The Lasting Power of Christmas Carols
We are also blessed with carols--- written by brilliant hymnists who recognized that the entire Gospel message could be wrapped up into a singable few phrases and set to music. For centuries, a largely illiterate population would not have been able to take the Bible home with them or revisit it at will; but we can all attest to the ease in which placing something in a repetitious musical setting can spring-board our memory.
Christmas carols have a special place within the Church’s musical canon and remain one of the ways people hear the Gospel message even when unaware. How many people watch A Charlie Brown Christmas with their children every year, partaking (even unintentionally), the entire life of Christ and His unending love through Charles Wesley’s immortal lyrics of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing?
“Mild He lays His glory by/ Born that men no more may die/Born to raise the sons of earth/Born to give them second birth ….”
There isn’t a clearer picture of Christ’s redeeming love than when couched in that phrase and placed in a beautiful musical setting composed by Felix Mendelssohn.
When this post goes live, I will be on my way to Austria: a country special to me because of its musical history and especially as home to one of the most beautiful carols ever written.
In 1818, when Franz Xaver Gruber and Josef Mohr collaborated on the soft lullaby Stille Nacht, infusing it with tropes indigenous to the musical traditions of the rural Alpen villages of Austria, they never imagined that a little song borne of the quiet snow-capped village of Oberndorf would become one of the most recognizable songs in the world centuries later.
“Son of God, Love’s Pure Light/ Radiant beams from Thy holy face/ With the dawn of redeeming grace”
Not only is Bing Crosby’s version the third best-selling single of all-time, it was the song that inspired a ceasefire known as the 1914 Christmas Truce as German and Allied Soldiers sang in their respective languages to mark the Christmas season.
Even as Christmas culture makes further shift toward a more secular nature and Holiday songs about Frosty and Rudolph eclipse religious musical history, so Silent Night is still played. If you pick up a compilation CD of bestselling artists performing Holiday Hits, 9 times out of 10 Silent Night will be the only religious song on the recording.
When you think of the odds of this little carol surviving from a small village with few visitors and gaining traction in the world beyond to its universal staying power, you recognize that there was divine intervention in the preservation of this wonderful, holy song.
The message will out! The joyful message of Christ’s birth will out. The message of His redeeming love will out ---- it will transcend just as this little song with the cadence and chords established as folk custom in its native country so transcended to capture the world at large.
This Christmas take a moment to recognize that the songs we know by heart and internalize and hum along with distractedly are borne of century’s old musical tradition ,yes, but also serve as a soft reminder of Christ’s love and redemption: and a sure way for the Gospel to reach the ears of a hurting world at large.
Rachel McMillan is obsessed with Christmas and hymnody. Her Herringford and Watts Christmas-themed novella A Singular and Whimsical Problem is available at all e-retailers. She currently collaborated with best-selling author Allison Pittman on two interconnected Christmas novellas set amidst the magic of made-for-TV Christmas movies. You can pick up Starring Christmas at Amazon.
Rachel's Bookish ramblings are housed at A Fair Substitute For Heaven
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