Incarnation and all that…

If we believe the idea of incarnation, if we sense that people saw God, or something of God in Jesus, and I do, we set ourselves a problem. We raise questions.

People want to know how can that be? If we are content with the mystery of not knowing there is no problem. We create the problem by running with the question. The consequences are multitudinous.

Mark just says, in effect, this is the beginning of the good news. My feeling is that, when he was writing the question hadn’t arisen.

John uses logos to get round the problem of God becoming flesh, human. To my mind the most easily acceptable answer in 2022.

Matthew and Luke construct myths. In their time the nature of these accounts would have been seen for what they were I believe, largely fictional, yet true as a novel is true, a sort of, ‘look, it could have happened like this, not saying it did, but’. Then pulling in all the scriptural ‘prophecies’ to justify the assertions. It worked then and becomes less plausible now.

More worrying is that it sets train the whole plethora of myths – Trinity, Fatherhood, divinity over against humanity, virgin birth, Ascension, which become dogma which ‘we must believe’ some would say, in order to be saved.

How much simpler, less arrogant and more exciting to say, IT IS A MYSTERY, I don’t understand it but here in this person called Jesus, I glimpse something of what I think God would BE like as a person. I’m agnostic as to the details but that doesn’t matter one jot! Best of all is God is with us – ‘give me the Good News in the present tense’ – as Sydney Carter put it.

At the census in the city – We welcome Christmas Day

1	At the census in the city, 
	at the crossing place of life, 
	where the homeless and abandoned 
	share the scars of human strife; 
	mid the rubble and the ruins 
	shedding God's prophetic light
	see, a star is softly shining 
	through the horror of the night.

2	In the cross of shifting shadows 
	see a mother and her child, 
	see the wetness of his features, 
	freshly born, so not yet filed. 
	In a world of cold statistics 
	yet another mouth to feed, 
	for the parents' love holds tension 
	with a calling, crying need.

3	So from Bethlehem in history 
	to this present place and time, 
	God has entered human anguish, 
	sung in tune to human rhyme; 
	yes, the baby that we welcome, 
	yes, the Christ of Palestine, 
	are as one, we seal remembrance 
	in a feast of bread and wine. 	
        [signature of love's design.]* 

4	For the ruin of the manger, 
	this prefig'ring of the cross, 
	offers Christ as our relation 
	in our chaos and our loss, 
	puts the Christ into the present, 
	places God in human hands, 
	tests our loving and our living 
	here in this and every land.

*for use when there is no communion

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
Words © 2003 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd
Metre: 8 7 8 7 D
Tunes: BETHANY (Smart); ABBOTS LEIGH

A tension stalked the stage – another Advent/Christmas hymn

The gospel reading of the Fourth Sunday in Advent tells of the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth and Mary’s prophetic song which we know as the Magnificat (Luke 1: 39-55). This Sunday’s hymn reaches further than this. It has for its background an occupied country, a census involving a journey and the song of a young woman which anticipates the birth of a child who will bring radical challenge and change to the world – if only we would hear and follow him…

A tension stalked the stage, 
an occupying force, 
and in this context Mary sang. 
The world could alter course.
Once humbled by her God, 
demeaned, yet she felt blessed, 
her life now mingled joy and pain, 
from now she'd never rest.

And those in every age 
are challenged by her song, 
the paupers free to pray again - 
for those who did them wrong;
while princes are appalled,
for those who once held power 
will find their status racked right down, 
and that within this hour.

For where injustice meets 
with worship lived and prayed, 
the social order swings around, 
the powerful are dismayed;
and that includes us all, 
our power is sapped away, 
while genuine humility 
at last will have its day.

Andrew E Pratt 
Words © 2015 © Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Metre: DSM
Tune: LEOMINSTER

God is born among us: earth receives the Christ child – Gdy Sie Chrystus rodzi – a Polish Carol

Something a little different for the repertoire of carols for Christmas to use live, recorded or on Zoom (with appropriate licenses). It is a translation of a Polish carol, Gdy Sie Chrystus rodzi, set to the original Polish tune which can therefore be sung in English, Polish or simultaneously. I was introduced to the carol by Keith Trencher of Orrell who encouraged me to produce the translation. It was sung first in Orrell Church Street Methodist Church.

God is born among us: earth receives the Christ child,
all the night awakens, light dispels the darkness.
Joyful angels raise an anthem singing praises to the heavens:
Gloria, gloria, gloria, in Excelsis Deo!
Joyful angels raise an anthem singing praises to the heavens:
Gloria, gloria, gloria, in Excelsis Deo!

In the fields the shepherds heard the angel chorus:
'Leave your sheep, go quickly, Bethlehem is calling!'
There the Lord had come among us; God redeeming all creation:
Gloria, gloria, gloria, in Excelsis Deo!
There the Lord had come among us; God redeeming all creation:
Gloria, gloria, gloria, in Excelsis Deo!

All the hosts of heaven, all the heavenly powers,
tell the story clearly, but we are confounded.
This transcends our understanding, here in awe we gaze in wonder:
Gloria, gloria, gloria, in Excelsis Deo!
This transcends our understanding, here in awe we gaze in wonder:
Gloria, gloria, gloria, in Excelsis Deo!

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) translated from the Polish carol Gdy Sie Chrystus rodzi (see Singing the Faith, 200; Reclaiming Faith, 36) © 2003 Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Metre: 12 12 16 15 16 15
Tune: TRADITIONAL POLISH


Recordings:

Original organ accompaniment with words

Sung Performance of the original setting with words

Original instrumental setting - Central Methodist Church York Organ

Original setting piano single verse from Singing the Faith

Choral Anthem Setting - Malcolm Archer OUP



An unmarried mother gave birth in a stable

 
  1 An unmarried mother gave birth in a stable, 
 some saw a fulfilment of all they had heard, 
 to others this story, the birth of the Godhead,
 was more than amazing, was frankly absurd.
 
 2 Some delved into scripture and said that a virgin, 
 was destined to carry a child who would grow 
 to be a Messiah, salvation for nations, 
 and others would question how history could know.
 
 3 So back to the story, now Bethlehem beckons, 
 a carpenter-pawn come to sign for the state, 
 the bureaucrats needing a list for taxation 
 and everyone hurries before it's too late.
 
 4 A legend would grow up of shepherds and magi, 
 no snow at this Christmas beneath a night's sky. 
 A man who would die as a crucified preacher 
 was born with sparse shelter as people passed by. 
 
 5 And so came the story of birth in a stable, 
 of Bethlehem's journey, a virgin and child. 
 And lost is the essence, the mystery and wonder, 
 of God born among us abused and reviled.
 
 6 Much later a soldier saw God in this prophet
 a man  who would love to his very last breath 
 the dying, the hopeless, those outside religion,
 and all those beside who had shared in his death.
 
 Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
 © 2018 Stainer and Bell Ltd.
 12 11 12 11
 Tune: STREETS OF LAREDO; ST CATHERINES COURT