I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in performances of three Christmas musicals at different times in my life. All of them have taught me something about the Christmas message which I might otherwise have missed. The first was the beautiful Christmas cantata by Vaughan Williams, “Hodie” which I performed with a group of school students. The text blends biblical language and poetry to weave again the story that is so familiar. The power of the music at several points is extremely compelling particularly the opening stanza of Hodie, Hodie Christus natus est (today Christ is born!). The music has both power and subtlety. And then of course there are the three wise men and their journey. It is a piece of music I go back to every year and make sure that I listen to it at least once in the Christmas period.
The second musical was a performance of “Outback Christmas” – a musical by Robin Mann based on the artwork of Pro Hart and the words of Norman Habel. Here is music that is familiar to us – we’ve been singing Robin Mann songs for a long time in the church and the Australian iconography of Pro Hart brings to mind familiar landscapes. Here we can suddenly understand shepherds as drovers, wise men as Stockman, and an ancient landscape. The musical finishes with a beautiful song which asks the question “Will you be coming home this Christmas?” It asks people to reflect on where home is for them as they focus on Christmas and its message.
The third musical was with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra and a performance of Berlioz “The childhood of Christ”. This is a much harder, and longer, piece telling a very complex story of the flight of the holy family from Bethlehem through Egypt and the early years of Christ’s life. It’s mostly an apocryphal story. The thing that always captured my imagination in this musical however is the scene where the holy family has fled to Egypt and can find nowhere to find shelter. Finally, a group of Ishmaelites, (I guess we would call them Moslems) welcomes them in and offers them shelter. The two fathers get talking and discover they are both carpenters, so the families decide to celebrate together. They call for musical instruments to be brought out, and it’s at this point that one of the most exquisite pieces of music around is found – a trio for two flutes and harp (the trio of the Ishmaelites) and the musicians are encouraged to play a lullaby to help put the baby Jesus to sleep. At the end of the piece of music Mary is in tears because of the beauty of the music and the families have become close friends. I love this memory because I got to play one of the flutes in this trio in a performance in Darwin.
What is your Christmas memory? Is it a traditional European wintry scene? Is it an outback Australian hot, dry, dusty scene? Or is it a scene of strangers being welcomed and of intense beauty and an ability to see things quite differently because of such a welcome that’s received when you are most in need? However you experience Christmas this year may be a time of re-engaging with the Christ who comes to us in helplessness and who seeks always to transform our lives and our world. May the joy of the infant Jesus be yours this Christmas. (Oh, and see if you can find some of the music to listen to!)
Generary Secretary, Rev. Dr Andrew Williams