What is your favorite Christmas carol? Why? Today at Bethany we will share in our annual Lessons and Carols service, a liturgy of Word and song. When I came here a year ago the service included scriptures that covered the entire story of salvation, from the beginning of God’s act of love, to the story of Abraham and Sarah, to David and reign, to John the Baptist, to Jesus, to Jesus’ death and resurrection. All of this was interspersed with traditional carols.
The theme I chose for Advent this year was being grateful. I chose this theme because in the midst of funerals, big decisions to make about our building, transitions in staff, and the new faces arriving every week in our pews, some changes difficult (deaths) and some exciting (increase in attendance), I thought a good way to navigate our way in faith was through gratitude, the deeper things that fill us up. Moreover, the things that God gives us, for which we can be truly grateful, are often in plain sight, but we miss them, take them for granted. The world we live in, with shiny objects and definitions of success alien to our faith story, distract us from the gratitude that gives us this identity as people of the Way (Jesus’ way).
And what better way to be grateful than to sing and to sing the songs of this season, Advent/Christmas. So I asked all five of the staff here who participate in worship to select their favorite Christmas carol and share, in 60 seconds, why they chose it. Louisa chose Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Randy chose O Little Town of Bethlehem, Ann chose In the Bleak Midwinter, Shawn chose Good Christian Friends Rejoice and I chose the Huron Carol, ‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime. Louisa actually chose two, the other being Still, Still, Still. Interesting in this mix are many quieter pieces, not the rousing carols we normally associate with this season.
My reason for choosing the Huron carol has to do with the way it tells the story of Jesus, in words and images of creation. No other carol I am aware of is so completely immersed in the language of creation, in choosing references that speak of the woods, the winter and life to be found and celebrated there. Of course what is problematic about the carol is the appropriation, the fact it was written by a missionary priest clearly sent to aboriginal peoples to convert them, replace their spirituality with another. And yet this priest does honour the traditions he encounters, he attempts to put what we finds in words that others, living outside that world, can experience and grow from. It is our only Canadian carol and it is perhaps more important than ever that we tell this sacred story in the language of creation, given the fragility of our planet.
I return to the interesting choices found in the five chosen carols. I suspect if we had a vote among the laity of our church, of any United Church, the choice of more than 50% of the people would be Silent Night. When I ask people in church what their favorite carol is that is the overwhelming choice. It is not even close. Again, Silent Night is a quiet piece, it is one that speaks to the reverence of the moment, the peaceful experience of the spirit washing over you, of wonder and magic all around you. What a contrast to the world we see and hear and feel all about us in this season.
I think this speaks to something deep within us. I am grateful for that part of our tradition that offers an alternative to the world, something that fills us and makes us whole.