SINGING CHRISTMAS CAROLS has certainly been part of my heritage.
As a teenager it was great fun being driven around the suburbs adjacent to the local church on the back of a truck, dangling our legs over the side, singing carols accompanied by an inadequate reed organ or an inaudible guitar. Part of the deal was that we also encouraged householders who came out to listen, to give to the Christmas Bowl Appeal as it was then. Most did.
On a hot summer’s night I guess we didn’t think much about the incongruity of singing, “In the bleak mid-winter” or “…as the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.” Some didn’t like, “Unto us a boy is born”, for its violent third verse. However, Herod’s slaying of the “innocents” just happens to rate a mention in Matthew chapter two. The carols told the story of the mystery of the incarnation simply and without any frills. “While shepherds watched their flocks” was one of these.
Carolling as part of the youth group was a sure sign that Christmas was near and it always brought an inner sense of something that felt good even if it was hard to express in words.
Times change, however. I thought I’d look up ‘favourite Christmas Carols of today’ on the web. I felt like I’d entered another world. Amongst those named were “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus”, “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” and the most surprising of all “Grandma got run over by a reindeer”. Poor Grandma! The shift from the mystery of the incarnation was obvious.
Yet there’s something about Christmas and the carols we still sing.
In my last rural placement, a large regional centre, one of the best attended services for the year was the 11pm Christmas Eve service. Moving back to the city, I experienced this again. They came as families, young children and all, to sing carols in the candle light, to receive the bread and the wine from the table of the Lord and to explode into joy when midnight arrived.
What is it that draws many from the community to our churches at this time of joyous celebration? Is it just a tradition, a hangover from childhood? Is it the beginning of a tradition for new family units, however they are comprised?
Maybe there’s just something in the carols, the candlelight, the lateness of the hour that brings an inner sense of something that feels good – even if it’s hard to express in words. Maybe that’s part of the mystery of the incarnation.