10 Correct Opinions About Christmas Carols

Public service announcement.

The following opinions are all correct.

  1. The first carol on Christmas Day should always be Christians Awake Salute the Happy Morn. It should be sung lustily and with the last line repeated.
  2. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night may be sung to almost any tune. It must not, however, be sung to the tune Winchester Old
    • Acceptable tunes shall include:
      • Liverpool
      • Glasgow
      • Lyngham
      • Old Foster
      • Sweet Chiming Christmas Bells
      • Cranbrook – This may only be used once in every decade in any one place. There’s a limit to how entertaining it is.
  3. The best carol of all is It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and it must be sung to the tune Noel by Arthur Sullivan. There are many things in which the US based Episcopal Church is correct but it is incorrect in its choice of tune for this carol. It may also be sung at Michaelmas. The incorrect words “It Came upon a midnight clear” are anathema. They have as much place in the Christian faith as Sundays before Advent or Sundays before Lent – ie none whatsoever.
  4. Jingle Bells is not a carol.
  5. The carol Of the Father’s Love Begotten may be sung at any time from Advent Sunday until the Feast of Candlemas. It must only be sung to the words agreed by Mr Frikki Walker and myself. The verse about seer and sybyl must always be included as it is both profound and reminds us all of Sybil Fawlty. I have every intention of broadcasting this carol unto the nation at the earliest opportunity so that everyone else may copy the St Mary’s version of the words.
  6. 10 points may be claimed for anyone spotting a heresy in any carol. A bonus of 50 points is awarded to anyone who can come up with a heresy-free version that people will enjoy singing.
    • Your starter for 10 is “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see” which sounds like Docetism to me.
  7. Anyone claiming that carols should be sung “in the original version” shall be required to sing Hark How All The Welkin Rings at the next carol service they are at and will then be required to explain to everyone at the door what a welkin is.
  8. In the Bleak Midwinter may be sung, even though Jesus probably was not born amidst snow. However, it may only be sung by a good choir singing the Harold Darke version.
  9. O Come All Ye Faithful is a Jacobite rallying call and is most proper for Scottish Episcopalians to sing.
  10. Christmas cake should be eaten with cheese and not marzipan and icing.

Thank you for your attention.

Always the Inkeeper – a sermon for Christmas Day 2018

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I, was always the innkeeper.

I’m not sure how many times I was in a nativity. Nor am I sure how it happened. But somehow, I was always the innkeeper.

And the innkeeper doesn’t get the best of lines.

“I’m sorry, there is no room at the inn”

Of course, there’s no actual innkeeper in the Bible. Just that line which says that Mary laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

From the lack of room in the inn there is presumed to be an innkeeper.

And the innkeeper must therefore turn the holy couple away. Not for them the comforts of the inn.

But how to play the innkeeper – stern and uncompromising as he shakes his head at the holy couple. Or kind and compassionate finding them a corner round the back with the animals because you can’t just let a woman give birth on the street?

I’m not sure that my knowledge of theatre was all that developed in those days but there was still clearly a choice to be made.

If you’ve only got one line, you’ve got to make it count.

I never got to play the part of Joseph – concerned, compassionate, gentle and strong.

I never got to play a shepherd shivering on the hillside nor a king come from the East to worship the Christchild.

I never got to spit like a camel or baa like a sheep. Nor was I to ever become any of the whole host of angels who came to sing peace to God’s people on earth.

I always knew that I’d have made a fabulous Gabriel, all sparkles and glitter, even if the world was not at that time ready for me to play the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But it was never to be.

I was always the innkeeper.

Carrying my lamp (I always had a lamp) it was my solemn duty to tell Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them in the inn.

So far as I can tell the inns of Great Western Road, do not seem to come with adjacent stables these days. The memory of the cow byers in the West End where animals were stabled after being brought into town for market lingers in the name of Byers Road. But generally speaking, for most of us the idea of a stable is a bit foreign.

But it was to such a place that the innkeeper showed the holy family and in such a place as that, the Lord of heaven and earth first laid his head, all wrapped in swaddling bands.

Perhaps the modern equivalent is a garage around the back.

I wonder whether those of you who played a part in nativity scenes in your youth have found the character that you played has played out in your later life. Is there still an angel in you – announcing news whenever there’s great news to tell? Are you still searching like one of the Magi? Are you someone who still looks after the sheep.?

I find myself wondering whether constantly saying “There is no room at the inn” in my childhood Christmases somehow contributed to wanting to preside over a congregation which is trying to be open, inclusive and welcoming and trying to say, yes, there’s always room for more around the crib at Christmas and around the altar where God is alive to us the rest of the year too.

Maybe I am rebelling against my old Christmas script. No more will I proclaim no room at the inn. There’s room for everyone here.

It may be because it was my part to play that I’ve tended to think that the church has neglected the innkeeper somewhat. There’s no carols about the innkeeper. No icons of the innkeeper. No relics of the innkeeper to visit. No shrine.

Once he has delivered his line in the nativity play, the innkeeper fades away.

Well, he fades away from view but somehow we each get the chance to play his part and not just at Christmas. Whom will we welcome? Who precisely will we make room for.

For there must be room for the wandering and the lost. There must be food for the hungry. There must be shelter for the homeless. There must be refuge for the refugee.

And the vocation of all of us innkeepers is to work out how to welcome just one more.

And the Christmas story is at its weakest if we locate it only in Bethlehem and only in a time long, long ago.

Like all the best stories it comes to life when we find ourselves acting the parts of the characters not simply in childhood but when we can see and influence the same drama as it plays out in our lives.

The Christmas story is not simply that God came once and laid his head in straw and that was that.

The Christmas story is that Glasgow is the holy city in which God is born. The Christmas story is that people still discover that same God in the most unexpected ones. The true Christmas story is that there’s always room for one more beloved child.

And the true Christmas story is not that God loved the world so much 2000 years ago that he came and for the blinking of a lifetime was part of it.

It is that God loves the world so much because God loves you.

And that love doesn’t happen then or there, but here and now.

God loves you, here and now.

This place is Bethlehem. And unto us a child is born.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.