Every year in December our family purchases a CD called 'The Spirit of Christmas', produced by the Myer Corporation to raise funds for the Salvation Army's children and youth programs. The tracks are of varying qualities, but this year's CD has given me some special joy.
First, because again it includes my favourite Christmas song, 'O Holy Night', this year sung by Olivia Newton John. Not the best rendition, but still enjoyable. That's where the line, 'A thrill of hope' comes from.
Another good track is Archie Roach's rendition of 'Silent Night'. I love the simplicity of this song, along with my childhood memories of my Dad singing it on Christmas eve. I love, too, the story of its composer, Joseph Mohr needing to compose (in a hurry) a simple tune for his church choir to sing, because the organ had broken down and they needed to be able to pick up the harmonies without its support. It's also great to have an indigenous Australian singing in the style so many of the excellent indigenous musicians have developed.
But this is not the best thing about the album this year. It's a song I had not heard before, 'The rebel Jesus'.
Written by Jackson Browne, and first performed in 1991, this song challenges so much associated with Christmas. This CD exemplifies it. Most of the songs are about Christmas itself: the tinsel, gifts, and even that extraordinarily shallow song, 'All I want for Christmas is you'.
Yet amongst it all is the story of God coming amongst us in the most astonishing way, as a baby and then as a peasant preacher from a despised town. I sense a thrill of hope as I consider these words and the idea that we too, 'pagans and heathens', might be followers of the rebel Jesus.
Here are the lyrics. You can hear various renditions of this song on Youtube, too.
All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They’ll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all gods graces
And the birth of the rebel jesus
Well they call him by the prince of peace
And they call him by the savior
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robbers den
In the words of the rebel jesus
We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel jesus
But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel jesus.