Sunday, 20 December 2015

Carols Lite

Trying to take the lessons of Tim Lott's Christmas message seriously at this evening's "Nativilite". We decided to dispense with all those tedious, didactic carols and instead only have the sorts of songs that make people feel vaguely Christmassy without any nasty theological or moral implications. You know, even "Away in a Manger" has a sharp turn in the third verse where it implies Jesus is able to be near us and care for small children - and a desire that we become fit enough for heaven. If even "Away in a Manger" is judgemental like that, what hope do we have from some of the more aggressive Advent carols? All that deeply wailing is most unpleasant.

So today's "Carols Lite" had all the joy and none of the content. Running order was:
  • Jingle Bells 
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer
  • Blue Christmas
  • Walking in a Winter Wonderland
  • Fairytale of New York

Of course we had a lot of complaints. Everyone - even those who only come along to the Moot House at Yule and Mayday - said it wasn't the same without the religious carols. We were just singing Christmassy songs. Only Fairytale out of those has a Christian message at all - unless you count the Rudolfian message that we should respect those who do not meet society's ideals of physical beauty.

Which takes me back to the words of Tim Lott:
"This is the nature of Christianity, and of Christmas in general. It is a pantomime that we join in together and play out what it would feel like if we really did believe."
No, Tim Lott. This is your liberal, Western, complacent, ignorant view of the nature of Christianity. It's not the view of the Christian martyrs who are dying in the Middle East and Africa. They don't believe Christianity is a pantomime at all. They think it is eternally serious. The Priest who told you he did in fact believe in the Virgin Birth and Resurrection isn't some anachronism. That's what clergy generally believe.You're the one with the delusion.
A pulpit is for life, not just at Christmas

There's something really clever going on with some hymns. Take "In the Bleak Midwinter". It's one that some of my more literalist friends object to on the grounds that there was in fact no snow; no snow on snow; indeed no snow on snow on snoooow; in the bleak midwinter, long ago. But it's pretty and lovely and Christmassy and it sneaks in some of the most beautiful incarnational theology ever written:

"Angels and archangels may have gathered there / cherubim and seraphim thronged the air
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss / worshipped the Beloved with a kiss".

See, we who do this all the time don't just do it because it makes us feel nice and Christmassy and full of good will - even though it does, and it also makes us thoughtful and cut to the heart, challenged and aware we are sinful, yet loved and forgiven and loved and loved and loved.

We do it because we believe the stuff Tim Lott thinks we don't and shouldn't. When we sing our God was "contracted to a span - incomprehensibly made Man", there's probably more of us thinking we wish we could think of a word other than "Man" that made sense of the line and sounded inclusive, than there are of us crossing our fingers and wondering when we get a mince pie. We believe Jesus was God on earth - we largely believe in the Virgin birth. We believe Jesus existed, walked around, ate, drank, excreted, cried, said some awkward things, was brutally stitched up and killed. And unexpectedly, three days later, started walking around, eating and saying awkward things again. This is in fact what we believe. This is why we write and sing songs about it. This is why we are up at 8am in freezing cold buildings even when it is not Christmas. This is why people die for the Christian faith.

So happy Christmas, Tim Lott. Glad you like the wrapping. Maybe one day you'll actually get the gift.


  1. Thank you for bursting the bubble of the naff sentimentality of the guardian article. Makes me realise why I am doing all these services as a parish priest, with a stinking cold, just because that's what it's all about.

  2. Excellent counterblast to the usual Grauniad liberal-speak of comfortable Britain. Thanks Eileen

  3. I wish to complain. You did not include in your Service the archetypal refrain All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.

  4. Amen and Amen to every word. That's what I stood up and preached at Midnight Mass as a retired priest who doesn't know when to stop helping out.


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