The Content of Carols

A fun but thought-provoking video from the always-excellent Lutheran Satire to kick us off.

I have a lot of sympathy for this. As some of you will know I consider Away in a Manger verboten for precisely these reasons, plus it infanticises the nativity (do you see what I did there?). I’m all for children loving Christmas, but I’m steadfastly opposed to communicating that Christmas is really only for the children.

I do submit, however, that there are some quite excellent Anglican carols which speak clearly of how profound the incarnation is, and some that even manage to do it while also mentioning snow! How about this:

See, amid the winter’s snow, Born for us on Earth below,
See, the tender Lamb appears, Promised from eternal years.

Hail, thou ever blessed morn,Hail redemption’s happy dawn,
Sing through all Jerusalem,Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Lo, within a manger lies He who built the starry skies;
He who, throned in height sublime, Sits among the cherubim.


Say, ye holy shepherds,say, What your joyful news today;
Wherefore have ye left your sheep On the lonely mountain steep?


“As we watched at dead of night, Lo, we saw a wondrous light:
Angels singing ‘Peace On Earth’ Told us of the Saviour’s birth.”


Sacred Infant, all divine, What a tender love was Thine,
Thus to come from highest bliss Down to such a world as this.


Teach, O teach us, Holy Child, By Thy face so meek and mild,
Teach us to resemble Thee, In Thy sweet humility.

and, of course (although not Anglican),

God of God light of light
Lo he abhors not the virgin’s womb;
Very God begotten not created:

or (ok, let’s call Methodists quasi-Anglicans) (with the video for the outstanding descant…)

Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King,
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconcile.
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem’
Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail, the incarnate deity,
Pleased as Man with to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.

Hail, the heaven-born Prince of peace! Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the suns of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.


So lets try and pick carols with great Biblical content. Of course since they’re often so familiar to our guests we might need to stop and point them towards the outrageous nature of some of the words they’re singing. Subvert their familiarity and make sure they can never listen to those carols again without realising the profound claims embedded in them 🙂

But if you want the ultimate subversion try playing this at your Christmas services…

Let me know how you get on with that one.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Ian

    I think you’ll be hard pressed to expunge “Away in a manger” from carol services, school Christmas concerts, and so on…

    There’s a line (or couplet) in another of Mrs Alexander’s hymns that I find either troubling or funny, depending on my mood, at the very end of “Once in royal David’s city”:

    Where like stars his children crowned
    All in white shall wait around.

    This makes the saints in glory sound like a school cricket team that has missed its train.

  2. Ian

    And I’ve just realised that Cecil Frances Alexander didn’t write “Away in a manger”!

  3. Gilbert

    Fortunately there are many excellent carols to choose from! Wishing you and yours a merry and blessed Christmas, David.

  4. MichaelA

    Just returned from a midnight service, killing a bit of time til I get sleepy.

    I am struck by the golden opportunity available to our churches to outreach through Christmas Carols. There is a revival of interest in Christmas traditions among secular Australians, especially carols. Australians want to hear them, and they want their children to hear them and get the opportunity to sing them. The interesting thing is that they will sit patiently and listen to a hard-hitting sermon as part of it, even though they wouldn’t in other circumstances.

    If we want to attract people to church, a good old-fashioned Nine Lessons and Carols service is a great way to do it.

    Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night .

  5. Ross Cobb

    Methodist? Charles Wesley was an Anglican clergyman until the day he died! And the words of Hark the Herald were altered by George Whitfield as well.

Leave a Comment - but please pay careful attention to the house rules