Silent Night; In the Bleak Midwinter; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Hark, the Herald Angels Sing; Away in a Manger…. we all have our favorite Christmas carols. If we only had time to talk about my “top five” there are probably a dozen or more I’d try to squeeze in.
Carols touch us for many reasons. It’s the time and the place of a particular memory; nostalgia; childhood wrapped up in a familiar melody; the simply power of the greatest story ever told; the hopes and fears of all the years – met in thee tonight.
Wednesday evening my men’s group talked about It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. It’s a Christmas carol I’ve always enjoyed, but it didn’t come loaded with a personal story until a few years ago, back when we lived in Florida. One of Rebekah’s best ever Christmas messages includes a version of this story, but I can’t find the audio to post so I’ll have to share my own re-telling:
It was just a few days before Christmas. Rebekah was driving to church for a meeting and slowed down as the interminably long traffic light at highway 60 changed to red. She was listening to Christmas carols on the radio. Then from behind her, a harsh boom-boom-boom came from a beat-up looking car that literally rattled from the vibrations. The car switched lanes to come alongside and she could swear the occupants turned the music up.
Not to be outdone, Rebekah cranked the volume on her Christmas carol station, but there was no drowning out the invasive sound from the other vehicle. Then, measure by measure, she started to notice that the meter, the cadence, even the key, worked in strange harmony with the persistent, grating, heavy metal rock.
So she wound her window down and gestured – “Listen to this!” – to the two young people, pierced and tattooed (“Bonnie and Clyde” she dubbed them in her message), vibrating in the adjacent lane.
Startled, the girl on the passenger side rolled down her window too. They both glowered angrily at Rebekah.
“Can you hear it?” Rebekah shouted across the space between the vehicles, smiling expansively. She turned up her volume as far as she could stand. The carol dared to infiltrate the hostility.
The occupants of the other car continued to glower, but then the girl on the passenger side began to hear it too – the sounds of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear weaving in and through the music that was rattling their car; a holy juxtaposition of the secular and the sacred; God invading the cacophony of random noise at street level on a weekday evening; a kind of incarnation there at the corner of Lithia Pinecrest and Highway 60.
she heard it too – the sounds of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear weaving in and through the music that was rattling their car; a holy juxtaposition of the secular and the sacred; God invading the cacophony of random noise at street level on a weekday evening; a kind of incarnation there at the corner of Lithia Pinecrest and Highway 60.
“Can you hear it?” Rebekah both shouted and smiled at the young people.
Bonnie sort of nodded back; and – as the light turned green – they drove off into the night.
LISTEN JUST LIKE THIS! Rebekah and I did some research, and found that it was this interpretation of the carol, recorded by the band Mercy Me on their “Christmas Sessions” album, that Rebekah had been listening to that evening.
Somehow God used (click here and enjoy!) the classic hymn to reach through time and space, and to bridge the space between two young people and a Presbyterian pastor in a particular moment.
What happened, I believe, is that the occupants of both vehicles – or at least two – paused from the distraction of this world long enough to listen to the angels’ song. Here’s the verse I’m talking about:
And man at war with man hears not
The tidings which they bring
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.
JUST LISTEN! We are so constantly at war with one another! From the horrors of Aleppo, to the strident voices of political polarization here in North Carolina, to the bitter anguish of internal struggle so many people live with every single day. But there is another way.
“O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”
And they are singing – singing the glory of God, singing the peace of Christ, singing the healing whisper of the breath of the Holy Spirit.
So hush your noise. Stop struggling. Listen. Open your heart. Can’t you hear it?
O ye, beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing
Can you hear them? – DEREK