There has been discussion on Twitter about the best carol for Christmas 2020. Whilst there have been plenty of punning answers, which I will not distract you with, OK, maybe one …
The first vaccine, oh Fauci did say
was to certain poor people in homes where they lay
In homes where they stay put in lockdown
To keep it from spreading to folks in their town.
This year social media has had all the old arguments. Those complaining about babies that don’t cry and the stock answer that the song does not mean that Jesus never cried, but that he did not cry on that occasion. But ‘no crying he makes’ is not what I think makes Away in a Manger a poor choice, it is that it asks Jesus to ‘Look down from the sky.’ Jesus is not absent, the message of Christmas is that God has come to earth in Jesus Emanuel, God is with us. When Jesus went back to heaven he did not leave us alone but gave us his Holy Spirit to be with us. God is still with us, it is not just a historical event that once happened, it is something that is still happening. If you respond to God’s love in sending Jesus at the first Christmas then you can feel his presence with you this Christmas. God wants to be with you.
My inbuilt irony metre stops me really enjoying Christians Awake (To the tune Yorkshire, naturally). It is having it as the final song at the midnight Communion service where we sang Christians awake then went home to bed. I’d love to be able to forget that, it spoils a good song.
The other strand of conversation over Christmas carols, besides satirical lyric changes and which songs you disagree with, is what is the best carol?
Some have said In the Bleak Midwinter, saying that it has the best poetry and good theology in Christina Rossetti. (Bleak midwinter is figurative, speaking about the condition of people’s souls, it does not mean it snowed that winter, though it does snow on the hills around Bethlehem). I’d like to also commend the tune by Gustav Holst as well, the way it gently sweeps complements Rossetti’s words superbly. The choral version is well known, and I love a traditional performance, but here is a contemporary setting:
But although in other years I have chosen In the Bleak Midwinter as my favourite carol, this year it goes to another one.
Ding Dong Merrily On High is my choice for best carol because it is a song of joy. In the bleak midwinter is better poetry and better theology but it does not have the exuberance of Ding Dong. God loves Joy, it is a fruit of the Spirit. We need joy in dark times. Two millennia and a bit ago times were bleak. The country of Judea’s sovereignty gab been taken by a foreign power, the Romans, who were making plans to further tax a subject people who would not have been pleased. Into this world at that time came Jesus, choirs of angels sang joyfully Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis.
In out bleak world we can do the same, no matter how locked down or separated from our loved ones we are. In our bubbles or restricted to family groups or alone, the baby is in the manger, we salute the happy morn because God is with us, coming into the hardness of the winter of our hearts. So we sing …
Hosanna in excelsis!