Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. This is one way the Church has redeemed a pagan practice and used carols to spread the message of Christmas. Who does carolling anymore? I somehow feel that neighbourhood carolling has become a shrinking practice in Singapore. Today, carols are sung or played in the shopping centres to create the festive mood for the season. Have we become too busy or too hip for this “once upon a time” distinctive way of heralding the Good News?
I remember a time in the early 90s when I was then serving in the Filipino Fellowship. We were a group of ladies who met every Sunday morning in a little container parked on the grounds of YCK Chapel. The container was room to rows and rows of book shelves from entrance to end on each side of the air-conditioned ‘box’. Little children would come to borrow books. I remember the Shi sisters were regular, quiet and disciplined visitors who would sit by themselves and read.
The container would come to life every Sunday with Filipino ladies, happy and grateful to have a place of their own…a refuge and oasis for them to unburden and to refresh.
That particular year, the ladies and I decided we would go out and share our experience of God’s love with others. I approached Sister Joanna Oo who was then attached to our church doing her SBC music internship as a choir conductress. “Would you come and train my ladies to sing Christmas carols?” She gladly agreed without a moment’s hesitation. The training was fun. We learnt singing techniques – how to throw our voices and let them rise beyond the crown of our heads. We learnt familiar carols… “Hark, the herald angels sing…glory to the new-born King”… “O Holy Night… it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth”…. “Silent night, holy night…”
When the day came, led by Sister Joanna, we trooped out of church that Sunday to a few homes, starting with Sister Mary Lim’s home. I cannot forget the experience… the joy and child-like excitement on the faces of the ladies. I felt like the heavens opened that day… and the angels sang! Standing in Mary’s living room, the earnest, sweet voices of the Filipinas filled the room and rose up the atrium as a fragrant offering to our Father God. Tears filled our eyes as we truly felt the presence of the Christ of Christmas as we heralded His first advent. Oh how I relish those joyful moments with the ladies… singing the Gospel.
Do we revive the practice of Christmas carolling? Can carolling enhance our sense of community and mission… as bearers of Good News?
Can it contribute to making Christmas distinctive and meaningful in the minds and hearts of people around us especially during this time of the year… a way to rouse hearts to ponder God’s wonderful gift of love? More importantly, I pray that we will spread the message of Christmas all through the year in the way we live. Even as we keep up with changes, I pray that familiar practices will not lose their significance in the hearts of believers.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10
By Har Lee John, Pastoral Staff (YCKC Bulletin 19&20 December 2015)