It was pretty funny, really. Last year, at the Service of Lessons and Carols, we realized we had to make some changes. Even though it’s a tradition that goes back to 1880, it was time for an update.
When the first lesson (Genesis 3: 8–15; 17–19) was read, you could hear a murmuring from the pews. When God asked Adam if he’d eaten from the forbidden tree and Adam pointed to Eve and said, “The woman made me do it,” I swear there was even some hissing – and it wasn’t the serpent.
I have even further problems with that text. The idea of a “fall,” an event in which sinful humankind fell out of favor with God and therefore needed a champion to get us back into God’s graces, has become untenable for me. So basing the whole progression of texts leading up to the birth of Jesus on this foundation was no longer acceptable.
The next lesson wasn’t much better. The story of Abraham’s willingness to sactifice Isaac as an example of faithfulness portrays God in a way that is highly problematic. Who is this God who sets up a losing scenario in Paradise and then punishes people for falling into the trap? Who is this God who toys with a father’s love for his child? Oh, I know, we’re supposed to look forward in time to Jesus, who would be “sacrificed” by his father. Sorry, I’m not buying it anymore. Time for a change.
Hooray for the folks at http://processandfaith.org! After searching unsuccessfully for an order of service that took these problems seriously, I finally found one. Here’s the introductory paragraph by Jeanyne Slettom, a UCC minister and adjunct professor of theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities:
This service of lessons and carols is based on the traditional set of readings with some changes. It retains lessons 3-9, but shifts the message of lessons 1 and 2 away from original sin toward original blessing. The first reading is God’s creation and blessing of humankind; the second is God’s covenant with Noah.
Yes! Just what I was looking for! To be sure, the Noah story has its problems, too. But I think that most people know that there really was a flood in that region of the world and understand that this story was the ancient Hebrews’ ways of making sense of it. The Abraham story, not so much.
This is just one more example of how we need to pay attention to the theology we’re promoting in the liturgies we use. I’m blessed to be in a congregation that will actually murmur and hiss at non-progressive interpretations. But we should all be on the lookout for these steps backward into ways of thinking that need to be left behind.
We’re celebrating the birth of Jesus into the world through these Twelve Days of Christmas. In the Epiphany season, we’ll be thinking about the implications of that birth. Was it a “divine rescue operation” to save us from our sin brought about in the “fall?”
Or was it something else? I say it was. So let’s revisit our hymnody, prayers and liturgies and make the necessary changes to reflect our theology.