I believe it is safe to say that, when each of us experienced Christmas Fest for the first time, we were not expecting a worship service; we were expecting a concert. To say that Fest is just a concert discredits the fact that many people find it to be a worshipful experience (this is not the same as a worship service – there are plenty of people who will not find a liturgical service to be a worshipful experience, and vice versa). Though we have been mainly discussing the Reformation as it relates to theology and the mass, I believe there are ways in which we can compare the ideologies of the Reformation to Christmas Fest as a sacred music experience.
When Martin Luther discusses music, he describes it as being next to theology, one of the highest art forms given by God. And when music is done exceptionally well, then, he says, “at last it is possible to taste with wonder…God’s absolute and perfect wisdom in his wondrous work of music.” With the amount of care, planning, and preparation given to Fest, it ends up becoming a musical spectacle where singers and players are performing at a really high quality. In Luther’s eyes, Christmas Fest is the ideal celebration of God’s gift of music! Choirs, orchestra, and audience members are all a part of the experience that is good music making.
One part of Fest that I do find troubling is its lack of accessibility. Luther created the Deutsche Messe in order for the Gospel to be accessible to everyone. Of course this meant translating the mass from Latin/Greek to German, but I feel there was something bigger that Luther was trying to do. He took what was previously thought to be elite, only for the literate and theologically well versed, and brought it to the common folk. This is what St. Olaf is missing in its production of Christmas Fest. If you are not connected to the St. Olaf community, then you will be hard-pressed to find a ticket, and even if you can, tickets still cost a fair amount of money. If we really want the message of Fest to be taken to the world, we cannot keep ourselves in a little bubble and hide behind the excuse that we broadcast one of the Fest dates on MPR. Let’s convert Christmas Fest from an elitist music experience to a message of Love and Hope that people can truly grasp.