Words are very rascals: a reflection on modern carol services

Words are very rascals. Little did Shakespeare, I imagine, guess that 400 years after his death, a girl would open her blog on a foreign and inconceivable invention of the ‘internet’ with his words. Or that these words would have spoken so true throughout those 4oo years.

I have always said that personally, words are my weapon against the world. Every time I sit down to write, I choose my words. I use my words. I can choose to be hurtful, humourous or honest, by simply putting words in a certain order. Everyone chooses their words. And mostly, people can imagine what effect those words are going to have. Certain words are likely to provoke certain emotions. When I was most hurt, I hated words. I hated that a sequence of letters, a single word, hurled at me could, like a grenade, explode and cause me to come crashing down. But words don’t have to divide and destory, or create friction between people who should know better. Words don’t have to act like bullets of pain which fire deep into the heart of the receiver and send a throbbing reverberation around your whole body. Though, often, when we speak about words, this is the reaction they have provoked in us. Words can and predominantly should be music, music that lifts our hearts, gives a voice to our deepest and most silent emotions. Music that brings people together, that comforts and heals. Writing words down can be a healing process all on its own, something I have very much learnt since starting this blog. And speaking words can act as a relief, as if someone has quite literally lifted something that had been weighing you down. Saying what you truly feel can cause you to hold your head a little higher, in the knowledge that you are no longer bottling something up. And repeated words can be a music that when repeated, bring a rhythm and consistency to our lives, like a recurring theme in a movement of a symphony.

Words can hurt us. Words can comfort us. And words can bring us home.

Certain words mean a whole host of different things to different people. For me, there are a whole host of words that symbolise Christmas; ‘cockatrice,’ as I have mentioned several times before is simply one of these words. And in truth, it’s not really the cockatrice so much as the whole service of Nine Lessons and Carols that means for me that Christmas is coming. Sitting down with my family on the Sunday before Christmas to a traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols and hearing about Adam and Eve ‘walking in the cool of the day,’ Eve being ‘beguiled,’ the rod that will come forth out of the stem of Jesse, Elizabeth being ‘barren,’ Joseph of the ‘house and lineage of David’ going to be ‘taxed’ with Mary, his ‘espoused’ wife, being ‘great with child.’ Shepherds being ‘sore afraid.’ The world which saw Jesus and ‘comprehended him not.’ These are things which I can recite because they have been a part of my life for so many years. These are the things that bring me home, that symbolise Christmas. It is the part of a Christmas tradition that fosters a growing warmth in my heart, brings forth the joy of the season, and makes the world sparkle for a few days. But more than these words from the Nine Lessons, personally, it is the Bidding Prayer, said at the beginning of the service, that epitomises what Christmas means. It is a time for joy, for everyone, a time for remembering those who are no longer present on Earth, but rejoice with us in heaven. It is a time for drawing closer to God personally, nationally, and globally. For a unity and concord that has no boundaries. For a love that touches each one of us.


Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmastide our care and delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger. Therefore let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child. But first, let us pray for the needs of the whole world; for peace on earth and goodwill among all his people; for unity and brotherhood within the Church he came to build, and especially in this city of … and diocese of …And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us remember, in his name, the poor and helpless, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and them that mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and the little children; all those who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love. Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are for ever one. These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the Throne of Heaven, in the words which Christ himself hath taught us…

These words are the ones that mean so much to me. The words that have true power within me. To show me the true meaning of life at Christmas. The words that never fail to bring me closer to God. To bring me home.

But this year it was different. Of the 3 Nine Lessons and Carol services I attended, none followed the traditional pattern. None began with the bidding prayer. One, advertised across town as a ‘traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols’ was a modernised service with 8 lessons. This weekend I felt lost. It didn’t feel like Christmas. I stood up and read from a pulpit an unrecognisable fifth, formerly sixth, lesson. I felt nothing. The words were honest. Sometimes honest can be best. Sometimes it can help us see a new perspective. But these words did no such thing. They had no poetry. They had no music. They were flat. And everyone knew it. All readers stood and read with no conviction, looking surprised as they read that the shepherds were ‘terrified’ and not ‘sore afraid.’ And any musician will tell you that creating music requires utmost teamwork, and working together. The exquisite music of the service did not marry with the readings. We have Tudor words, Medieval words, French words in music. Yet in our readings, in the modern and blunt words of God we had nothing. It simply didn’t work. Christmas lost its sparkle. Christmas is about magic. The power of God to bring the conception of his own Son on Earth. This magic was gone. I felt as if I was back in primary school, the words so dummed down that they lost any meaning at all. I wanted to go home and cry. This wasn’t Christmas. I’d lost the season that I so loved.

And so had the whole congregation. We felt deceived once again. This was our Christmas service, our ‘traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols’ gone, with the wave of a wand and replaced with something that made us feel like we were walking in a winter blizzard, lost, cold, angry, and the harsh wind provoking salty tears to tumble from red eyes fighting back the pain. We were as grey as the night sky above us. No stars, no sparkle. No Christmas. And from the conversations after the service, it sounded like there would be no congregation next year either.

And then I was angry. Why should I feel so upset about words? They are simply words on a page. Letters in a formation. They shouldn’t affect me. Why should they make me feel so far from the God I usually drew closest to at this time of year? Surely, the love of God transcends the words used to communicate this love. But I came to this conclusion. I am growing up, and the world is changing. Part of this is my fault, I’m not good with change. I want to live in my childhood bubble and have nothing change. I want the words to comfort me, to bring me home. But part of this is also the world’s fault. People in command who change things without asking what their people really want. People who don’t listen. People who don’t see value in words that connect us to generations gone before, that spark the feelings of comfort and joy. People who live in the present, and forget that Christmas is not just about present mirth, for present mirth hath only present laughter. People who don’t understand what those words mean for generations of us. People who are driving away their congregations and fuelling greater anger and divisions in a community that just needs to heal. People who only see change and who don’t see the value in what we already have. Christmas is about the aged and the little children. About those who have gone before, who rejoice with us on a greater shore. The world has become full of people who lose what Christmas truly is.

And sometimes I want to scream at the world. I’m only 16. There’s nothing I can do to change the decisions that have already been made. I know that whatever words are spoken I’ll always have God to walk beside me. But 4 days before Christmas, I’ve lost my sparkle and poetry, and I need to world to know that. I felt ashamed to read those words on Sunday. I wanted to be a rebel for my congregation. To stand up and recite the lesson I knew in my heart. The ones written on my mind that made the sky light up with Christmas joy. But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t dare. Because I respect decisions that have been taken. Because I don’t want to hurt anyone.

Words are rascals. They have the power to make us laugh and cry. These words I write are my weapon against the world. I may only be 16, not on the electoral role, a nobody. But I have a voice, however insignificant you see me to be. I want to the world to know how I feel. I need the world to know how I feel. Because I’m lost, and I hope that writing these words help find me again.



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