The Saxon Gospel

I first came across the Saxon Gospel or Heliand some eighteen months ago. I then touched on it briefly in the missions chapter of Who Needs Words. However, it has been awaiting a proper public airing, and will receive it at the midnight service on Christmas Even this year.

As you read the excerpts below there are a number of things to note. Firstly, there are oddities such as Mary adorning the child with precious jewels. Secondly, there is a real tenderness to the way God addresses his creatures. Thirdly, and most importantly of all, we see the Gospel dressed in the linguistic and cultural clothing of its age.  God is the Protector, Jesus is the great Chieftain, and the shepherds are horse-guards. Whenever we address full churches at the great festivals we need to take a leaf out of the Saxon Gospel’s book. We need to express the core of God’s message in the language and idiom of those who sit before us…even at midnight!



It was not long thereafter that it was all accomplished just as the almighty God had so often promised mankind – that he would send his heavenly child, his own son, to this world to free all the clans of people here from evil.  There in hill fort Nazareth the angel of God addressed her face to face, calling her by name and saying to her from God ‘health be with you Mary. Your lord is very fond of you. You are precious to the Ruler for your wisdom, woman full of grace.  You are to become the mother of our Chieftain here among human beings.’


At that time it all came to pass, just as wise men had said long ago: the Protector of People would come in a humble way, by his own power, to visit the kingdom of earth. His mother, that most beautiful woman, took him, wrapped him in clothes and precious jewels, and then with her two hands laid him gently, the little man, that child, in a fodder-crib, even though he had the power of God and was the chieftain of mankind.


What had happened became known to many over this wide world. The guards heard it. As horse-servants they were outside, they were men ion sentry-duty, watching over the horses, the beasts of the field. They saw the darkness split in two the sky, and the light of God came shining through the clouds and surrounded the guards in the fields.

Angel speaks

‘I am going to tell you’, he said, ‘something very powerful: Christ is  now born, on this very night, God’s holy child, the good chieftain, at David’s hill fort. What happiness for the human race, a boon to all men.. You can find him, the most powerful child, at Fort Bethlehem. He is there, wrapped up, lying in a fodder crib – even though he is king over all the earth and the heavens and over the sons of all the peoples, the ruler of the World.’