As the old year passes, we cry for our struggling world. A hymn for the new year.

Thanks to David MacGregor for this hymn for the new year:

1. As the old year passes we look back, reflect:

times of joy and promise, times we’d best forget.

God of the ages, help us walk your way.

Help us greet your future, seize tomorrow’s day.

2. As the old year passes sorrow wells within:

loved ones no more ‘round us, all that could have been.

God of compassion, heal each ailing heart.

Guide us to your future where new life may start.

3. As the old year passes we cry for our struggling world.

Climate ever-changing, fighting too-often heard.

God, you have called us to cherish all you give.

Call us to your future where all in peace, might live.

4. As the new year dawns now we would give you praise.

Faithful God, come lead us onward in new ways.

We’ll love and serve you in the faith of Christ,

in your Spirit’s future; people of new life.

Words: David MacGregor © 2007 Willow Publishing

Music: Noel Nouvelet – TIS 382

The depth of God’s presence in our midst

Today (in the Eastern Church) is designated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (It was celebrated yesterday in the Western Church.) This festival day commemorates the story of “the Slaughter of the Innocents”, reportedly ordered by King Herod, and recorded in the opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel (and nowhere else). It is a tragic story, a myth which is filled with pathos, and it resonates with events in the world we live in today. It is a story with great power (as are all myths).

But this story is strikingly absent from the usual array of carols that are sung at this time of the year. Sugar-coated reminiscences of the cute li’l baby Jesus (“holy infant so tender and mild”, “the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head”, “but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”, “gentle and lowly lived below”) take us well away from the murderous acts of the tyrannical ruler.

Most of the traditional carols really want us to focus on Jesus the exalted Lord, resplendent in glory, coming to earth from heaven, so they move us quickly away from the vulnerable infant, and especially from the grim political and social realities of the time.

Some of the traditional carols take us to the edge of the story of violence and repression, and then leave it unspoken, or rather, unsung. “Unto us a boy is born” refers to the fury unleashed by Herod in slaughtering the baby boys, but fails then to go on and narrate the flight undertaken by Joseph, Mary and Jesus. In “The first Nowell”, the three wise men see the star in verse 4 and come to find Jesus in verse 5, but nothing further is told of the ensuing events of Herod—slaughter—flight into Egypt.

A similar dynamic happens in verse 4 of “O come, all you faithful”, verse 3 of “Angels, from the realms of glory”, verse 3 of “Silent night, holy night”, and in verse 3 of the rollicking calypso carol, “The Virgin Mary had a baby boy”. “Brightest and best of the stars of the morning” spends one verse describing the cradle scene and two verses reflecting on the gifts brought to the infant Jesus, but nothing more as to how the visitors had come to him via Herod.

“As with gladness, men of old” devotes three verses to the story of the men of old seeing the star and bringing their gifts, but then dovetails into a pietistic plea to Jesus to “keep us in the narrow way”. No mention of the scenes of slaughter of the innocent infants and the fearful flight of refugees in these carols.

The star and the visitors from the east get prime billing; the murdered children and the hastily-departing family of Jesus, seeking the safety of refuge in a foreign country, are passed over very quickly.

Why is this state of affairs so? The lack of reference to the murderous acts of Herod and the fearful flight of the family of Jesus indicates that our Christmas carols sanitise and sanctify this foundational story, gilding the lily, reshaping our perspective on the story. They completely omit any references to a part of the story that has gained such traction, and that occupies such attention, in the minds of carefully critical contemporary Christians. Children continue to be sacrificed today, in the course of jingoistic warfare waged for ideological reasons. The tragedy continues today …

A number of contemporary hymn writers have turned their attention to this story. Shirley Erena Murray is right on the money when she highlights the violence and fear at the heart of the story, claims that the infant in the story has “come to plead war’s counter-case”, and articulates the hope that “goodness will outclass the gun, evil has no tooth that can kill the truth.”

Summer sun or winter skies, Christmas comes —

shepherds, angels, lullabies, words recorded by the wise:

read it in the book — take another look . . . .

Shadows track the hawk in flight; Christmas now —

children born in fire and fight, silent night a violent night,

hawks are in control of a nation’s soul.

There where terror plies its trade; Christmas now —

children learn to be afraid, minefields of distrust are laid,

evil is in force on a winning course.

Child of peace, God’s human face, Christmas now —

come to plead war’s counter-case, bring the dove a nesting place,

though her wings are torn, though her blood is drawn.

Winter skies or summer sun, Christmas comes —

still the threads of hope are spun, goodness will outclass the gun,

evil has no tooth that can kill the truth.

That is why the ancient story retold at Christmas resonates so strongly with our situation today. Not because “it really happened, exactly like this”, but because it takes us to the centre of our humanity and reveals the depth of God’s presence in our midst. We ought to sing more about it!

See also https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/28/the-counter-cultural-alternative-narrative-impact-of-the-person-of-jesus/#

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/26/ye-who-now-will-bless-the-poor-shall-yourselves-find-blessing/#

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/resonating-with-christmas-a-story-of-restless-travel-and-seeking-refuge/# 

and https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/25/away-in-a-manger/#

The counter-cultural, alternative-narrative impact of the person of Jesus

Today (in the Western Church) is designated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (It is celebrated tomorrow in the Eastern Church.) This festival day commemorates a tradition known as “the slaughter of the Innocents”, reportedly ordered by King Herod.

Continue reading “The counter-cultural, alternative-narrative impact of the person of Jesus”

Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing

Today is the second day in the season of Christmas, which technically runs from 25 December to 5 January. This day brings together an unlikely combination of characters, worth pondering.

Continue reading “Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing”

Away in a manger

No doubt you have sung that much-loved carol, “Away in a manger”, this Christmas.

The traditional words offer a heavily romanticised, sickly-sweet, unrealistic take on the infant Jesus. Who ever heard of a baby that made NO noise??

I have been collecting rewrites of this carol. Each version reworks the carol so that the realism of the day is evident — especially highlighting the plight of the family as refugees, seeking safety in another country.

That part of the story resonates so strongly with our contemporary world: the number of refugees across the globe is the largest it has ever been, and it continues to grow as warfare afflicts country after country.

In the midst of this despair and turmoil, I wish for the traditional greeting to become a reality through acts of justice and compassion for all who are displaced, homeless, seeking the safety of refuge in another country: Merry Christmas! May it be so!

How ancient and lovely

Words by British writer Rebecca Dudley

(Shine on Star of Bethlehem, Christian Aid)

How ancient and lovely, this news of a star,

a baby, a mother, the kings from afar.

Come close now, Lord Jesus, we ask you to stay

and show us your face in your people today.

What star shall we follow but one that leads here

to a baby born homeless and a family in fear?

What heaven shall we long for but one that starts there

for all the world’s children in your tender care?

We thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth;

for the light in the darkness that shone at your birth,

for life in its fullness that you promise today,

and the hope of a baby asleep in the hay.

Away and in danger

Words by Shirley Erena Murray

Away and in danger, no hope of a bed,

the refugee children, no tears left to shed

look up at the night sky for someone to know

that refugee children have no place to go.

The babies are crying, their hunger awakes,

the boat is too loaded, it shudders and breaks;

humanity’s wreckage is thrown out to die,

the refugee children will never know why.

Come close, little children, we hold out our hand

in rescue and welcome to shores of our land –

in *aroha, touching your fear and your pain,

with dreams for your future when peace comes again.

*aroha is Maori for ‘warm embracing love’

alternative line “in touching, in healing’

http://www.hopepublishing.com/html/main.isx?sitesec=40.2.1.0&hymnID=5787

 

If I saw my toddler

Words by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

If I saw my toddler with hands in the air

In fearful surrender to someone, somewhere,

I’d search for a people in some other place

Who practiced their preaching and showed love and grace.

If I had to flee from the madness of war—

From terror and violence and things I abhor,

I’d search for a nation with arms open wide,

With safety and beauty and friendships inside.

Be with me, Lord Jesus, as I seek to be

A friend to the stranger and poor refugee,

And as I remember you once had no bed,

May I give up fear and give welcome instead.

This hymn was inspired by a photo of a small Syrian child, hands in the air, fearing that a camera lens was a gun: www.snopes.com/syria-refugee-child-surrender/

Biblical References: Leviticus 19:34; Matthew 25:35; Luke 2:7; Hebrews 13:1; 1 John 4:18

Tune: James Ramsey Murray, 1887 (“Away in a Manger”)

Text: Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

http://www.carolynshymns.com/if_i_saw_my_toddler.html

See also https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/resonating-with-christmas-a-story-of-restless-travel-and-seeking-refuge/# and https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/19/what-can-we-know-about-the-birth-of-jesus/#

Resonating with Christmas: a story of restless travel and seeking refuge

The story of Christmas, which is so prominent in the public arena at this time of the year, is a story that resonates strongly with life in 2018.

Not because of its increasing commercialism. Not because of its sentimental schmaltz. Not because of the bustling shoppers, looking for last-minute gifts, nor because of the frazzled travellers, journeying to fraught meals with distant family.

No, the Christmas story resonates most strongly with those millions of people who are displaced and homeless, stateless and on the move, and seeking the safety of refuge in a foreign land. And there are millions of such people.

Continue reading “Resonating with Christmas: a story of restless travel and seeking refuge”

What can we know about the birth of Jesus?

We are about to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the real reason behind the Christmas season. Tradition has it that Jesus was born after a long journey by his parents, in the animal feeding-tray of an overcrowded inn, surrounded by noisy animals. He was visited by shepherds from the field after they heard an angelic choir singing his praises. Soon after, three wise men from the East also came, bearing gifts. They had followed a bright star from their distant country in order to see him.

But what do we really know about this story? What is the undisputed history of the birth of Jesus?

Continue reading “What can we know about the birth of Jesus?”