It gets me every year,
It pulls me in
Pulls me down
It is like swimming against a tide
Just for a day or two
Just whilst I remember what my feet are on
Just while I breathe in His goodness and strength.
There are many hymns that irk or irritate me, some are old but most are the modern choruses that encourage a euphoric experience but I look at the people and watch the euphoria pass them over. This is not a judgement, it is viewing people in love and where they are at. It is not about singing in key, or beaming in some transcendental trance, or waving arms, or clapping. The music carries a certain amount of people on a journey, but generally it is the music not the words. I like hymns with words, I like to see good, solid theology laid out so even the simplest of folk (me) can get a glimpse of God’s unfolding story for me.
At Christmas time we sing old carols that tell out the story of the birth of Jesus from the perspective of the writer of the hymn, so their culture & theology is imprinted on the lyrics. For example the English lyrics of the Zither Carol call Mary undefiled, whereas older carols don’t shy away from the virginity of Mary. James Montgomery in his “Angels from the realm of glory” gives the gospel message as well as the birth story getting to the crux of why Jesus came, although for me the words of the verse relating to the wise men is amazing. James didn’t go the “king” or “wise” route, he chose the word “sages.” John Byrom wrote of “God incarnate and the virgin’s son” around the same time that Charles Wesley wrote the advent hymn “come thou long expected Saviour.”
Some of the carols use words and phrases from their own time, “In the bleak mid winter,” talks of moaning frost and we berate these English speaking carol writers for foisting their world view on us but in defence we have to look at carols like the Huron carol, Canada’s oldest carol that speaks of hunters and wooden lodges. It is taking the story of Jesus’ birth and putting it in a context that the singers of that time would relate to.
It is all well and good to trawl through a hymn of carol and pick holes in it because we think we know better in this age of google and t’internet and we are encouraged to do so but we need to balance other people’s imperfections with our own. We are only going to hear maybe ten or twenty carols in any given year and fashions and fads help in our choosing which ones to sing. This year “Silent Night” is being sung as the backdrop to violence in movies and television programmes, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is associated with shots of birth pains, ending as a baby is successfully delivered. Lighter programmes will have “Deck the Halls,” which would be hard pressed to find a “Christian” strand in it.
But every year, no matter what the fad or fashion, one carol gets me.
It gets me because of its errancy
Its error in what babies do
Its error in Jesus being somehow different to other babies needs and wants
Its error in suggesting Jesus is the only baby who does not cry
There are, unfortunately, many babies in this world who have learned that crying makes no difference.
This is not about Jesus, God incarnate, this is about the babies who are unloved, neglected, left wet, dirty, thirsty and hungry.
Every year I cry at the impossibility of hurting a baby through deliberate intervention or by ignorance. And I think of my own children and I think of my own childhood.
This year I got through singing the carol without crying out loud, not even a welling up the eyes. I have coping strategies in place I don’t look at the words, I look at cornices or walls, I count bricks in my mind, I marvel at the sculpting of plaster. I distract myself.
But the words came to me later, and I cried.
I sang the old carol in the privacy of my own home and allowed a bucketful of salt water to cascade.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care, O Lord, protect them from the evil that people do.
As we sing carols and look forward to Jesus coming again, pause and think of all the children in the world that are enslaved, raped, brutalised, beaten, killed, tortured and those that are neglected, hungry, thirsty, unable to voice what is happening to them. Think of how far this world has come that it can dehumanise a baby, a child, a teenager. Have we come far at all?
Jesus was born in a smelly, dirty room, in non sterile conditions and he was loved. He cried and he was fed, he was protected. He was loved, and as time moved he began to teach of God’s love for us all. So after thinking of the babies, think of the people who do such things, pray for them, pray that they turn to Jesus, pray that they ask for forgiveness, pray that they accept that forgiveness and live lives transformed.
It is not about pulling me down to their level
It is about how do we show them the way up onto the solid ground of faith
It is about not judging,
It is about loving
As Jesus did
As Jesus was
As Jesus is
And how Jesus will