“O little town of Belfast
How will we see you lie
Through anger deep and broken sleep
As siren-sounds go by?
Yet in your dark streets shining
Is still that hopeful Light
Though wounds and tears of fifty years
Flow free in you tonight
O ruling powers together
Pass blame for all it’s worth
While voices ring for flag and king
But few for peace on earth
While fear is born of all unknown
Still gathered up above
As children sleep, the Light will keep
Its watch of endless love
O holy one, in Belfast
Descend again we pray
Throw out all sin, let love come in
And hatred melt away
We would hear the Christmas headlines
Assure us all is well
O come to us, abide with us
And rid our minds of ‘them and us’
O free us from this hell
Our Lord, Emmanuel”
- O Little Town of Belfast by Nathan Surgenor
Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/#nathan-surgenor/o-little-town-of-belfast
My Fitzroy partner in crime, Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley, used this as part of his prayers on Sunday morning. It was poignant and beautiful. Surgenor has used a minimal piano sound to make this into a spacious lament. Many people have tried to re-write songs and hymns and carols and failed miserably. Though my favourite band, Over The Rhine, did a great rewrite of this on their Snow Angels record, this is as good a job as I have heard.
Setting the carol in Belfast at such a time as we have experienced over the last three weeks gives real potency to the nativity story. I particularly like “O ruling powers together/Pass blame for all it’s worth/While voices ring for flag and king/But few for peace on earth.” My ire at modern worship is the lack of theology, depth and prophetic bite but not here. Nathan has nailed our
societal ills and named the antidote, “O come to us, abide with us/And rid our minds of ‘them and us’/O free us from this hell/Our Lord, Emmanuel.” Brilliant!
This Christmas morning as we “look for the baby Jesus under the trash” we need to make sure we don’t disconnect our own streets with the nativity scene. That would allow us to ignore the implications. As this carol reminds us Emmanuel means God with us, coming to us to abide with us. We need to ask if the scenes on our streets in recent weeks are the outworking of the peace Jesus came to usher in. Then when the cribs are put away with the wrapping paper, decorations, turkey carcases and unwanted presents we need to ask how we live the example of the story because the rest of Jesus life and teaching is captured in that manger scene and is to be lived
out by us in the following.