In a world of immediacy context is king. Or most surely it is queen.
A few days ago a video from Hillsong London’s Christmas show made the rounds. It opened with a raucous, but non-discernable tune.
A group of women dressed like 20s era flappers filled the stage and began singing and dancing Gatsby-style.
To “Silent night, holy night, all is calm all is bright.”
It was an odd juxtaposition to understate my personal response.
The impact of Hillsong’s Silent Night was immediate, and, on my social media without exception, negative.
Yesterday a friend posted the following with his own mea culpa. Because context is critically important, and because the Hillsong performance of Silent Night was lifted lock, stock, and barrel from its context for the purpose of sharing the video, the following explanation is worth considering.
If the purpose of doing Silent Night in a style completely incongruous with the song’s traditional performance was to highlight the sinister, satanic response to the Savior exhibited by the paranoid, maniacal King Herod, it’s hard to imagine a more effective means.
One need not be a fan of Hillsong to recognize the importance of context. Missing the context of a performance–intentionally over-dramatized to make a specific point–would be akin to focusing on the slaughter of innocents, rather than the birth of Christ, as the focal point of Christmas; as if infanticide, not incarnation, were the central narrative.
If you ask, “Did you enjoy it?” I’d say “no.” But from what I can tell that segment was not intended for me. England, indeed Europe, is by all accounts post-Christian. Such a shock-to-the-system can be effective to people who think they’ve heard it all before, yet are not “impressed” with the religion of their youth.
If you’d like to watch a streaming performance of the entire musical Hillsong Carols, check the website. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy this performance of O Holy Night even half as much as I did. (But if you don’t, take heart: people in the comments criticize the singer for “changing” the song. She’s an alto, people.)