Christmas Carol Taboo
Have a go at translating the good news into our language – no jargon allowed!
In the game Taboo, you have to give clues to a word without using certain ‘taboo’ words. For example, you would try to give clues to the word ‘ring’ without saying phone, wedding, diamond, engagement, circle or hoop. You are not allowed related words either, so not telephone or engaged.
Try this with a Christmas carol. It’s a great group activity, and it’s harder than you might think! But it’s a really good way to think about what the Christmas story actually is, and how we can translate the message into our own language without using Christian-ese.
Start by listing all the ‘taboo’ words. Anything that is not part of common speech. Manger, for a start. Saviour. Angel – in modern speech that means a sweet person. Glory – what’s that when it’s at home? ‘Goodwill to all men’ – that’s out the door! Your list may be long.
Now take a favourite carol and try to translate it into ordinary language. You could have a forfeit for anyone who uses a taboo word, and when you have finished, fall about laughing as you try singing your new words to the old tune. Try this:
A long way away in a horse’s food basket without a proper baby bed (complete with safety certificate),
the small baby who was called Jesus but was not just an ordinary baby got put in his not-a-cot to sleep and he was very cute.
It was a clear night outside and you could see the stars. If stars had eyes they would have been able to see
the small baby who was called Jesus but was not just an ordinary baby sleeping on the dried grass that the horses wanted to eat.
My Mum, like most women of her generation, carried a handbag. But oddly (I thought), she often said that word in a loud, rising, almost operatic tone, and I repeated her sing-song “A Haaaandbaaag?” for many years without any idea why.
I now recognise it as a quote from Oscar Wilde’s fabulous Lady Bracknell, but it was years before I saw the play and went, “So that’s why!”
There’s something similar in this passage. No, not a handbag, but a something I could say without understanding what it meant.
The “peace that passeth hall hannerstennin”. I first came across the phrase when we were reading aloud from ‘Major Barbara’ in school. It was my turn, and I made sounds from the letters on the page, but had no idea what I was saying or what it meant. What was a hall hannerstennin? Was it like the Albert Hall? I could not turn the sounds into words, nor the words into meaning, and certainly not into a Biblical reference. I’m guessing Shaw’s original audience might have got the joke, but it was totally lost on me.
There were so many layers of not understanding: the strange spellings, the East-End dialect, the Shakespearean grammar. But even without those the phrase “peace that passes understanding” is still a mystery. It’s like my Mum’s “A Haaaandbaaag?” – something I can say without any attached meaning.
That’s why I’ve chosen the translation below: “God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand”. I find it helps to render these familiar, set-piece phrases in our own natural language. It’s not so poetic, I grant you, but (apart from Psalms etc) The Bible is not supposed to be poetic. It’s supposed to be understood.
That’s why Jesus came. To make God understandable. God spoken in our language. We can say the words of a creed. We can study doctrines of The Godhead. We can sign up to the Westminster Catechism or the UCCF statement of faith, but without knowing the ‘who’ (as opposed to just the ‘what’), this is me repeating “A Haaaandbaaag?” because my Mum did. It’s reading out ‘hall hannerstennin‘ without knowing what it means.
Jesus came to be our, “So that’s why!” God incarnate. God with meat on. God in our neighbourhood. God in my language.
This Christmas, may God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, keep guard over all our hearts and minds in King Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7 New Testament for Everyone
Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate! Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near.
Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus.
New Testament for Everyone
Scripture quotations from The New Testament for Everyone are copyright © Nicholas Thomas Wright 2011.
Dame Edith Evans with the best ever rendition.