One of the tasks at this time of the year is to try to spread out the choice of Christmas carols so that we don't sing one of them to death (but, then again, maybe closing the lid on some of them isn't a bad idea afterall). As I've glanced through some Carol books I am left to ponder whether many of them are too sentimental. I understand the theologian and musician Jeremy Begbie was leading a session for the LICC on sentimentality in Christian worship and art last Monday - I'm sure it was very interesting. Do our Victorian carols dangerously leave us with a the false image of the shepherds, angels, wise men all looking-on at the new born baby saying to each other 'ahhh, isn't he cute'? How about sending people on their way into the festivities of Christmas not with the image of the Christ-child wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger, 'no crying he makes', but with news of their descent to Egypt to escapte the harsh brutalities of Herod's tyrrany. A Christianity that merely gazes and gaups at the little boy in Bethlehem isn't a true understanding of the Incarnation. Within a short period of his birth, Jesus was, according to Matthew's gospel, a refugee.
Several events this week have made me wonder whether our Carol services should include reference to the Coventry Carol which doesn't sit very easily alongside Away in a manger, but is refreshingly un-sentimental. Firstly, the news of the Archbishop of York's prophetic action in response to the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Secondly, the ongoing troubles in Bethlehem where the Christian community faces isolation and possible extinction. Thirdly (and I'm sorry for bringing football into this Advent blog), the news yesterday that a young professional footballer who escaped the harsh realities of life in Sierra Leone has lost his court case and now faces deportation back to his native land, nine days after becoming a father.
To seek a resolution to the real injustices and sufferings of our world is the real reason why we worship the Christ who came in flesh and blood to experience the dirt and death of the world. Maybe as I sing carols this Christmas I need to be reminded again that he didn't stay in the warmth and comfort of that manger for very long. But then again maybe the manger wasn't warm and comfortable anyway?