Monday, December 25, 2017

Why Christmas Carols Terrify Me

The bar is so high with carols. It is remarkable to me just how much charm and sentiment collect on the music we listen to, hum in the shower, sing at the wheel of our cars, and scramble to choose and sing our favorites at advent family devotions. Though "Jingle bells" and "Frosty the Snowman," predominate, Christmas is the one time of year when it is possible to stroll into a department store at the mall (I've heard about people doing this. I never do) and hear some of the Gospel being broadcast throughout the store, Charles Wesley's "Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King!" echoing through the retail aisles as people shop for gifts. The climactic importance of the incarnation to the plan of redemption deserves the finest poetry and melodies. Nothing is more beautiful than God stooping to become man, to send his only begotten Son to save his people from their sins. Hence, carols are the Church's most endearing hymnody, and, in spite of the devout devotees to irreligious secularism who every year attempt to be Grinch and steal Christmas and her hymnody from the rest of the world, carols are intensely resilient. They are pervasive and even on some level captivate at least many of our otherwise secular-minded neighbors.

That's why they terrify me. Hence, as a hymn writer, I have given carols a wide berth, gazing longingly at them from the heights of Pisgah, but feeling barred from entering the hymnological Promised Land of carols. With such a vast and rich heritage in the whole canon of hymnody, it's terrifying enough to set oneself to write hymns on other biblical themes and passages, when so many others far more gifted and able than I have written hundreds of enduring hymns. It seems presumptuous. I constantly feel the great gulf seemingly fixed between my hymn writing heroes and my halting efforts. But writing a carol? "Miserable little pygmy, dust and ashes," as Luther berated himself attempting to perform his first mass, springs often to my mind as I write.

Terrified as I have been, I wrote one. Or attempted to. What Wonder Filled the Starry Night (Long Meter, LM, took me several years to go from initial brainstorming notes, idea banks and word banks, to actually completing the carol. And then with fear and trepidation I sent it out to critics and composers, and resorted to what any respectable poet would do: gnawed away on my fingernails, warily eyeing my inbox. Curiously, I have had more musicians, aspiring composers, and professional musicians write tunes for this carol than for any of my other hymns. Most recently Greg Wilbur has composed a charming tune (complete with subtle sleigh bells on Rise & Worship album). If my memory serves, Greg told me he thinks this might be his favorite of all my lyrics on our New Reformation Hymns album released August 2017.  I hope you have a Merry Christmas, and that you are blessed by my New Reformation Hymn carol (both advents, humiliation and exaltation).

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,
And 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)

You can order the entire New Reformation Hymns album Rise & Worship at