The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, has blamed the much-loved Christimas carols for adding to confusion over the season’s real meaning and turning Jesus into a figure as fictitious as Father Christmas.
There is something to be said about the way Jesus is ‘packaged’ for the populace at Christmas. In the minds of our children this Christmas, I wonder how their image of Jesus would compare with John’s experience?
…..I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,”dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
Away in a Manger cannot be sung “without embarrassment”, Once in Royal David’s City is “Victorian behaviour control”; and O Come, All Ye Faithful is misleading, said the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Nick Baines.
He blamed the much-loved carols for adding to confusion over the season’s real meaning and turning Jesus into a figure as fictitious as Father Christmas.
While others defended the traditional songs as “joyful” and “triumphant”, the bishop complained that the carols have contributed to the story of Christ’s birth being seen “as just one more story alongside the panto and fairy stories”.
In a new book published by the Church of England, Why Wish You a Merry Christmas, the bishop argues that carols encourage images of Christmas that have more to do with Victorian sentiment than the Biblical account of Christ’s birth.
“I always find it a slightly bizarre sight when I see parents and grandparents at a nativity play singing Away in a Manger as if it actually related to reality,” he said.
“I can understand the little children being quite taken with the sort of baby of whom it can be said ‘no crying he makes’, but how can any adult sing this without embarrassment?”
He said that Jesus would be abnormal if he had not cried as a baby. “If we sing nonsense, is it any surprise that children grow into adults and throw out the tearless baby Jesus with Father Christmas and other fantasy figures?” He continued: “Once in Royal David’s City has Jesus as ‘our childhood’s pattern’ — even though we know almost nothing of his childhood apart from one incident when he was 12 years old and being disobedient to his parents — and invites children to be ‘mild, obedient, good as he’, which means what, exactly? This sounds suspiciously like Victorian behaviour control to me.”
While the bishop praises the ability of some carols to excite and capture the Christmas message, he cites O Come, All Ye Faithful as a prime example of inaccuracy.
The bishop said it was not the “faithful” who went to see the baby Jesus and his parents but shepherds, who are the “great unwashed” and the wise men, who were “not good Jews, but were pagans, men who were outside the covenant people of God”.
“Some of the traditional carols perpetuate images of Christmas that have more to do with Victorian sentiment than the story we actually read in the Gospels,” the bishop said in the book.