Midweek Musing. On comfort and joy: tidings for whom?

God rest you, merry, gentlemen. 
Ever looked past the patriarchal assumption and seen the grammar? 
I hadn't, until I started to write new words to a tune I quite like. 

God rest you - rest as a verb, meaning keep. God keep you, or perhaps, God comfort you? 
There is an argument for 'merry' as meaning 'mighty', but in today's terms, we would hear, 'joy', I think. God keep you joyful.  
And thus the refrain: tidings (a message) of comfort and joy. 

And this hope or prayer for comfort and joy for 'you' or 'us' is an underlying message of many a Christmas carol. But I started to wonder, is the message of reassurance for 'us' - and my 'us' is a predominantly already comfortable, materially speaking, and in many other ways as well, community. Do I want to preach comfort to the already comfortable? Is there not a risk of inviting complacency if I do that? 
Is the story of Jesus, of God born into humanity, not about presence with the uncomfortable, those yearning for peace, comfort, security, compassion? We, my 'we', don't need it for ourselves, except that our own peace and joy is incomplete, and will be more complete in seeking peace and comfort for our neighbours. 

So I rewrote the words of the song, not only for the patriarchal language, not only for the hints at substitutional atonement theology that leaves me wanting; I rewrote it not necessarily for the congregation to sing, but as part of the sermon I'll give when we gather to worship on Christmas Eve. 

I want to provoke us, because Jesus provokes. I want to remind us that 'all' includes, especially, those who are likely not here, when I preach to the comfortable. This story is a story of disruption, of disturbing the balance, of seeking to redistribute power so that all have enough. We need reminding, to see the shepherd in the fields on the outskirts of town, the foreigners from afar; to welcome them and seek peace for them, as a very Christ like, paradoxical way of entering the peace, hope, joy, and love, of Christmas for ourselves. 

So, God rest you, merry, of course. But God disturb you, too, into seeking rest and merriment, peace and joy, for all. 

A story of justice, peace and joy 

God give you comfort, gentle folk,
disturb you on the Way; 
remember Jesus, child of Love,
was born on Christmas day 
to save us all from tyranny,
for we have gone astray. 

O, story of justice, peace and joy, peace and joy.
O, story of justice, peace and joy. 

From Spirit, Wisdom, Creator,
the blessed angels came,
revealing to the shepherds: 
the world has changed today! 
A child is born, to Mary, 
the Son of God, by name. 

O, story of justice, peace and joy, peace and joy.
O, story of justice, peace and joy. 

Now to our God sing praises,
all you within this place,
and with true loving kindness
each other do embrace;
thus Christ is born, and born again - 
we need his light to blaze. 

O, story of justice, peace and joy, peace and joy.
O, story of justice, peace and joy. 

'A story of justice, peace and joy.'
Words: (c) Sarah Agnew 2018. 
Tune: God Rest You Merry Gentlemen


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