Today’s devotional was written by Becky Watson

“Much speculation surrounds this popular carol. To be honest, I never gave it much thought. It was one of the tracks on my mum’s CD, ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’, that we would sing along to while decorating the house for Christmas each year. My sister and I would try to reach the same pitch as the chapel choir did when they recorded it - be glad your ears weren’t subject to that!

However, as I read the lyrics recently, I began to wonder; what are these three ships? How are they carrying Christ and Mary? Bethlehem is landlocked, how are these ships sailing there? 

One thing to note is that this song comes from oral tradition – there is no written evidence of when it was first sang! It’s believed to originate from Cornwall in pre-celtic communities, with some people believing the ships were evangelists coming to Western England. Others believe the ‘ships’ were actually camels going to Bethlehem. It’s also possible that the lyrics have changed over time, seeing as they weren’t written down until the early 1800s!

Regardless, one thing that I have always enjoyed about this folk song is the excitement and hope that the tune carries, the wonder the song holds, and the amazement that Christ has arrived. The imagery in the final two verses has always inspired me – “All the bells on earth did ring” and “all the angels in heaven did sing”. Even though Christ’s arrival on earth was a humble one, with only a few shepherds and magi from the east visiting to worship the child, this song encourages us to imagine how the news should have been received. The ringing of bells – imagine the sound if all the bells on earth rang! And all the angels singing. What a beautiful picture!

The song gives us a glimpse of how its original author felt within their heart towards the Good News of Christ. In Philippians, we get a glimpse of how Paul felt within his heart after he considers what Christ did for us;

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:6-11, ESV)

I encourage you to sit and think for a moment about what Christ did for the world. Read Paul’s words about and consider what this means for you today.