Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

The Other Side of the Holiday


With no holiday in observance of the holidays, the unrelenting march of secularism and stupidity continues. This week, during which occurred the death of post-modernism’s most prominent skeptic of Christianity, Christopher Hitchens, uncountable observers pronounced that at last he shall know whether God is not good (to cite the title of his recent best-seller) or in fact is. Ironically, it is the Advent season – that part of the Church calendar that prepares the Coming of the Lord.

Jesus came for the lost and for sinners. Those secure in their faith, putatively, are less in need of a Savior. That is, Jesus came for all mankind, but no less, we need to remember, for such as Hitchens.

Or for anti-Christian bigots in the government bureaucracy. Also this week was the official prohibition (later rescinded) over members of the United States Congress from writing the phrase “Merry Christmas” in their official, “franked,” mail.

Such things as this might seem new since our childhoods, or even a decade ago; don’t we all say such things? But in fact we should remember – we must remember – that Jesus came to earth, God becoming flesh to dwell amongst us, the Incarnation… and the world hated Him. The world-system tried to prevent His birth; it hounded Mary and Joseph into Egypt; it persecuted Him; it framed Him, tortured Him, and killed Him. From manger to tomb, humanity fiercely rejected Him.

Mary and Joseph were desperate the week Jesus was born, and the manger was a despised and dirty place. How welcome Jesus was – and how the world viewed Him – was the same at His birth and His death. And was prophesied precisely by Isaiah 800 years earlier: “He shall grow up… as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…(Chapter 53:2-4).”

The somber aspects of the Christmas story are many, and might discomfit a Hallmark crèche or a Sunday School pageant, but we ultimately are driven to a fuller appreciation of the Incarnation. The “birth pangs” were not just those of Mary. The Bible (Matthew, Chapter 2) and historical tradition point to King Herod’s obsession with preventing a rival to his authority; and when he was convinced that biblical prophecy was close to fulfillment, he ordered the death of boys less than two years old throughout the land. It has become known as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.”

It was symbolic, of course, of the world-system’s vicious resistance to the very existence of a Messiah. The presence of Jesus is a rebuke to those feel no awareness of their sin and dependency, who elevate Self over Revealed Truth. Christ’s enemies are not trivial nor easily dismissed, no matter how surely to be conquered. The Slaughter of the Innocents – a part of the Christmas story as relevant as the shepherds and angels – reminds us that ugly forces in life tried to keep our Savior from us. And still do.

One of the most haunting of Christmas carols is known as The Coventry Carol. It was written in the 1500s, and its plaintive melody is one of the great flowerings of polyphony over plainsong in Western music. “Lullay, thou little tiny child,” is not a lullaby, and does not refer to the baby Jesus.

The carol is a lament by a mother of one of the babies slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers:

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Utterly melancholic, as the harmonies are hauntingly beautiful. It is a fitting creation that must be part of our Christmas observances. Kings are still in their raging, but Jesus cannot be stopped by debates. He has never long been thwarted by bureaucratic rules. He was not even subject to death and the grave.

May a merry, and a profound, celebration be yours this Christmas.

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The Coventry Carol is so named because this song, in Old English first called “Thow Littel Tyne Childe,” had its origins in a “Mystery Play” of Norman France and performed at the Coventry cathedral in Britain. The play was called “The Mystery of the Shearmen and the Tailors,” based on the second chapter of Matthew. The anonymous lyrics are a mother’s lament for her doomed baby boy. All but this song from the mystery play are lost today. The earliest transcription extant is from 1534; the oldest example of its musical setting is from 1591. It still speaks to our hearts today. Performed here by Collegium Vocale Gent, conducted by Peter Dijkstra, in the
Begijnhofkerk at Sint-Truiden, Flanders.

Click: The Coventry Carol

Category: Contemplation, Faith, Government

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One Response

  1. Chris Orr says:

    Rick I am so glad I still live in Ireland where it is Christmas time not holliday time as your country America is now proclaiming..or your government anyway..
    We have so many friends from non christian background who have no problem in wishing us a happy Christmas. America seems to be going the same way as Europe into a godless abbys. Next time your president ignores the real Christmas write and ask him does he want to change the year we are living in 2011. Incase he might forget thats two thousand and eleven years after the birth of…guess who!! CHRIST.
    With so many churches in America are they all asleep? Its time for the church world wide to stand up for what we believe. Our own Primeminister this week told the head of the Church Of England to stop hiding real Christianity. Americans need to awake and stand up for what they really believe elect godly politicians before it is too late, after all your government is only as good as the people elect!! HAPPY CHRISTMAS

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About The Author

... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More