I’ve just been lent a book by Tom Troeger called ‘Wonder Reborn: creating sermons on hymns, music and poetry’ (Oxford: OUP, 2010). Leaving aside the obvious, ‘What about the Bible?’ question, the title struck a chord (sorry) because of the way in which the joy of Christmas touched me this year, and gave me something to say on Christmas Eve. It was through unexpected encounters with a couple of carols. Both of them came to me via ‘friends’ on Facebook who posted links to performances on YouTube – electronic interconnections deserve a post of their own, but I thought it was really interesting how these connections are becoming much more pervasive. And I’ve used it to justify buying an iPad. But back to the carols…
They are quite different in style and performance so I was wondering what linked them within me – they are not even in the same language. I’m convinced it was a number of things: the quality of the singing and the beauty of the music; the way in which the words express not only the fact of the Incarnation but its purpose and outcome; and I guess, as well, our own personal context as a family.
The first Carol was ‘Sing, sing all earth’ by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band. It is unaccompanied singing in a rustic folky style, but the style, music and words all fit together to create a powerful call to worship ‘Jesus Christ our heavenly King.’ When I heard it I replayed it many times and sang along in my head.
The second was Adolphe Adam’s ‘Minuit Chrétiens’ – sung in English as ‘O Holy Night.’ This came to my notice in a variety of ways: the English version was sung by the choir at the University of Edinburgh’s Lessons and Carols Service; my FB friend posted a French version sung by Roberto Alagna, with graphics from the movie ‘The Nativity’ and complained bitterly about the wishy-washy nature of the English translation; waking up early on Christmas Eve I heard the Alagna version on Classic FM and was entranced by the power of his singing. Not only did I download a similar version by him (having sought in vain for the same one in MP3), but around its first and last verses I restructured all I wanted to say at the Watch Night Service (with fairly literal translation!).
We all know the power of music and many of our clearest memories have a soundtrack. This was certainly true of me this year. God just seemed to use these songs to speak to me that I could speak to others. Both Carols were played in the service as we approached Christmas Day. Their meaning was explained/preached and I think the message was used to communicate something of the wonder of the Nativity to those who were present.
I don’t expect that others will necessarily feel the same way about these carols, and, after all, the Christmas context is past. But in case you would like to try them for yourself I’ve attached the YouTube links – enjoy.