It’s not quite a Bridget Jones-style situation – sobbing into shiraz and lip-syncing to “All by myself” on Christmas eve – but this year, Justine Toh is all alone in the recording booth for Life and Faith.
Regular hosts Simon Smart and Natasha Moore have scarpered off before Christmas, with Simon on long service leave in Canada and Natasha off to the U.S. for a white Christmas.
So Justine delves into the back catalogue of Life and Faith and unearths a gem: an episode from 2014 where Simon, Natasha, and John Dickson share their favourite Christmas carols and the stories behind them.
John explains why Hark the Herald Angels Sing isn’t just a beautiful tune but expresses rich theological truths in poetic form. He also discusses how Christmas carols often speak of two advents, or comings, of Jesus: his lowly birth as that baby in the manger and his promised return in glory.
Natasha relates the fascinating history behind her favourite carol O Holy Night that, among other things, briefly halted the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 as French and German soldiers called a Christmas truce, and was the first song to be broadcast on the radio in 1906.
Simon, invoking Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, bah humbugs about the way Away in a Manger, as he sees it, diminishes the powerful idea of the incarnation: the Christian claim that God became fully human in Jesus.
“The sweet baby Jesus we’re hearing about in this carol – you don’t get any sense that he might actually grow up at any point. This idea that even as a baby ‘no crying he makes’ – I just want to throw up when I hear that bit,” Simon says.
“That’s not the Christian story. Jesus is meant to be fully God and fully human, and he’s not fully human if he doesn’t cry.”
Reflecting on the year when planes disappeared into the Indian Ocean, or were shot down over the Ukraine, and that ended with the Sydney siege at the Lindt Café in Martin Place, John says that the Christmas message remains one of joy, even in a gloomy time.
“It’d be wrong to think that Christmas was about happiness. It is about joy though, that sense that despite everything, God is for us and he’s come towards us as one of us. And that does give a perspective and hope that is real joy.”