|So many endearing carols, who attempts to write a new one?|
There's so many wonderful Christmas carols, only a poetic nutcase would attempt to write a new one. Okay, that would be me. New Reformation Hymns (NRH 09), "What wonder filled the starry night," is intended to be just that, a Christmas carol. Insanity! you say. Only a moron would attempt to write a Christmas carol, much less post it and put on display the extent of his carol-crafting delusion. Okay, you're probably right. But it's too late. I've already posted it. Greg Wilbur (and others) has already written and recorded music for it. "The deed is done and cannot be undone" (something clearly amiss when one finds oneself quoting Lady Macbeth).
In part because of such fears, early scribblings for this hymn/carol sat dormant for several years; hymn writing can sometimes be like that for me, an initial burst of ideas, then nothing, just an imaginative black hole. As Christmas approached in 2010, something changed. Sitting in front of the fire in our living room one evening, I pulled out the initial notes again. Before bedtime I managed to sift through all the scribbles, idea banks and word banks, and set down the lines below pretty much as you see them here.
Overcoming my trepidation at writing my first hymn was difficult enough (The Lord Great Sovereign, 2001), but writing a Christmas carol? Only a moron would attempt it. The sacred charm of the existing carol canon guarantees failure. I must be certifiable! Carols are pregnant with emotive atmosphere, celebratory associations, roasting chestnuts (a curious metaphor considering Americans do not roast and eat chestnuts at Christmas or any other time, to my knowledge), open fires, Jack Frost nipping at our noses, Good King Wenceslas going out on the feast of Stephen, snow lying all about, and every cozy winter association imaginable and unimaginable. Writing a Christmas carol is like inviting the world to come watch you fly off the Eiffel Tower, equipped with nothing more than chicken-feather wings and delusional bravado (what were they talking about in physics class?). Bring your smart phones.
Yet, here I go, posting a Christmas carol, one I wrote. Maybe I should be feeling like one of those chestnuts. I'd like to claim to be impervious to critics (my last hymn post prompted one fellow to fume and fulminate at me), but it would be a lie. Nevertheless, write anything and there will be someone there to gnash his teeth and tell the world what an unworthy vessel you are. For the record, I am daily aware of my vast limitations (could fill a book with them). But in all seriousness, I don't write books because I think I'm the best writer in the world, any more than I love my wife because I think I am the best husband in the world, any more than I parent my kids because I think I am the best parent in the world, any more than I worship Christ because I think I am the best worshiper in the world. Neither do I write hymns because I think I am the best hymn writer in the world--and certainly not because I think I'm the best writer of a carol.
So endearing are carols to Christian hymnody that experts tell us the best-loved hymn of all time is actually a carol, Charles Wesley's Hark, the Herald Angels Sing). Only a certifiable
moron would proceed. With fear and trembling I originally set my imagination to work on a carol, and now with the same I launch it out to you.
What wonder filled the starry night
When Jesus came with heralds bright!
I marvel at His lowly birth,
That God for sinners stooped to earth.
His splendor laid aside for me,
While angels hailed His Deity,
The shepherds on their knees in fright
Fell down in wonder at the sight.
The child who is the Way, the Truth,
Who pleased His Father in His youth,
Through all His days the Law obeyed,
Yet for its curse His life He paid.
What drops of grief fell on the site
Where Jesus wrestled through the night,
Then for transgressions not His own,
He bore my cross and guilt alone.
What glorious Life arose that day
When Jesus took death’s sting away!
His children raised to life and light,
To serve Him by His grace and might.
One day the angel hosts will sing,
“Triumphant Jesus, King of kings!”
Eternal praise we’ll shout to Him
When Christ in splendor comes again!
Douglas Bond (December 16, 2010)
Why a carol in October? I decided a number of weeks back to post New Reformation Hymns in the chronological order in which I wrote them over the last number of years; this carol simply comes next in that chronology. See previous hymn posts. Several composers have written tunes for this carol, most recently my friend and collaborator on New Reformation Hymns/New Parish Psalms, Greg Wilbur. Subscribe to my blog for updates on our forthcoming album in 2017.