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Innkeepers and Light Sleepers

“Theologians are poets who cannot write poetry.” I believe it was Stanley Hauerwas I once heard say this. It feeds my deep insecurities. I certainly know I can’t write poetry. Does that qualify me to theologize? I don’t think I even “get” most poetry. It often feels just too esoteric for me. So when I find poetry or lyrics that I do I get, that stir my soul, I try to imbibe often.

One such soul-stirrer for me is the Christmas recording Innkeepers and Light Sleepers from the Wild Goose Worship Group of the Iona Community. They’re simple, short folk tunes. While I appreciate the music, I’m more of a word-person. It is the lyrics, by John Bell, that capture, or better yet, expand, edify, and truly bless my vision of the nativity. Of all our Christmas music—Nutcracker and Messiah, carols and crooners, Sufjan Stevens and more—Innkeepers and Light Sleepers is my favorite.

I wish I could send a Christmas gift to each of you readers of The Twelve. Instead my present is to recommend this recording to you. Give a gift to yourself or send a copy to friends. You probably won’t receive the CD ($16.95) before Christmas, but you could enjoy it all of Christmastide. Download the MP3s ($12.95) and you’re good to go now. GIA Publications handles Wild Goose products in the US. 

Somewhat to whet your appetite for more, somewhat to nourish your Christmas imagination, I share a few of the lyrics here. Enjoy! Merry Christmas!

And Did It Happen

And did it happen that in a stable long ago
a weary couple whom no one seemed to know
should choose a manger despite the danger
to hold and hallow the Lord below?

And did it happen that in the stillness of the night
the woman labored to let God see the light
and bathed and dressed him, breastfed and blessed him
the Word incarnate whose time right?

And did it happened that news of this first reached the poor
compelled by angels to tiptoe to the door
and see not trappings just linen wrappings
a child for certain and God for sure?

And did it happen that all of this was meant to be
that God from distance should choose to be set free
and show uniqueness, transformed in weakness
that I might touch him and he touch me?

text John L. Bell, (c) 1992 WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland.  Reproduced by permission.

God Immersed in Mystery

God immersed in mystery
Lord of time and history
Monarch to whom every knee shall bow
Is cradled in a manger now

God whose face was never seen
God whose hands were ever clean
Martyred with a price upon his brow
Is cradled in a manger now

God who made planets move
Midwife of both life and love
Caroled to by cock or cat or cow
Is cradled in a manger now

God who gave the world its birth
God who promised peace on earth
God becoming flesh to keep that vow
Is cradled in a manger now

text John L. Bell, (c) 1992 WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland.  Reproduced by permission.

The Pedigree

Not the powerful, not the privileged
Not in the famous in the land
But the no-ones and the needy
Were the first to hold to God’s hand

Not a well-established family
with an heirloom christening shawl
but a homeless wandering couple
bathed and fed the Lord of all

Not at first to little children
nor to those whose faith burned bright
but to adults stalled in darkness
angels brought God’s love and light

God determined to be different
from the standards we think best
in his choice of friends and family
lets forgotten folk be blest

Not obsessed by our achievements
worldly wealth or family tree
may we gain and with God’s chosen
find our fondest pedigree


text John L. Bell, (c) 1992 WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland.

Reproduced by permission.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.

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