It was my 16th Christmas as a pastor. I sat staring at the blank piece of paper ahead of our Christmas Day service aimed at all ages, thinking about how to engage the children. And a somewhat counter-intuitive thought struck me – ‘Let’s do Song of Songs’.
Now Song of Songs doesn’t immediately scream Christmas or, indeed, appropriateness for a children’s service. But there’s a lovely section in chapter two which resembles that traditional Christmas favourite, the pantomime, and we ended up acting it out in the service. Let me explain.
In Song of Songs 2:8, you have the female character spotting her lover coming from a distance:
‘Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.’
And he has come on a deliberate mission, to find his lover:
‘Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.’
When they are finally together, the male character issues words of invitation to the beloved:
‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…’
And the result is that they end up delighting in each other’s company. The woman says these words:
‘My beloved is mine and I am his.’
So here was the plot of our Song of Songs pantomime. A man (elsewhere in Song of Songs pictured as a king and a shepherd) travels a great distance out of love for his bride-to-be, invites her to come with him with the result that winter has ended and the earth is renewed, and we leave them enjoying each other’s company. I hope you are beginning to get the smell of Christmas.
The Bible insists again and again that human love points beyond itself.
At one level, Song of Songs is a celebration of the human love of a man and a woman. But the Bible insists again and again that human love points beyond itself. The Bible starts with the wedding of Adam and Eve and ends with the wedding of Jesus and the Church – and the first of those points to the second. When Paul thinks about marriage in Ephesians 5, he can’t help but think of Christ and the Church. Human marriage is a trailer. That means that when I read Song of Songs 2, I must see it ultimately fulfilled in Jesus coming from heaven to earth out of great love for us.
Now, as it happens, I didn’t make an application about same-sex attraction at our Christmas Day service. But passages like this have become increasingly important for us at Living Out. If you ask us as a team why we don’t think it is right for us to engage in same-sex sexual activity, we might talk about the passages that prohibit it in Paul’s writing or the way in which Jesus affirms heterosexual marriage in Matthew 19. But, these days, we tend to major on the fact that human sexuality is intended to be a pointer to the wonderful reality that Jesus came to the earth to find a bride – and that we are not at liberty to change that image away from the union in difference that is given there. In the end, Jesus doesn’t marry Jesus and the Church doesn’t marry the Church.
But majoring on that reality means that, ultimately, we don’t miss out – because human marriage is but a brief and pale reflection of the eternal and perfect relationship that all Christians will enjoy. It is why I now love passages like Song of Songs 2, for I am included within them. When Jesus wants his bride and speaks of her as the beautiful one, I am part of that group. He is, in a sense, speaking to me. And my future – along with all my brothers and sisters – is to have a leading role in the greatest royal wedding the universe has ever known.
I don’t know how you are feeling about Christmas. For some of us who are gay or same-sex attracted it can be a hard time. ‘Christmas is a time for families’ can be a hard phrase when we don’t have children of our own, for instance. But Jesus sees us. He has come from a distance to invite us to spend eternity with him. Let him say these words to you this year:
‘Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely’ (Song of Songs 2:14).
Happy Christmas from the Living Out team.