C is for Carols



December 3, 2019 First Week of Advent – Day Three of the Advent Alphabet

C is for carols. One of my top five favourite carols is “Angels We Have Heard on High”. 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!


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 and 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 doesn’t 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 scene that have happened over the centuries? (Innkeepers, 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 read the simple 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 quiet time. You could set the timer on your phone to give you 5 minutes of silence, then 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, pastor at the United Church in Harrow, Ontario. Each day in Advent, a different letter of the English Alphabet will be a jumping off place for a reflection. These reflections will be sent out via email to those who have asked to be on the mailing list, and will also be posted to Rev. Darrow’s Facebook page.


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