Bill Tenny-Brittian posted a good commentary on Christmas Carols the other day. He began with a thought that many of us think when our hymnals invite us to sing “Good Christian Friends Rejoice” and our mouths find themselves singing “Good Christian Men Rejoice” (it just happens, honest):
Every time I pick up a mainline hymnal that was printed anytime after 1990 I get just a little bit disgusted. In an effort to save our sensibilities and to be as politically/theologically “correct” as possible, many of the old hyms were lyrically changed. Now, I’m all for inclusive language and all that, but I find myself bemused as I flip through the hymns and see the ones that were “tampered” with and the ones that were somehow seen as too “holy” or something to mess with.
I’m not going into the specifics here, but I say all that to say this …
On Sunday, I was at a church where we sang out of one of those “mainline” hymnals. It’s Advent time, so churches all across the world are singing Christmas carols. We sang some of the good ol’ ones like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” that suffered only a modest molestation in the transition to the “new” hymnal.
But Bill is not done, check out the twist he offers here:
But then we sang “What Child is This.” Now, one would think that the hymnal committee would at least be moderately interested in transitioning ancient lyrics not only for the sake of political correctness, but for understanding’s sake as well. I mean, with less than 17 percent of the USAmerican public in church last week – and that number is shrinking as each year goes by – one would think that communicating the gospel would be a critical decision.
And so, the “offending” lyrics? For a moment, put away your churchese and try and put yourself in the shoes of an unconnected first-time guest who will be showing up on your doorstep for his/her annual pilgrimage to the church. They’re hoping to find hope in the church, though only sort of, because they’ve made this trek many years in the past and have gone away with “nice” and “sweet” and “cute” and sometimes even “moving” year, after year – but hope and life giving? Not so much.
And so the service starts with the typical carols. “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “The First Noel” go by without incident. And then “What Child is This” gets going, and there, on the Big Screen – projected for all to see are these magical, mystical, moving lyrics: “Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?”
Bill rightly asks what does this mean? What is a “mean estate?” I thought about my son’s humorous homework assignment last night. Can you “translate” the following titles into their original holiday song or Christmas carol?
- quadruped with crimson proboscis
- noiseless time between 5 PM and 6 AM
- minuscule hamlet in the far east
- adorn the vestibule
- exuberance directed to the planet
- listen, aerial spirits harmonizing
- monarchical trio
- yonder in the haystack
- assemble, everyone who believes
- hallowed post meridian
- fantasies of a colorless December 25th
- gray chimes
- a dozen 24-hour yule periods
- befell during the transparent bewitching hour
- Homo Sapien of crystallized vapor
- I merely desire a pair of incisors
- I spied my maternal parent osculating a fat man in red
- perambulating through a December solstice fantasy
- aloft on the acme of the abode
- exit to inform it on the peak
You may have to be smarter than a fifth grader for some of these. So seriously, how much do we expect people who walk through our doors to be in order to meet Jesus? When we have answered that question, ponder how much Jesus needs for them to know?