Herod was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children (Matt 2)

In the orderly account in which Luke tells the story of the first Christmas, we become engrossed in a story that is always presented in gentle, romanticised ways. It is a story about a pregnant woman and her partner, an angel appearing at the time of conception to the mother-to-be, announcing good news of great joy.

It is a story that reports how, nine months later, the angel appeared again, to some shepherds in the fields. It is a bucolic pastoral scene, or so we think. (Luke 1–2).

There is also a census and a journey, a choir of angels singing songs, announcing peace, declaring good news, celebrating joyfully. And there is an overfull stable, necessitating the birth of the child in a temporary location, and finally a child who is laid in a manger with his mother and father by his side. But all is calm, all is serene, all is gentle. So we believe. So we sing. So we think.

By contrast, in the book of origins, as Matthew tells that same story, we are invited into a different saga, with a different tone. Whilst there is a baby, with mother and father, in this version, there is no manger, no shepherds, and certainly no choir of angels.

In fact, there is just one angel, and this solitary angel speaks only with the father, not with the mother, not once, but three times in all. And each time, the message is ominous: she is pregnant! you must leave, now! and, hurry back home!

There is no announcement of good news of great joy. There is no census and no journey, at least, at the point of birth. But there is a tyrannical king, a set of visitors from foreign places, a prophecy that enrages the king, and a response which terrifies the visitors, who rapidly leave to return to their homeland.

And the story as Matthew tells it continues with a violent pogrom, the slaughter of innocent babies. “Herod was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men” (Matt 2:16).

It continue with a rushed journey by the father and mother and their infant child, travelling as refugees seeking safety in a foreign place. They return home some time later, only after the tyrannical despot has died. This later part of the story is featured rarely, if at all, in the classic depictions of the Christmas story.

The festival of Epiphany, celebrated after the Twelfth Day of Christmas on 6 January, invites us to think about the journey made by these wise men. The journey is romanticised by the fact that they bring gifts to the infant and his family—gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The gifts, it is claimed, are symbolic of what is to come. The gold is considered to symbolise the royal status of the child, as he is of the line of David. The frankincense is connected with the Temple cult, and thus considered a symbol of the priestly role eventually to be played by the child.

Then, there is myrrh, which Christian tradition links with the death that will be experienced by the infant when he has grown to maturity—death at the hands of a Romans, who offered him wine mixed with myrrh as he hung dying on a cross. The story of origins already prefigured the story of ending.

That part of the story—the gifts that the wise men brought—feeds into the romance and wonder that Luke’s version offers (at least, in the way it is usually understood). But the horror, the terror, the violence, the grief, of the events perpetrated under Herod, are not in view. Because Epiphany is about revelation, about light shining forth, about God being known and experienced in the midst of ordinary life.

This year, perhaps we might pause, and wonder: how does the story of Herod’s murderous rampage reveal the presence of God in the story?

I have no answer … just a question. How is God present, evident, shining forth, at such a time?

It is a question that is pressing, given the context in which I, and many Australians, have experienced Advent, Christmas and Epiphany this year.

As the bushfires rage, inflaming and destroying, purpling plumes of smoke into the air and ravaging forests, ecosystems, native animals and stock, as well as human property and human lives—the question seems ever more pertinent: where is God in this catastrophe?

As the early followers of Jesus found hope in the midst of the story of terror and violent destruction, so may we search, explore, and yearn for hope in this current situation.

On hymns that include the story of Herod’s rampage, see https://johntsquires.com/2020/01/03/herod-waiting-herod-watching-herod-grasping-holding-power-matt-2/

For prayers that are appropriate for a time in the midst of bushfires, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/12/22/we-wait-and-hope-and-grieve-anticipating/

and

https://greaterfarthantongueorpen.wordpress.com/2020/01/01/415/

For a reflective prayer on the wise men, see http://praythestory.blogspot.com/2019/12/make-it-now.html

For an overall comparison of Matthew with Luke, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/28/leaving-luke-meeting-matthew/

Acting for Peace—through the Christmas Bowl

My Christmas Morning Reflection in worship on 25 December 2019 at Queanbeyan Uniting Church.

 

Each week during Advent, as a congregation, we have been preparing for the celebration of this day. On each of the four Sundays in the season of Advent, we have affirmed our faith, and rejoiced in what Christmas means to people of faith. We have been oriented steadfastly towards this day; this day on which we recall and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

So, today, Christmas Day, we pause and ponder:

what does it mean, that Christ has come?

what does Christmas mean, for us, today?

 

1       At Christmas, we give presents to those we love.

You have no doubt experienced the delightful look of sheer joy on the face of the young child, receiving first one, then another, and then many, presents, one after another. If it is more blessed to give than to receive, it is surely deeply rewarding to look at the sheer joy on the face of the young child, receiving.

And at Christmas, we give in abundance, with generosity, to those we love. 

However, at Christmas we should not forget those who have received nothing, who have nothing, who exist on very little, who survive each day with little or no means of support.

Each year, during Advent, we recall the story of John the Baptist, who came as the messenger, to prepare the way, to announce the coming of the one chosen by God. In announcing the coming of Jesus, John the Baptist told us what God was asking of us. “If you have two coats”, he said, “give one to the person who asks you for it.”

This message, of giving to those in need from the abundance which we enjoy, has been a standard part of Christmas for churches like ours, over the past 70 years. It was that long ago that the idea of the Christmas Bowl originated, in the family celebrations in the Melbourne home of the Rev. Frank Byatt.

Over time, the simple bowl on the middle of the Christmas dinner table has become an organisation that is supported by all the major Christian denominations, as listed on the screen. This is the organisation that provides presents to people living in poverty, in temporary shelter, in areas ravaged by natural disasters, because of the giving of people like us, who have the capacity to give.

This Christmas, we are challenged to think about what we might be able to give away, and who it is that might benefit from our gift. The Christmas Bowl provides a simple and easy way for us to share the abundance that we are enjoying this day, with someone who has not been so blessed.

 

2       At Christmas, we enjoy feasting with those we love.

The table will no doubt be laden high, this day: overflowing with seafood, with turkey and ham, with vegetables; with Christmas cake, with mince pies, and Christmas pudding; with lollies and sweets in abundance.

When Elizabeth and I lived in England, we came to appreciate the way that the Christmas Dinner, in full northern hemisphere tradition, had developed. On the shortest day of the year, amidst cold, rain, perhaps even snow, with dusk falling at 3.00pm, then it just made perfect sense, after a late morning church service, to enjoy a big roast, with hearty servings, washed down with more-than-adequate glasses of liquid refreshment.

Australian Christmas dinners are different, in the heat and humidity of summer; glasses of wine are more often than not replaced with stubbies of beer—although we often continue some of the other inherited traditions. But whatever hemisphere we are in, we eat, and drink, and enjoy.

Christmas should mean that we do not forget those who have no food to eat. One of the things that the Christmas Bowl does, is provide food rations. It is doing this, right now, for Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan, and Iraqis who have been displaced and are homeless; for refugees from Myanmar on the border with Thailand, and for the Rohinga families who have fled from violence and persecution into the camps of Bangladesh.

But the Christmas Bowl also provides the means for people to grow and harvest their own food locally. Act for Peace’s partner in Zimbabwe, Christian Care, works with farmers in drought-prone areas in southern Zimbabwe, where about 1,200 farmers are now directly benefiting from the conservation farming program that has been introduced. They have increased crop yields, which has dramatically improved the ability of these 1,200 men and women to meet their households’ food needs, as well as to unite farming communities around a productive development program, while at the same time improving the sustainability of the land.

But we do not need to go to Zimbabwe, or Bangladesh, or Iraq, or Jordan, to find hungry people. Every week, in this town, people from this church and other churches provide food for the hungry, friendship for the lonely, and a place of safety for those whose lives are fraught, just across the road, at St Benedict’s. And this important ministry to the local community ensures that people do not need to go without food, any day, any week.

 

3       At Christmas, we tell the story of the baby born in a manger, because there was no room in the inn; and then, the story reports that this family hurriedly fled to another country, seeking safety until the threat was over.

Christmas cards, and Christmas carols, have tended to encourage us to romanticise and sentimentalise this part of the story. We sing so easily about the scene that Luke recounts in his Gospel: the baby lying peacefully asleep in the manger, the adoring mother and doting father, the shepherds who come from the fields to worship. It all sounds so peaceful, so relaxed, so comfortable, so ideal.

As we sing all of this, I suspect that we forget that the newborn infant was born in the area that was shared with the animals; there were no homely comforts, but there would have been the sights and sounds and smells of the barnyard, all around. This was not the plan; this was a temporary, unforeseen situation, basic and crude.

The account that we find in the Gospel of Matthew, of the rapid flight that the family took, heading away from Herod, fleeing into the safety of Egypt, sets out very clearly that this was not a plan, worked out methodically in advance. Rather, this was a rapid response to an emergency situation, a hurried seeking of refuge.

Christmas, for us, challenges us to think about those who have no shelter; and especially, to think about those who have nowhere safe to shelter because their homes are beset by warfare, their lives are constrained by oppression, their families have been decimated by murders, their houses have been bombed or shelled.

This is going on in so many places around the globe. There are 70.8 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes—that is almost three times the population of Australia.

There are currently 25.9 million people officially classified as refugees, meaning that they have a well-placed fear of persecution if they return to their homes. That is the category that Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have been in, had there been a United Nations High Commissioner for refugees in the first century.

The Christmas Bowl is working with the 100,000 Tamils who have fled Sri Lanka, precisely because of this fear of persecution. There are people today who still experience trials and persecution in far too many countries around the globe. The Christmas Bowl is one practical way that we can show we care, that we want to help such people.

4 Finally, at Christmas, let us remember the most unsavoury part of the story; the part we rarely hear on this day, this morning celebration: the part of the story that tells of a king who used his power to squash out what he saw as a threat to his power.

Herod was a tyrant, fearful of any pretender to his throne. Matthew tells that he decreed that all infant males should be killed, to ensure that the baby Jesus would not vie for his throne, or contest his power. That is the fundamental reason why the family of Jesus fled to another country.

Deep at the heart of the Christmas story, then, is the message that we should not repeat the errors of using violence to enforce power. As followers of Jesus, we seek the way of the one born to bring peace to the world. How can we sing “peace on earth, and mercy mild”, unless we work for peace in our world today?

Jesus was committed to the way of peace; the story of his adult life bears this out, and the end of the story is an account of submission to violence, of turning the other cheek and allowing his own life to be taken, rather than to respond with force, violence, and power.

The organisation which administers the Christmas Bowl is called Act for Peace. It is committed to actions which ensure that, as justice is enacted, so peace might become a reality, for countless thousands of people around the world. One of the projects that the Christmas Bowl supports is a peace-building initiative in the Philippines, where workers are educating Indigenous people on their rights, training local leaders and engaging grassroots organisations to monitor and report on human rights violations.

So, today, as we sing “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!”, let us work for peace in the world.  As we carol, “All glory be to God on high, and to the world be peace; goodwill henceforth from heaven to earth begin and never cease,” let us support organizations which advocate peace with justice and strive to bring that reality from heaven, here, on to earth. And as we join with those herald angels, who “sing glory to the new-born King, peace on earth, and mercy mild”, may we always act for peace in the world. And as we sing, may the Christ child come.

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/12/24/on-the-move-a-reflection-on-christmas/

 

Putting the Homoousion back into Christmas

Last year I created my own contribution to the festive cheer, in the words below. I am offering it up this year with my tongue still firmly in my cheek.

…..

As I listened to the mesmerising schloppp of the muzakked carols during my occasional forays into the shopping malls, and pondered the calls to put Christ back into Xmas, I thought that it was about time to finish the job that some of the traditional carols have only just started.

References to “Word of the Father now in flesh appearing”, and “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see”, are just the start. Explanations about the one who “abhors not the Virgin’s womb” really need to be expanded and developed. “Hail the incarnate Deity” needs to ring through all of our carolling. Surely, the carols we sing should joyously and vigorously affirm the fullness of our faith!!

With this in mind, in the spirit of the Wesleys (who took popular tunes and put Christian hymn lyrics to them), I have grabbed Jingle Bells by the short and danglies, and consulted with my resident critic and editor-in-chief, who has made sure that the verses, at least, conform to the scheme of rhyming pairs.

I therefore present the following offering, inspired by all that the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition provides. And, in the spirit of this tradition, there is a special verse dedicated to the oft-overlooked Appendix to the Creed, which calls down a curse (an anathema, in Greek) on the heretics and their views.

Let the Homoousions rise to the heavens!

Enjoy!

1

Dashing through the mall

With a Christmas list to go,

Shoppers all around

Buzzing to and fro.

Carols sound on high

Repetitiously;

Santa, Rudolph, bells and snow,

But where can Jesus be?

Refrain A

Calchedon, Nicaea,

This is what we need:

Three in one and one in three,

Blessed Trinity, Hey!

God is now Incarnate,

God Emmanuel,

Human being, he became:

Homoousion!

2

Back in three two five,

The Emperor Constantine

Faced a mess of views,

which he needed to redeem.

“Sort this dogma mess,

Sort it once for all!”

And so the bishops did their job,

made a snappy Creed catch-all.

Refrain B

Jesus Christ, Son of God,

Essence of the Father,

Light from Light, and Very God,

Be-gotten not made. Hey!

Jesus Christ, Son of God,

Through whom all was made,

He came down, was incarnate,

Homoousion!

3

Though the bishops came,

met, and made a Creed,

Heretics were there,

Sowing their fake seeds.

So the Creed was stretched

To include some words

That ensured the views they held

Would damn them all with verbs:

Refrain C

Those who say, “he was not”,

Let them be accursed!

If they say “from naught he came”,

Let them be condemned! Hey!

If they claim “he’s changeable,

of quite another substance”,

Let them be condemned, we say,

Cast them out of church!

Refrain B

Jesus Christ, Son of God,

Essence of the Father,

Light from Light, and Very God,

Be-gotten not made. Hey!

Jesus Christ, Son of God,

Through whom all was made,

He came down, was incarnate,

Homoousion!

…..

The sections of the Nicene Creed which have informed this offering are:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,

      the only Son of God,

      begotten from the Father before all ages,

           God from God,

           Light from Light,

           true God from true God,

      begotten, not made;

      of the same essence as the Father.

      Through him all things were made.

      For us and for our salvation

           he came down from heaven;

           he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

           and was made human.

‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.

A young woman? A virgin? Pregnant? About to give birth? (Isa 7:14 in Matt 1:23)

The passages set in the lectionary for this coming Sunday place alongside each other a prophetic oracle spoken by Isaiah, and an angelic announcement delivered to Joseph. The two passages seem to sit side-by-side very comfortably. The Gospel selection from the book of origins recounts how the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. The prophetic selection from Isaiah declares that the Lord himself will give you a sign and looks to the conception, birth, and naming of a child.

The oracle of the prophet speaks about a child to be born to a young woman. The message of the angel announces a child to be born to a young woman who was a virgin. The author of the book of origins (whom I refer to, following tradition, as Matthew) quotes the prophetic oracle about the birth of a child and claims that it has been fulfilled in the angelic announcement about the birth of a child to Mary and Joseph. The angel follows the prophet in affirming that child to be born would be a sign to the people, that God was still with them, in the midst of their difficulties. But the status of the young mother is a question that has long vexed interpreters.

The Hebrew word found in the original oracle of the prophet, almah, refers simply to a young woman of childbearing age; it had no connotation at all relating to virginity. It occurs in eight other places in Hebrew scripture—with reference to Rebekah and Miriam, in three references to female musicians, and in wisdom texts relating simply to young women. In none of those places does it have any reference to the virginity of the young woman.

There is also, in Hebrew, the word bethulah, which refers specifically to a young woman who was a virgin; but it is important to note that this word was not employed by the prophet Isaiah. He clearly was referring to a young woman aged around puberty, who was now able to bear a child. He was not referring to a young woman who had never had sexual intercourse, who was still a virgin.

The Greek translation of these Hebrew texts was made some centuries before Jesus. The translation is known as the Septuagint, attributed to seventy wise scholars. In this translation, the Hebrew word bethulah is usually rendered in Greek as parthenos. This Greek word can refer quite generally to a young woman, but it can have a more specific reference to the virginity of the young woman.

Now, on two occasions in the Septuagint, the word almah is rendered as parthenos: Gen 34:3 and Isa 7:14. The first refers to Dinah. It occurs in the story at the point where the powerful prince Schechem rapes the young woman. The point is being made that her state of virginity has at that point been lost, so the Greek word is appropriate.

But the oracle of Isaiah 7 refers simply to a woman who, at an early stage in her capacity to bear a child, is indeed pregnant. So there appears to be no reference at all to her lack of sexual activity prior to this pregnancy. This much is clear in the Hebrew. But the Septuagint translators chose the Greek word parthenos.

We must wonder: is the choice of parthenos when translating Isa 7:14 from Hebrew a strategic move by the seventy wise scholars? Is it an inspired insight into the meaning of the Hebrew text? Or is it an unguarded moment, a slip of concentration, amongst the translators?

I incline to the latter view. I don’t think the intention of the Septuagint translators was to insist that we know more than what the original prophet knew—that is, the precise sexual status of the young woman in question, not just young, but still a virgin.

Nevertheless, Matthew uses the version of the prophet’s oracle that includes this Greek word. He quotes the Greek version of the Septuagint, since he is writing in Greek. Mind you, Matthew regularly and consistently quotes the Septuagint translation, rather than other options that would have been available to him. So this is not really a surprise.

Whatever identity we accord the author of this book of origins, it is quite clear that he was an educated Jewish male. As such, he would have known and used the scriptures of the people of Israel, in Hebrew. And yet, he is writing his account of Jesus in Greek—so he makes use, on a regular basis, of this version.

And this version places a focus on the virginal status of the young woman, who was to give birth to Jesus of Nazareth. So Matthew has deliberately chosen to include this in his story.

Why? That is a good question! Why?

Rather than seeing Matthew as trying to prove the historical veracity of the virginal status of Mary, however, I incline to the view that the primary purpose, as Matthew tells the origins of Jesus, is for him to prove Jesus’ legal status as the stepson of Joseph, as a legal heir of David. Whilst the infancy narrative in Luke places Mary at the centre of the story—and the angel makes his announcement directly to her—in Matthew’s version it is Joseph who is centre-stage—and the angel speaks to him, and only him, in this version.

This passage in Matthew 1 is the one and only time in the book of origins when the virginal status of the mother of Jesus is noted. By contrast, the Davidic lineage of Jesus, through Joseph, is a concern which is both in view here at the start of the whole story, and which returns at various points through the ensuing story. (See https://johntsquires.com/2019/12/17/now-the-birth-of-jesus-the-messiah-took-place-in-this-way-matthew-1/)

And as if to reinforce this lineage through Joseph, the book of origins takes pains to establish that Joseph, a descendant of David, was “a righteous man”, as befits a Davidic descendant (1:19; David is declared as righteous at 1 Sam 24:17).

Although, it is worth noting one way by which Joseph exemplifies the questionable moral character of his ancestor—initially he was “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace” and wanted to dismiss Mary (1:19). Nevertheless, after hearing the announcement of the angel, he remained faithful and “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (1:24).

And whilst he took Mary as his wife, Matthew maintains that, as a righteous man, Joseph “had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son” (1:25). At which point, we may presume, Joseph functions as the de facto father of the newborn child. So this is part of the pro-Davidic apologetic of this book, not the basis for the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

Joseph, descendant of David, takes on the legal role of father of the child. (Indeed, we are never told that he refrained from relations when they were engaged, before Mary conceived; rather, might we infer that the shame that Joseph expresses incriminates him?)

Certainly, in Christian tradition the fathering of the child is attributed to the Holy Spirit, who overshadows the virgin to produce the child (see Luke 1:35). That developing tradition was presumably already known in early Christian communities of the first century. But how early, we do not know.

In the earliest decades of the movement that Jesus initiated, Paul makes no reference to this claim in any of his letters. He knows the Jewish origins of Jesus, but says nothing even hinting at Mary’s virginal status (see https://johntsquires.com/2019/12/19/descended-from-david-according-to-the-flesh-rom-1/)

The letter of James, if it was authored by the brother of Jesus, is an early witness that shows no concern for this doctrine. Mark, the earliest extant Gospel, makes no reference at all to the virginal status of Mary. Early witnesses make no reference to the doctrine which emerged much later, they provide no hints or clues upon which this dogma can be founded.

What we do know is that this claim was articulated in the later part of the first century in the orderly account attributed to Luke, as well as in this book of origins, attributed to Matthew, who includes the prophetic oracle as a foundation for the angelic announcement and to refer directly to this claim (1:18, 20).

And so the tradition of the virginal conception of Mary arose, eventually leading to the (less accurate) claim about the birth of Jesus having been a Virgin Birth, now strongly cemented in traditional Christian dogma. But I don’t think that this particular book of origins was really concerned, either to establish this claim, or to utilise it as a foundation for a whole developed dogma about Jesus, as would subsequently occur in Christian tradition.

And thus, I don’t think we need to hold to a notion that the mother of Jesus was still a virgin when he was born. She was, quite simply, young, at the beginning of her childbearing years, around 14 or 15 years of age. What sexual activity she engaged in at that time can never be known. But she was, in due course, married to a descendant of David; and that is what mattered for Matthew.

See also

https://johntsquires.com/2019/12/11/the-origins-of-jesus-in-the-book-of-origins-matthew-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/12/17/now-the-birth-of-jesus-the-messiah-took-place-in-this-way-matthew-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/12/04/for-our-instruction-that-we-might-have-hope-rom-15-isa-11-matt-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/11/28/leaving-luke-meeting-matthew/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/19/what-can-we-know-about-the-birth-of-jesus/

Carols for the season

Last Sunday, Advent Three, in my congregation, we met to hear lessons, or readings, and to sing carols. Our eyes were firmly fixed on the joy of the child who is coming, who comes to us, each year, in the story of Christmas.

This Sunday, Advent Four, in that same congregation, we will hear more readings, telling the story that we recall, each Christmas, and sing more carols, focussed on the significance of those events long ago and their relevance for our lives today.

This is how I introduced the service:

Christmas Carols evoke a wonderful sense of tradition and memory. It is good to be doing that, at this time of the year. Yet it’s also important that we listen for the ways God is singing new songs, with new themes of hope and promise, with new melodies of inclusion, equality and welcome into our communities.

As you sing, you may notice that some of the carols may appear a little different from what you may be use to. The tunes will be familiar. And the words, in many ways, will also be familiar. But not all of them, not always familiar, not exactly as you know them. Some of the words will be different.

Now, this follows a long tradition, in writing words for hymns and carols, of varying the words, reshaping and reworking them. If you look up the Wikipedia article on Away in a manger, for instance, you will find that almost every line in the carol has recorded variants. The most significant are noted; for instance, “no crib for his bed”, or “No crib for a bed”; “the poor baby wakes”, or “The baby awakes“, and so on.

The last line of verse two appears in multiple published variants:

“And stay by my crib watching my lullaby” (Christian Cynosure, 1882)

“And stay by my crib to watch lullaby” (Seamen’s Magazine, 1883)

“And stay by my cradle to watch lullaby” (Murray, 1887)

“And watch by me always, and ever be nigh” (1890)

“And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh” (Herbert, 1891)

“And watch o’er my bed while in slumber I lie” (1893)

“And stay by my side until morning is nigh (1895)

So the carols that we sing today will follow a long tradition in hymnody, by which words are fluid, lyrics are flexible, and changes are allowable—the words of the carols are being reworked, rewritten, by people who are alive in our own time, today, making the message of the carol applicable to today and expressed in current language.

Our carols will follow the well-loved tunes, and will start out with words that are comfortably familiar. But as they proceed, the words will take some turns; so I invite you to pay attention, listen to the changes, reflect on the reshaping, and be prepared to encounter the familiar story in ways that refresh and renew your faith.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

(adapted by Sue Wickham)

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and fill our lives, all dark and fear dispel,

as once an exiled Israel you found,

redeemed, restored and set on holy ground.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

shall come to us and in our hearts will dwell.

O come, O light of Christ, so bright and clear

and lift our spirits by your advent here.

In all who gather, show us your face,

that we may know the warmth of your embrace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

shall come to us and in our hearts will dwell.

O come, O Wisdom, mind and heart divine,

help us restore a world we’ve let decline.

Enlighten us; your way we would know
and show us where new seeds of hope to sow.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

shall come to us and in our hearts will dwell.

O Advent God of hope, joy, love and peace,

in you we pray our sad divisions cease.

Bind us as one, a people of grace,

for at your table each one has a place.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

shall come to us and in our hearts will dwell.

 

Words © Sue Wickham 2010

https://pilgrimwr.unitingchurch.org.au/?p=925

The Angel Gabriel

(Words reworked by Sarah Agnew)

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,

surprising her by calling out her name:

‘Fear not,’ he said, ‘for God has seen and favours you,

You’re chosen for a blessing, Maria.

‘You will become a mother, Mary,

by Holy Spirit, with a child holy;

he is the one earth’s waiting for – the child of God,

O chosen for a blessing, Maria.’

‘But Gabriel how can this be, my friend?’

‘With God no thing’s impossible,’ he said.

‘Then let it be as you have said, I sing God’s praise.’

O, chosen for a blessing: Maria.

And so in Bethlehem she bore her boy

beneath a star as angels sang for joy:

Immanuel, our God with us, through Mary.

O chosen for a blessing, Maria.

words (c) Sarah Agnew 2019

music ‘Gabriel’s song’ Basque tune

http://praythestory.blogspot.com/2019/12/gabriel-and-maria.html

How ancient and lovely

Away in a manger with additional verses

by British writer Rebecca Dudley

(Shine on Star of Bethlehem, Christian Aid)

Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,

the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head;

the stars in the bright sky look down where he lay,

the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

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.

This version is published in Hunger for Justice (Christian Aid UK)

https://www.musicroom.com/product/kmp1400356/hunger-for-justice-organ.aspx

For some other versions of this carol, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/12/18/no-crying-he-makes-get-real-puhhh-leeeease/

Hark! the herald angels, combined with

More than a Dream (David MacGregor)

(Arranged by John Squires)

Hark! the herald angels sing,

glory to the new born king.

Peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled.

Humankind called: “come together,

live in peace with one another.”

Glory, glory from the heights,

Peace on earth, goodwill has come.

Glory, glory from the heights,

Peace on earth has come to us.

Christ, by highest heaven adored:

Christ, the everlasting Lord;

called to bring your peaceful kingdom,

lion rests besides the lamb.

Justice for the poor and needy

come to us, a child will lead us:

Glory, glory from the heights,

Peace on earth, goodwill has come.

Glory, glory from the heights,

Peace on earth has come to us.

Hail! the heaven-born prince of peace!

Hail! the Son of Righteousness!

Jesus, Saviour, born among us,

bring your peace anew to us.

Hearts of love reach out to all,

for the world, in your great love.

Glory, glory from the heights,

Peace on earth, goodwill has come.

Glory, glory from the heights,

Peace on earth has come to us.

Adapted from a song, More Than Dream (peace be our living), by David MacGregor © 2015 Willow Publishing

https://dmacgreg1.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/peace-on-earth-mercy-mild/

Combined with words from Hark! the herald angels sing, with the permission of David MacGregor (but not Charles Wesley!)