It’s been said Christian religions are like languages. They are similar in ways, different in others, but what they share is a reliance on breath.
In religion, we call that breath “the spirit.”
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we use many hymns written by other faiths because we sense that breath — that common spirit — behind them.
And this time of year, probably 90 percent of the carols we sing have come from people of other faiths.
Some wonder why other religions don’t open up and use more LDS hymns.
Well, they do.
They just don’t always know they do.
John M. MacFarlane wanted some fresh music for the annual Christmas concert, so he set out to write some.
Then one night, his wife said later, Brother John had “just settled down for a long, winter’s nap” when he “sprung from his bed” exclaiming: “I have it! I have the song!”
He wrote the words and music down without pausing his pen.
Today, the carol is a favorite of many people, including me.
I like the opening notes that plod forward like shepherds trekking to the manger or the camels of the wise men striding up the hills.
In fact, one nitpick some have the carol is it says “on Judea’s plains” when, in truth, Judea is all rocks and hills.
In Brother MacFarlane’s defense, he probably got the notion from an earlier carol, "Angels We Have Heard on High,” where angels sing “sweetly o’re the plains.”
I suspect, in fact, that carol was probably rattling around in MacFarlane's subconscious since both songs rhyme the word “plains” with “joyous strains” and both feature the angels' song of glory as a chorus.
“Gloria in excelsis Deo” in “Angels We Have Heard on High” takes the English translation “Glory to God in the Highest” in MacFarlane’s little gem.
Still, the MacFarlane carol is different enough and robust enough to merit its own niche in the Christian heart.
And over the years, the pool of Christians who love it has expanded from a Mormon ward in Utah’s Washington County to men and women of “from every clime.”
At this time of year, a time that showcases miracles, I think the fact a hymn written in St. George is sung "Far, Far Away" by millions is a little miracle in itself.
So over the next few days, enjoy it. In the words of MacFarlane, let’s “unite in strains sublime” and sing one of the finest carols the season has to offer.