C is for carols. Do you have favourite carols? As I edited this “Letter”, my children were at the piano, practicing their duet of “Angels We Have Heard on High”. This is one of my top five favourite carols. As they play the instrumental part, I can hear the words in my head:
Angels we have heard on high
sweetly singing o’er the plains,
and the mountains in reply,
echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
When we get to M is for Magi I will write about how “We Three Kings” perpetuates the myth that baby Jesus had royal visitors. I think a fair amount of what people think they know about the birth of Jesus is drawn from carols, and pageants (and the Peanuts Christmas special). Is there anything wrong with that? Maybe not. As long as we pay attention to the way that additions are made to the story (stories) we find in the gospels (more about the different stories in another letter).
Angels “sweetly singing o’er the plains” is a wonderful image, but it came from a writer’s poetic imagination, and not the Bible. In the second chapter of Luke you will find angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) The text does not say the angels were singing. It also does not tell us that they were speaking Latin. (Gloria, in excelsis Deo!)
Does the Biblical story suffer because of all the additions, and filling in of the scenes that have happened over the centuries? (Innkeeper and his wife, cattle, singing angels, and a drummer boy come to mind.) I would love to strip away the extra brush strokes of all the artists who were eager to make the painting more beautiful, and just look at the original sketches.
It can do us good to just read the stories as we find them in Matthew and Luke. The challenge may be to read what is there, and not what we expect to be there.
But here is something else about the stories about Jesus’ birth. Where did they come from? We don’t have Mary’s diary, or Joseph’s memoirs- we have Gospel accounts written at least a generation after the events. Did the Gospel writers take oral history they had gathered, and then exercise artistic license in how they shaped the story, and what elements and characters they included?
The Gospel writers faced the challenge that any of us face when we have had a profound experience, or been witness to something amazing. How do we use words to convey the meaning and the power, and mystery of a direct encounter with God?
Take some extra time today. After your silent prayer, read the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Follow this link: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%202%20;&version=31;
The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, minister at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario.