• Jonathan Tomick

I Heard Joy and Justice in the Baltimore Men’s Chorus


Last Friday, I did not sit before a sky filled with thousands of heavenly messengers, but I did sit in the church sanctuary before a dozen and a half members of the Baltimore Men’s Chorus. They sang “Make them Hear You,” a song from the musical Ra gtime. It’s not a new song, but I heard it for the first time that night. The song opens with the words, “Go out and tell your story, let it echo far and wide, make them hear you.” Those words brought to mind a scripture appropriate for the middle of Advent, the scene from Luke’s gospel when a messenger of the Lord appears to shepherds outside of Bethlehem. That messenger announces the birth of Jesus, a savior for all people, and urges the shepherds to seek him out.

I’m sure the shepherds heard the messenger the first time.

And yet, in the next line thousands of messengers join the first. They fill the night sky, singing and proclaiming the glory of God. The scene unfolds as if the heavenly host were enacting one simple command from their Lord: Make them hear you.

The shepherds did hear them, and so did all who sat in Saint Luke’s Friday night.

“Make Them Hear You” echoed in my ears all weekend. If you haven’t heard it, go listen to it. The lyrics open with a story of how “justice was denied,” but as the song continues, it illustrates how telling such a story can bring justice in future generations. Listening to Maryland’s longest-running LGBTQ+ performing arts organization sing beneath a two-story-tall portrait of Jesus felt like a small part of that justice achieved, a testament to the radical love and inclusion of one church on the corner of an avenue in Baltimore, Maryland.

In one feeding trough, tucked in the corner of a small town in Bethlehem of Judea, a woman who was once on the brink of being shunned by her own community gave birth to Jesus, our liberating king, whose singular purpose was to bring justice previously denied all of humanity. Justice was his battle. It still is, which makes the end of “Make Them Hear You” as perfect for the Christmas season as its refrain:

Your sword could be a sermon

Or the power of the pen

Teach every child to raise his voice

And then my brothers, then

Will justice be demanded by ten million righteous men

Make them hear you-

When they hear you,

I’ll be near you

again.

I imagine those final lines as Christ speaking to us, telling us that when we speak of justice - of radical love that stems from compassion, not judgment or accusation - He will be near us. He does, in fact, tell us this in scripture when he says, in Matthew 18, “For when two or three of you are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.”

But what does that look like?

One thing I’ve grown to understand about God’s love is that it always starts with the heart, our own hearts. I know in the coming weeks I will face family and friends who will challenge my sense of compassion. These are the people I am closest with, for whom I feel the most overwhelming gratitude and love. And yet, these are also the people with whom, over so many years, dozens of petty injustices have accumulated.

These injustices are not the same level of injustice that “Make Them Hear You” addresses, but how do we address pervasive, systemic issues like an opioid epidemic and institutionalized white supremacy when we are busy nursing wounds in our own hearts?

An often quoted line by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. goes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I believe this is true geographically, but I also believe it’s true emotionally and spiritually. Wounds in our hearts affect our minds, which guide our hands and feet. If we do not address the injustices we feel in our own lives, how can we be whole enough to serve others?

Leading up to the Christmas season, we often hear Jesus’s birth presented in opposition to our holiday celebrations. We hear lines like, “Remember the reason for the season.” But 33 years after our savior’s birth, he began his ministry at a wedding, a joyful celebration of friends and family. I believe our journey to becoming the “ten thousand righteous” people “Make Them Hear You” speaks of begins with healing, because when we are healed and whole, then we can be the strong voices our community needs us to be.

So celebrate. Embrace this season with wild love and compassion. Gather with the people for whom you are dying to express your overflowing love and gratitude. Make them hear you.

Full lyrics to “Make Them Hear You”

Go out and tell our story

Let it echo far and wide

Make them hear you

Make them hear you

How Justice was our battle

And how Justice was denied

Make them hear you

Make them hear you

And say to those who blame us

For the way we chose to fight,

That sometimes there are battles

That are more than black or white

And I could not put down my sword

When Justice was my right

Make them hear you

Go out and tell our story to your daughters and your sons

Make them hear you

Make them hear you

And tell them, "In our struggle,

We were not the only ones"

Make them hear you

Make them hear you

Your sword could be a sermon

Or the power of the pen

Teach every child to raise his voice

And then my brothers, then

Will justice be demanded by ten million riteous men

Make them hear you-

When they hear you, I'll be near you

Again

Source: Musixmatch.com


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