Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tree Trimmings #9: O Little Town of Bethlehem (Revised)

How still we see thee lie!

I have loved Christmas carols for as long as I can remember.  I knew I loved Christmas carols when I realized that I enjoyed singing along with my father to Luciano Pavarotti's rendition of "O Holy Night".  Dad was a huge Pavarotti fan, which, to a kid with hip-hop sensibilities, was utterly embarrassing and quite confusing.  But somehow, I could overlook the operatic style when it came to Christmas music. 

Anybody else wanna admit growing up in a house with this album on vinyl?
At some point, Dad got a Nat King Cole album with Christmas songs that were all in English.  Okay, besides the little Latin in "Adeste Fideles", it was mostly English.  That was pretty huge.  I had heard Bing Crosby, the Vienna Boys Choir, congregational singing in the Mass, and of course, Pavarotti.  But I had never heard anything like jazzy, soulful voice of Nat King Cole before.  It was on that album, to my recollection, that I first heard "O Little Town of Bethlehem".

The other King at Christmas time.
As a child, I enjoyed the melodies and knew that the songs were good in that they were about Jesus.  How much of my enjoyment of the music was tied up to the nearness of gift-getting?  I don't know.  But I know this: I had no idea what theological treasures these scripture saturated songs were. 

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep the angels keep
their watch of wondering love

Those last two lines alone say so much to me now.  We can picture Mary who, having travailed in labor to "deliver the child who would soon deliver her", exhausted and falling asleep.  Naturally, Joseph is bravely trying to stay awake but he succumbs to the night too.  At some late hour all Bethlehem slept.  Not just physically but in terms of awareness. 

Who was awake to say that they were fully understanding what on Earth God was doing... on Earth?  Truthfully all mankind slept as the proverbial  "Thief in the Night" (1st Thessalonians 5:2) came as an infant to bind the strong man and plunder his house (Matthew 12:28-29).  Though in deep slumber, not a man in 10 million could have dreamed what God had already done in Christ nor what He was about to do on their behalf.

The angels, on the other hand, kept their watch of wondering love.  Of all the expressions that could have been used to describe the way in which angels gazed from glory, the author, Phillips Brooks, used "wondering love".   It's hard for me to see the term and not think of the following passage:

"As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow... things into which even angels long to look."
1st Peter 1:10-12

Truly familiarity breeds contempt.  We are kidding ourselves if we think that we have exhausted or mastered the mysteries of the season.  There's no way we should ever be complacent in our thoughts concerning the incredible cost and condescension involved in the Incarnation of Christ.

And while I think it's worth the intellectual rigor, the goal of the Christian is not merely a cold and systematic comprehension of the Trinitarian exploit to tabernacle among men.  Our ultimate aim should be to arrive at the disposition of the angelic host: beholding Jesus with reverent awe and "wondering love". 

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