Each year, Progressive Christians have a dilemma: carols and hymns without inclusive language and limiting language about Jesus are annoying, but the songs are so nostalgic and traditional and beloved. So each year we put our theology on the shelf and sing with gusto…while sometimes rewriting the hymn under our breath.
Thankfully, one silver lining of the awful 2020 is that, for many Christians, singing along to livestreams at home or in a drive-thru Christmas Eve service means that no one can be annoyed at your rewriting. So this year is the PERFECT year to rewrite Christmas carols to be more inclusive.
My suggestion is to print or bring up on your screen one of these two versions (or another—leave it in the comments!) so that you can sing along with your faith community with your full head and heart this Christmas season unlike any other. And then next year you have an experience to advocate for within your community so that everyone can join in next year.
Inclusive Christmas Carols by Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee
My friend Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee has posted on Facebook a note with the text of many of her rewritten Christmas carols. Many of these are in the public domain and suitable for congregational use. Here’s a few examples that show what inclusive Christmas carols can look like.
First example is, obviously, to do away with male-gendered imagery for God. Here’s her version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
God Rest Ye Merry
God rest ye merry, gentlefolk, let nothing ye dismay
Remember Christ our Healer was born this Christmas Day
To heal us all from sin and fear, when we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy!
Second example, for those who have issues with “lord” language, here’s the rewritten first verse of Away in a Manger:
Away In A Manger
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little love, Jesus, lay down his sweet head
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay
The little love, Jesus, asleep on the hay.
Final example, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is adapted to be more inclusive of the Earth (not nations) and includes a movement towards reconciliation not triumphilism:
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The herald angels sing, hear the heavenly anthems ring:
“Peace on Earth, and mercy mild; all the Earth is reconciled!”
Joyful, all the Earth arise, join the anthems of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim: “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! The herald angels sing: songs of Hope to us they bring!
Click here for the inclusive Christmas carols. I’ll update this post if she has new ones this year.
Songbook from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian in Texas
Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Austin, Texas, prints their own songbook you can download. Their edits are not as good as Tallessyn’s, in my biased opinion, but being able to print off a songbook is a nice option for folks. Here’s their page for inclusive Christmas carols.
But I do like their introduction as to why they produce this resource:
The mystery of Christmas is that “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” (John 1:14) The business of becoming flesh involves taking on particular human identities—gender, race, sexuality, ability, and more. The eternal Word, through which all things were made, took on flesh and entered the human experience as a peasant baby born to an unwed teenage mother living under colonial occupation. The fullness of the miracle is not that about one particular set of human identities—male, Middle Eastern, Aramaic-speaking, able bodied, pre-modern— that were singled out as holier than all others. Rather, the miraculous good news is that the Holy takes on flesh every day and enters into our diverse, and particular, human experiences. Inclusive, intentional language is our way of honoring this mystery by refusing to limit the Word Made Flesh to words that reinforce the same oppressive hierarchies that Christ came to free us from.Daniel Williams, Minister for Spiritual Formation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
The pandemic has shaped so much of the church this year, but Christians can use this opportunity to shape our traditions into better reflections of the incarnate Christ that beckons us to draw the circle wide. While you are at it, feel free to make Christmas, not Easter, about Atonement as well. 🙂
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