According to the dictionary, a Christmas “Carol” is simply a religious folk-song usually associated
with dancing or celebrating. I had thought that a Christmas Carol was a story. After all, Charles Dicken’s famous story about Ebenezer Scrooge is called “A Christmas Carol” without any reference to a particular song or dance. I am thoroughly confused about the definition of a “Carol”. This may well be appropriate because many of our Christmas Carols also leave us rather confused about what the actual events of Christmas are all about. Regardless of the definition of “Carol”, it is true that every Christmas song tells a story or can be clearly located within a story either explicitly or implicitly. Even the pop song “Santa Baby” assumes a story of the traditional “Santa Claus” descending the chimney with presents to distribute, only in this case, the Santa Claus in question is the singer’s lover, whoever that may be. This is a story line. It has absolutely nothing to do with the first Christmas, but it is nevertheless story. We love stories! Humans are drawn to stories and live within stories. We define ourselves by our stories or our “journeys” as some like to call them. Everyone is eager to tell their story, by especially to attempt to write their own story. The phenomenon called “Facebook” is absolute solid proof that human beings are in the habit of attempting to write their own stories. Our profile pictures, banners, “liked” pages, status updates and live feeds, are all efforts to tell and even to create our own story. Christmas carols are indeed stories, even if that is not the official definition of a “carol”. Many of the stories that our Christmas carols tell are at best confusing and at worst, downright misleading. Each time we sing a Christmas Carol, in theory, we are explaining the gospel or we are explaining what people think to be the gospel. Let’s consider one of the most popular Christmas Carols, Silent Night. (Verse 1) Silent night, Holy Night All is Calm, All is Bright Round yon’ virgin, Mother and Child Holy infant so tender and mild Sleep in heavenly peace Sleep in heavenly peace To begin, there was nothing peaceful nor silent about the first Christmas night or events. We are not actually told that much about the first Christmas night. Luke tells us that some Shepherds had a sensational experience with angels and came to see the child. That is all we are told about the first Christmas night in any of the Gospels. John says nothing at all about Christmas and Mark either didn’t include anything about the first Christmas in his gospel or it is lost to us as the end of Mark’s gospel is. Matthew speaks about the Magi coming to give Jesus gifts, but he gives us the impression that Jesus was a child under the age of two but older than an infant when this took place. Regardless of how old Jesus was, the scene Matthew paints for us is anything but peaceful and silent. Rather, Jesus’ family is sent into exile in order to avoid Herod’s attempt to snuff him out! So much for sleeping in heavenly peace! The image painted by this first verse of Silent Night also leaves us with a very Platonic image of the Holy Family and the person of Jesus. We are left with an image of a Jesus, meek and mild, surrounded by a Holy Bubble that we will assume remains with Him the rest of His life. For many, many people, the idea of incarnation in reality is that a deist god, that is, a god who usually lives light years away in a place called heaven, has travelled to earth to become a baby. Naturally, (or so it seems to our platonic minds), a god like this would not be like other human beings but would only seem to be human, which is the opposite heresy of Arianism* (denying the divinity of Christ). This is, I’m afraid, the picture that is painted by “Silent night”. It is hard for us to imagine the Jesus who “sleeps in heavenly peace” being the same Jesus who sweat drops of blood in the garden or who faced temptation in the wilderness or who wept at a friend’s funeral. That being said, I do not think that “Silent Night” is a bad song, only that we should be clear in our articulation of the Gospel that this song does not really tell the story of the first Christmas night but rather reflects on the peace that the victorious Christ, who suffered, died, and was raised to life, has brought to the life of a believer. It is actually our sleeping in “heavenly peace” that we are celebrating. And that peace is won through the Messiah’s death and resurrection. It is only when we embrace the whole gospel story of Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness that we reach the “Silent Nights” of Christmas. If you want to sleep in heavenly peace and to live life with a calmness of spirit, then give your life and your worship to Jesus who fought that great and arduous battle so that we might gain peace. Merry Christmas! *Some Church traditions claim that Saint Nicholas once slapped Arius in the face after being provoked by his arrogant and heretical songs.