On this Christmas Eve Connie and I have been touched once again by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge, England.
Two bits of verse from the carols especially touched me.
Here is the last verse of “In the Bleak Midwinter” words by Christina Rosetti and music by Gustav Holst:
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him,
Give my heart.
And here are two more verses from an English translation of L’Enfance du Christ
Words and music by Hector Berlioz. The translation is by Joseph Allen. The carol speaks of the young Jesus’ moving on from Bethlehem on the rest of his life and mission.
If ever, in the house of the idolater,
he should come to know misfortune,
let him flee the unkind land
and return to happiness among us.
May the shepherd’s poverty
ever remain dear to his heart!
Dear child, may God bless you!
May God bless you, happy parents:
may you never feel
the blows of injustice!
May a good angel forewarn you
of the dangers hovering above you!
The tradition of carol singing arose from and belongs with common humanity. It is deeply rooted in the consolation the poorest people on earth experience when they realize that God’s love is for them. Perhaps for them especially. Even though many of our texts and settings are credited to more modern poets and composers, the ideas are taken straight from this deep and wide tradition.
Carol singing has been much despised among those more favorably situated in society and in the church. I wonder how those of perfect diction and grammar would have first reacted when they heard these words too from “Ding Dong Merrily on High” with words from George Ratcliffe Woodward:
E’en so here below, below,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
And “I-o, i-o, i-o!”
By priest and people sungen!
Hosanna in excelsis!
Pray you, dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers!
May you beautifully rime
Your evetime song, ye singers!
Hosanna in excelsis!
We shepherds, this foggy morning, traipsed out in the mud, and moved sheep to the pastures, and put out hay for them, and exercised the dogs, and gave them a bit of Christmas biscuit. We, as always, cared for and fed others before breaking bread ourselves. And all the while we were warmed by the all enveloping and following concern of God. We know that, as Jesus went on to Galilee, to the Holy City, to the cross, and to His heavenly throne, He has forever had, ever close to his great heart, the “shepherd’s poverty.”
A joyful, hope-filled and love-filled Christmas to you all. No matter how lowly or rich you are, you are loved by the babe of Bethlehem!