with exhilarating sound. But my favorite is the food court performance, which you can view here,
Highly skilled singers exuberantly perform one of the most sublime pieces of music ever written while mall shoppers munch fast food. The odd setting for such exalted religious art is, of course, the whole point: that ennobling cultural expressions should be a natural part of life.
But I like it for an additional reason: the jarring contrast provides a model for those of us distressed by the removal of God from public life. This trend is most distressing not because those hostile to God are succeeding. It is that Christians are not taking advantage of more opportunities to bring God back to the awareness of those around us. This means more than saying “Merry Christmas!” instead of “happy holidays.” It means expressing our reliance on and worship of God in public places.
This will seem uncomfortable at first. We are used to keeping silence, even when expressing our faith would be natural and appropriate. I heard it done recently at a campground when before their meal, three families near us sang a sweet song of thanks to God loud enough for everyone around to hear.
On another recent occasion, I was at a workshop in a government building. After the meeting, another individual began sharing his serious job and family difficulties with me. He was looking for sympathy. Instead of excusing myself I did something that was difficult at first, because there were others in the room who could hear us. I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed for him, out loud. Yes, my fellow citizens, I violated the separation of church and state right there in that federally funded conference room. (Fortunately, the head of the local ACLU is a friend of mine, so my bases were covered).
When you watch these videos, pay attention to the onlookers. Their surprised but appreciative expressions are reminders that there are many who need our gracious and winsome but bold witness to the greatness of our Creator. “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Jehovah is great and greatly to be praised. He is to be feared above all gods.”