Thoughts on carols


I’ve been reading through some of the old carols recently in preparation for a traditional Carol Service we’re running and I’ve been a little bemused by some of the language in these. Many of them seem to paint some incredibly serene, pious and dare I say it… un-biblical picture of the birth of Jesus.

Take Christina Rossetti’s classic carol “In the bleak midwinter”; in the bleak midwinter! Where on earth does that come from? Admittedly my knowledge of climates is fairly limited but I’m pretty sure Bethlehem hasn’t seen too much snow in its history.

Then there’s lines like “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “O Little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie” The last I heard a mother giving birth isn’t a silent affair, that is unless your giving birth to Tom Cruise’s kid.

Then there are the amusing inaccuracies, for example in “God rest ye merry, gentlemen” which states “Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day”. That was a spot of luck wasn’t it , that Jesus just happened to be born on Christmas day of all days!

The funniest has to be Away in a manger though, where one verse reads: “The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, No crying he makes.” Oh really! you’ve just been born, your lying in an animal trough and a huge great animal starts mooing in your face, but hey you don’t cry because your Jesus.

Underneath all this I guess there is a danger that people can form a theology or an understanding of Jesus from the carols we hear. I would guess that a large percentage of people this Christmas may well hear or even sing a few carols but may not get to hear what the Bible really says about Jesus.

When I read the Christmas story I’m gripped by descriptions of angelic visitations and instructions, prophesies fulfilled, stars showing wise men that a baby was the king of the jews, belief by Mary and Joseph that God would do such an unusual thing and a baby actually created without the need for sex.

But I guess the thing that really grips me is the picture of a creator God pulling up his sleeves and sending himself into a human stomach to eventually be delivered into the rot, grime and reality of a world that had turned its back on him. “This is real love” says the Bible, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take awayour sins.”

C.S. Lewis wrote: “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation…. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this…. It was the central event in the history of the Earth–the very thing that the whole story has been about”

I guess my thought for the day would be a prayer for people to not settle for the little helpless, religious and irrelevant Jesus that we sing about in some of our carols but that they would start a search for the real Jesus, the man and God that amazed people with his teaching, that walked on water, calmed the storm, stood up for the oppressed, fed the hungry, released demons, healed the sick, raised the dead and eventually died on a cross before raising again.

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