notre dame montreal

Family Service Sermon

preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden

I was reading an interesting article recently which was encouraging Ministers to think carefully about which hymns they chose for worship and suggesting that with certain hymns, some verse should perhaps be taken out.

One of the hymns which was given as an example was, the great hymn of Charles Wesley ‘O for a thousand tongues to tell.’ Considering that this was produced by the United Methodist Church of America I thought I had better carry on reading.

It suggested that we should be careful what we sing because it can offend people and the offending verse in this hymn goes as follows

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
You blind, behold your Saviour come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy!

The point which was being made was that people in wheelchairs would not be encouraged by singing words which implied that they should be able to just start leaping about. Surely there would be no more need of access ramps in churches. Or perhaps adults with certain disabilities might be discriminated against if they could not start using normal speech.

So I started thinking this week about our carols and the words which we sing at Christmas, and what messages they convey about our Christian faith.

This morning in our family service, I want us to do a sort of comprehension exercise. I thought we could perhaps look at three of the most popular carols and look for words which they use to describe the mood of Christmas

What descriptive words about Christmas can you find?

O come all ye faithful


O little town of Bethlehem 

Wondering love.
Wondrous gift 
The blessings of heaven.

Hark! The herald angels sing 

Light and life 
No death - ‘born that man no more may die’

I am sure that this is by no means exhaustive and there will be carols which say things which are not totally optimistic and triumphant. Nevertheless the overwhelming message of Christmas is triumphant and joyful. The carols are very upbeat about Christmas and sadly somewhat unrealistic.

But is this a true reflection of what really took place that first Christmas? We know from carols like ‘Away in a manger,’ which pretends that Jesus never cried (But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes), that sometimes we get a little less than the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Let us try and think about some of the other words which we could use to describe how people would have felt at the first Christmas

  1. How did Mary feel when she was told that she was going to have a baby? (Terrified, lonely)
  2. How did Joseph feel when he was told that his betrothed was to have baby? (Betrayed)
  3. How did they both feel when they were told that there was no room at the inn? (Disappointed, depressed, poor, no choices)
  4. How did Herod feel? (Angry)
  5. How did the parents feel of the children in Bethlehem that were killed? (Grieving)
  6. How did Mary and Joseph feel when they heard Herod was after Jesus? (Afraid)

The message of the real Christmas is not that everything is great. There is nothing magical about having a baby out of wedlock, not getting a room in which to give birth, being away from home, fleeing to Egypt.

This is helpful because we know that this is real life. For so many people Christmas is not a happy time, for some people it is positively the worst time of the year.

  1. For some people Christmas is desperately lonely, what has Christmas got to say to them? 
  2. Some people are incredibly poor, what does Christmas say to them?

Fortunately the message of the real Christmas is that in the midst of the difficult circumstances of life there is real hope. God is not blind to our circumstances, Jesus is born as the light of the world, that shines in the darkness. We know that there is darkness all around us, Christians are not people who bury their heads in the sand and think that people in wheelchairs can suddenly walk again.

Yet still we trust and have hope, because we find that in the midst of suffering God can speak most profoundly. We do not have a God who turns his ear away from the plight of those in need. On the contrary Christmas is a time when we are reminded that God is born with the poor, he is threatened and attacked and oppressed. The story of the real Christmas is that even when things look darkest, then we will not be disappointed when we put our trust in God.