Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

For the last few years I’ve had increasingly mixed feelings about celebrating Christmas in our darkening world. This year there’s a sort of survivor guilt as well, as I have a home and family, and there will be food on the table tomorrow.

Advent has always been important to me, a gradual walk into the darkness towards the manger. Anyone who has ever held a newborn will know the vulnerability but also their awe inspiring power. This year there is an added dimension. A couple of weeks ago I was on silent retreat at a Carmelite priory and heard read aloud those wonderful passages from Isaiah – the ones that begin Handel’s “Messiah”. The penny dropped that, alongside the power of that tiny being, something huge is also happening and that those two things were about to converge.

Which brings me back to this afternoon. The Carols from King’s at 3pm on Christmas Eve always mark the beginning of Christmas for me, but today I felt antsy and irritated at the “holiness” of it all. Then came a reading which grounded me, by a woman who sounded like a regular person and seemed very sincere.

Listening intently for the source of my discomfort, I was struck for the first time how much the Victorians tried to tame Jesus and how that’s not actually possible. The carols I grew up singing are mainly about gentleness and mildness. The power of kingship is there and may have meant something to the original writer but how much does it really mean to us now. Are we just paying lip service?

In today’s world we persuade ourselves of Jesus’s gentleness and mildness at our peril. Even worse, we try to emulate it, telling ourselves we are “nice” people. Jesus cannot and should not be tamed. What the world needs is the power of a people acting radically out of love, as he did.

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