Do you remember this song from a few years ago by Boney M?
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered Zion
When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the lord’s song in a strange land
It’s based on verses from Psalm 137, and is a reflection of how the children of Israel felt – captives in a foreign land, far from home and the focus of their faith in Jerusalem.
How can we sing…in a strange land?
Perhaps many of you and those whom you know feel cut off from the festive mood of this season; exiled from all the joy and fun of Christmas – because of circumstances, because of what has happened, because of your sorrow and loss.
The news from the last few weeks has been dreadful and depressing, the latest tragedy happening yesterday in Glasgow: the mowing down of happy Christmas shoppers by a refuse truck.
The lights are still sparkling in George Square in Glasgow, but who has the stomach left to celebrate?
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
And yet there are so many good folk there to understand, to guide, to love – maybe they don’t always find the right words, but so often in their own way, they communicate the loving support which helps us, bringing us even a little bit of hope in that strange land.
The hope of Christmas says no matter how desperate our lives seem, no matter how much hurt, brokenness, and alienation there is, there is love…and there is hope
In September 1995 Carol and Charlie Harvey received news that their 20 year old son Brad had been killed.
Grief stricken they went through the motions of the funeral and life. But as Christmas approached Carol found herself giving vent to her disappointment and anger with God. He had failed her. Why hadn’t he protected her son as she had so often prayed?
In desperation she prayed, “God, if you care about me, I need a miracle. Otherwise, I think I’ll probably die.” She waited, and that Christmas her miracle came.
One night the doorbell rang. When Carol’s 13 year old daughter answered it she found a gift but no giver, nor any mark identifying the giver. The gift was a tree branch with apples planted in it and a blue plastic nightingale perched on top. Attached was a piece of paper which read:
- “On the first day of Christmas My true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.
We couldn’t find a partridge, And our pear tree died, So you have to settle for a Bluebird in an apple tree.”
Also attached was a bible verse describing the birth of John the Baptist.
- The next evening there was another ring of the doorbell and another gift. Though Sarah, Carol’s daughter, raced to the door, she wasn’t fast enough to discover who the mystery giver was. This time there was a box containing “turtle” brand lollies and two Dove brand chocolate bars.
The note read: “On the second day of Christmas My true love sent to me two turtledoves….” and included a bible verse about the angel Gabriel appearing to the virgin Mary.
And on it went for the next ten days.
- The third day were three Cornish hens (the French hens had lost their passport the note said);
- the fourth day there was a cassette tape with songs which had the word “bird” in the title, and a calling card – “four calling birds”;
- on the fifth day five golden rings were freshly cooked doughnuts;
- on the sixth day six geese-a-laying were pastel chalk eggs;
- on the seventh day, seven swans swam across the top of a blue-frosted cake
- on the eighth day eight maids-a-milking was a cow-shaped candle
- on the ninth day nine ladies dancing were gingerbread people decorated as dancers;
- on the tenth day there were ten wooden leaping puppets;
- on the eleventh day a James Galway tape did for eleven piper piping;
- on the twelfth day of Christmas there were twelve drums made out of iced biscuits.
And each day there was a Scripture verse preparing them for the approaching Christmas.
Carol found that this was her miracle. For the first time since Brad’s death she had begun looking forward to the next day, wanting to know what would come next.
Thinking of that time she says “When I couldn’t talk to God, when I didn’t even want to talk to him, he sent my miracle through someone else. God used earthly hands to send it to me, but his fingerprints were all over it.”
Carol’s experience reminds us that when people are wounded our action can be a miracle to them, helping them find healing and recovery.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Perhaps with great difficulty, but with Christmas, God shows us that so much is possible