Professor Bobb described Christmas Fest as an academic event done in a meaningful, authentic way. The choirs are college choirs, not church choirs. Even looking at Christmas Fest as an academic experience, however, several theological problems arise. Nevertheless, I think Luther would have had a few positive things to say about it.
Certain elements of Luther’s theology do seem to indicate a problem with Christmas Fest. One line from Psalm 9:1 particularly draws my attention. It says, “Some people confess with their lips only. They are the ones who say one thing in the heart and another with the mouth, like the sinner who has evil intentions and sings to God nevertheless.”1
This seems to imply that people should only sing what they believe. If people are required to sing prescribed religious songs as part of their academic experience, how can they avoid sometimes singing text with which they disagree? Furthermore, how can students of different branches of Christianity avoid singing text counter to their own beliefs (and consequently sinning)?
Another dilemma arises when one considers that Fest is one of St. Olaf’s biggest moneymakers. Luther warns against the misuse or prostitution of music.2
The need for tickets at Fest makes one wonder if religious music is being used for financial gain, arguably a misuse.
On the other hand, some aspects of Fest seem to agree with Reformation theology (even when we consider the event through an academic lens). According to Luther, “music reigns in times of peace.”3 For example, in 1541, Luther called people to sing prayer in response to the threat of the Ottoman Empire. Christmas Fest themes often promote peace, and Luther likely would have approved of this decision.
Likewise, Luther believed that the expression of real faith required music. While he may have objected to parts of Christmas Fest, Luther probably would have liked the general idea of a well-meaning event centered on music. He also would have valued the individual connection to God that many people gain from the Fest experience.
As an academic event, Christmas Fest presents some theological issues. Despite these objections, however, Luther likely would have found admirable qualities in Fest concerts.
1 Robin A. Leaver, “Luther on music,” Lutheran Quarterly 20/2 (2006): 127. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 28, 2016).