A couple of weeks ago I played emcee for a Christmas carol singalong at the old Box Elder Tabernacle in Brigham City.
The first thing I did when asked was lean on folks to help me out. Like the Beatles, I get by with a little help from my friends.
The second thing I did was start looking for a theme. Since the tabernacle has a life-size Nativity on the lawn and those in charge of the evening had found someone to fill the hall with creches, choosing songs about the manger was pretty much a no-brainer.
I picked some seasonal chesnuts (“Away in a Manger,” “Once in Royal David’s City”), added lesser-known material for spice (“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"), then ladled in “Silent Night” for good measure.
As I did research on the carols to pad my patter between numbers, I learned some intriguing things.
I learned that “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was commissioned during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Hence the final line “Pray for peace, people everywhere.”
I learned “The Little Drummer Boy,” (made popular by the Von Trapp Family Singers in 1951) can be traced back to a French folksong about a girl who plays her fiddle for the Virgin Mary.
I also learned that St. Francis of Assisi is credited for assembling the first Nativity scene the year 1232. To spiff up a sermon about Christmas, Francis added a few special effects — animals, hay, a mother, father and a baby. The depiction so moved Francis (the chroniclers say) that he began to sob whenever he said “Jesus” and so had to avoid the word. Those present were also so touched by the display that the farmers who took the hay home claimed it cured their cows of every disease.
Within a few years almost every parish in Italy had added a manger Nativity scene for Christmas.
Never underestimate the power of visual aids.
Before our local program, as I walked through the tabernacle, admiring the little figurines from around the world to get in the right frame of mind, it occurred to me that Jesus was the perfect version of everyone who showed up in Bethlehem that night.
Shepherds? He was the perfect shepherd.
Wise men? He was the wisest of the wise.
Adult guardians? He outshined them all.
He was even the perfect lamb and — even in the presence of the angels and the star — he was still finest of all celestial manifestations.
For me, that added some resonance and reverence.3 comments on this story
After the program finished, I strode back to my car thinking how — at age 10 — I’d loved the simple songs of Christmas. As my education eventually kicked in, I turned to more elaborate pieces like Handel’s “Messiah” or the Vaughan Williams “Hodie.”
But now, at age 70, I can see that for Christmas carols, no points are given for “degree of difficulty,” only for “degree of devotion.”
I had come full circle.
I was back to loving the simple songs of Christmas again.
I drove off humming “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.”
It filled my insides like an oratorio.