“Look a virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”
I am struck at the end of this year by how many Christmas carols are lullabies and I have been wondering why.
There are plenty of carols which are the opposite, of course: Hark the Herald Angels Sing is a call to wake up. O Come All Ye Faithful summons us to worship. Some of the best-loved carols tell the Christmas story: O Little Town; Once in Royal David’s City; While Shepherds watched.
But many are simple lullabies. They are full of gentleness and tenderness and welcome and love. Away in a Manger. Silent Night. The Coventry Carol. The Rocking Carol. There is even a Radio 3 website which ranks carols by how likely they are to send you to sleep.
After a difficult year, those simple carols move us in ways we don’t fully understand. A tear comes to the eye. Sobs rise in the throat. We take the hand of those we love. Friends embrace. What is going on?
The carols are reminding us of the very centre of the Christmas story; the very centre of the human story. At the end of a difficult year, the world does not need to be told to pull itself together. The world does not need to be shouted at or scolded or condemned. The world doesn’t need yet more words seeking to explain the mysteries of life.
The world simply needs to catch a glimpse that, after all, God really is love and mercy and goodness, despite everything. The world needs simply to be held and loved and mended. The world needs rest and peace.
Our world needs to hear again that God speaks in gentle whispers and not through earthquake, wind or fire.
That wisdom comes from teenage girls and foreign lands and ordinary working people.
By common agreement, 2019 has been a difficult year. There is a deep fear abroad in the world. The very climate of the earth is changing in ways which are damaging and unpredictable. Still, the leaders of some of the most powerful nations on earth are in denial and others too slow to act.
We hoped technology might bring us together. We are more connected than ever before, but we are also more lonely and isolated and divided. So-called social media eats away the borders of our person and encroaches on every secret place. We see the worst side of human life and inequality reflected in the mirror of our online lives.
The political rancour and stalemate we have endured has affected workplaces and families and morale and spills over into every day fractures and divisions. The ordinary trials of life, illness and insecurity are amplified the more we understand the lostness of the whole world. Where are we to turn for help when all everything is coming apart?
“Look, says the prophet, a virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”
Over all this sad and weary earth, God sends and sings this lullaby. Christmas in our culture now is a time for deep remembering. We have almost forgotten the story but not quite and not at Christmas. Here is the great and mighty wonder. God is love. God is born into our broken and frightened world. God comes to us as a child, the Son of Mary. God enters creation in humility and truth. God comes to redeem us. God comes to be with us.
God comes to save us from our very selves and the from the mess we make. That is why God’s Son takes the name Jesus, Saviour. God comes to mend us and remake us: Jesus is the Prince of Peace. God comes to end loneliness: we are not alone in the vastness of creation. God is with us, Emmanuel. God comes to bring hope for all our futures and the promise of a just world and a kingdom which will live forever, a new heaven and a new earth. This is the story we are called to live and called to tell.
Jesus is God’s own lullaby, the Word made flesh, the word of life, the word of love. Whatever your year has been like, hear this lullaby this Christmas. Take hold of this word of love as a person who is sinking in quicksand seizes a rope.
Hold it fast.
Allow yourself to be anchored and pulled to safe ground. Rebuild from this strong centre.
You are loved. God is with us. Jesus is born.
He is here.
Christ Church Cathedral
Christmas Day, 2019