I've moved all the "Carol a Day" entries off of the front page (actually, I de-Christmas-ized the front page completely). The sole reason was for a more orderly navigation experience.
I need to tag some posts better, but you should be able to get to the whole group via this handy URL. The individual "permalinks" also work fine.
I've added some tools to make the posts easier to print, PDF or e-mail. If you have any trouble with them, pls let me know.
I believe there are only more stars than there are messages, sermons, dissertations, articles and blog posts on tonight's carol, Silent Night. It has even been translated into over 130 languages. I will not, therefore, try your patience and relate the well-known history and authorship of the work.
In the household of the New England clan of the Rudii, it has been anything but a silent day. We have spent Christmas Eve and will be spending Christmas Day (through Monday) without a working septic system (our pump died). There was plenty of other last-minute chaos as well. However, through it all, God gave me the gift of a gorgeous day (~50°F in *Maine*), a wonderful winter hike with daughter prime, Elizabeth and a great Christmas Eve service with the extended family (and a not-too-shabby Christmas Eve sup).
Along with the verses, I will leave you with one item to ponder. Think back to the first time this carol really struck you. It doesn't have to be (and most likely probably is not) the first time you heard it. I'm asking you to dig deep and recall the first moment this carol really grabbed your heart, mind and soul. Remember the people, smells, tastes and colors that came with the experience. It has not survived this long due to its common, wholesale singability (I still can't hit the high notes). It isn't just a pretty tune that made it wind its way ~200 years to today.
If you do have such a moment, find some way to preserve it – write it down, record yourself talking about it, blog about it...anything. If you do not have such a moment, it may be for reasons as simple as you just don't like "traditional" music. If, however, the source is that the real reason for Christmas – which is what we celebrate in a few, short months from now – may not be something you "buy into," then I sincerely encourage you to re-evaluate your position. One song is not going to change your life. I guarantee, though, that taking this least-threatening time of year to make your way into a church to start the journey to (or back to) God will have a life-bringing impact on you.
I pray you all have a very Merry Christmas and hope you give the angels a serious challenge with your songs of praise in celebration of the birth of our King.
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night,
Silent night, holy night,
Silent night, holy night
Today, I've chosen to add another member of "nine lessons" to the Carol a Day project, the Sussex Carol. While I cannot find a suitable online source for the original publication (Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs) by Luke Wadding, the work was mentioned in Sandys text, Christmas carols, ancient and modern. Wadding's publication was in the 1700's, but it was not until a chance observance of a performance by Ralph Williams in the early 1900's that we have the finished product you may or may not sing today.
It is very likely that without the "nine lessons" we would have lost this and many other carols. The Dean of King's College in Cambridge was inspired in the early 1900's to kick Christmas worship up a notch or two and studied some historical musical texts to come up with the format that is still used today (and has been broadcast by the BBC every year since 1928).
This carol has historically been a part of the third lesson which is based on Isaiah 9: 2, 6–7:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
If you are looking for something different to do this Christmas day or eve (you know, mix it up a little), why not download this year's lessons and go through each scripture and musical selection (whether you are on your own or with family & friends). It is a beautiful telling of the Christmas story and a progressive reminder of God's love for us. You will have ample opportunity to sing praises to God, learn some new carols and experience the joy of Christmas in heart, mind and soul.
On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.
Then why should men on earth be so sad,
When sin departs before His grace,
All out of darkness we have light,
Mary did up a Christmas letter for the (now) New England clan. The embedded version may be a tad difficult to read, so you can also do a direct download from my public Dropbox [2.4MB PDF]
Merry Christmas everyone!
While some (*cough* @wygle *cough*) might be adamant that there are hard and fast rules regarding what is or is not a carol, I cover today's choice, Come Thou Font Of Every Blessing for @jstank and because a number of artists, including Sufjan Stevens, have included it on Christmas productions and because there are a large number of Advent resources that include this traditional hymn as part of the observance before Christmas. However, it may seem like this does belong in the Sesame Street reference in the post's title.
Come Thou Font was composed by Robert Robinson, a Methodist Minister, in the mid-1700's. However, the tune you probably sing it to was devised in the 1800's and named after its creator, Asahel Nettleton.
My original thought was to show how the Protestant extreme negative reaction to anything related to the Catholic church has sustained a deep void with regard to the "church calendar". It is true that the whole concept of Advent and even Lent has been totally lost in many places we have worshipped as a family. There is truly much to be gained from choosing to focus on certain themes at prescribed times throughout the year, but I will not dwell on this any further for this post.
It has been my intent (hope?) that readers have been perusing or parsing through the text of the carols each day. If you have not been doing so, today's carol would be a most excellent beginning. I'm going to zoom in on verse three since it seems that Robinson himself was foreshadowing turns he took later in life.
There is a very sad story about Robinson where he is riding in a cab (horse drawn) with another passenger who is humming his hymn while reading a hymnal. This stranger asks him what his thoughts are of the tune and he responds, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then."
There is a very real possibility that this is the exact place you are in your walk with Christ. We are prone to wander. I describe it as the "Oooh! Shiny!!!" problem. We love new. We love different. We love decadent. We love comfortable. We are so predictable in this that every competent marketer preys upon these traits in every commercial or advertisement we experience.
Christmas, the real Christmas, is not new, different, decadent or comfortable. It takes us back over 2,000 years to a smelly, inhospitable animal stable where the King of Kings was covered with rags and laid in a feeding trough. Why? For the sole reason that we might no longer fear death; that we might be rescued from danger's unimaginable; that we might have a new life in Christ.
I know well the difficulties folks may be facing at this time of year, whether it be the economy, one's relationship with other family members, one's job or even one's walk with God. If that sounds a bit like where you are, it is important that you realize that you cannot will your way out of the situation. You cannot smoke, eat, drink or trip your way out either. You need to do what the hymn cries out to do and ask God to bind your wandering heart to Him.
Peter talks a bit about this in 1 Peter 2:4–10, 25:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense."
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
If you do feel like you are far from God, do not let that stop you from finding a place to celebrate the birth of Christ this week. Go to a solid, Bible-believing church and talk to the pastoral staff. They will pray for you, encourage you and help you find the path back to the joy we have in Christ (and make sure to read the December 25th Carol a Day to see how wondrous that joy truly is.)
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise his Name, I’m fixed upon it,
Name of Thy redeeming love.
Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
O to grace how great a debtor
O that day when freed from sinning,
The lovely and talented Mrs Hrbrmstr made a request for today's carol, Remember, O Thou Man (a.k.a. O Remember Adam's Fall). If you have heard of it before, I would really like to see where you first encountered it (drop a note in the comments).
As was the case with a previous carol, this one was also preserved by William Sandys in Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern and is even in the same section as The First Noël ("For Christmas Day In The Morning"). And, just like Noël it was also featured as part of the "nine lessons".
If you haven't heard it before, give the Amazon preview a listen.
Sandys text differs a bit from what is considered to be the original Thomas Ravenscroft version, published in his Melismata. Definitely give that last link a visit. You will see some beautiful typography despite the scan of questionable quality. Ravenscroft's full title is "Melismata. Musical fancies. Fitting the Court, City and Country Humors. To all delightful, except for the Spiteful, To none offensive, except the pensive."
Ravenscroft is noted for being the first publisher of English folk music. Though he is on the books as singing in St. Paul's Cathedral choir, he is also recorded as being a fan of "rounds" (you know what that is if you know "Three Blind Mice") and even produced a few drinking rounds. Thankfully, his talents and abilities were also Directed to hymns, psalters and carols.
The carol asks us to remember our position: that we are dead in sin with no means of saving ourselves. It is only God's goodness manifest through His Son that we have hope and life eternal. Paul reminds of this in Romans 5:12, 14–15, 17:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
As our day of celebration rapidly approaches, let us all remember Adam's fall and rejoice in God's goodness as we sing with the angels in praise of the birth of our Savior.
Remember, O thou man,
O thou man, O thou man!
Remember, O thou man!
Thy time is spent;
Remember, O thou man, how thou art dead and gone,
And I did what I can, therefore repent;
Remember Adam's fall,
O thou man, O thou man!
Remember Adam's fall,
Remember God's goodness,
The angels all did sing,
The shepherds amazed was,
To Bethlehem did they go,
As the angels before did say,
In Bethlehem he was born,
Give thanks to God always,
A good friend (@ianjukes) tweeted about attending a Panto (holiday pantomime play) the other day and it stuck in my head sufficiently so that I had time to ponder British Christmas traditions and ultimately make a subconscious connection to today's carol – the Coventry Carol.
Coventry refers to the actual town which dates back close to year 1000 AD and the Coventry Carol was performed there as part of The Pageant of The Shearman and Tailors, a 15th century nativity play. This carol dates back to the 1500's and was sung during the "Annunciation to the Massacre of the Innocents" which refers to a section in Matthew 2:1–16 –
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”
The Associates for Biblical Research provides a fantastic background on this event. Ultimately (as of December 20, 2009) we have to take this event completely on faith. While the detractors would line up to hurl intellectual insults at us, I am positively ecstatic that there is no corroborating evidence (yet). If the existence of the Almighty and the Presence of the Most Holy God was able to be recorded by scientific instruments, it would diminish the Miraculous and reduce faith to a mere theorem in a textbook.
God has made His relationship with Him personal. He is my LORD and Saviour as much as He is our LORD and Saviour. God the Father sent His only Son to save me as much as He did to save us. This cannot be explained through careful lab experiments or the analysis of non-Biblical historical texts. When we as individuals finally decide to stop being the god of our own tiny, little world, we open our hearts to finally acknowledge the sacrifice of this tiny, little child. If it is not truly humbling to you, may this Christmas season give you sufficient rest and pause to recognize the depth of God's love.
Herod's despicable decree caused a bona fide crisis in the region at that time. While innocents were subjected to mortal wounds, their parents were left to grieve for a loss that can never be replaced. All to preserve an earthly rule which did come to an end.
I sincerely urge you to take time this Christmas to fully comprehend the profound love the Father has for you and to read that passage in Matthew with fresh eyes, with full empathy for the host of grieving parents and with full celebration in the eternal life we have in Christ.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.
O sisters, too, how may we do,
Herod the King, in his raging,
Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
Hey there stalwart readers. Just a quick post to let you know that RDN is adding a sister site (for real this time) - Not Obvious - where I'll be doing most of my tech and infosec musing. I'm giving Posterous a full-on try and have some Mars Edit-ish plans for a Posterous client (if I like the experience of their site).
Given some of the directions I want to take RDN in, it seemed to make sense to finally take advantage of the domain I registered a little over a year ago.
There's a hard link to the new companion site in the RDN header and it has full feeds, comments, etc. If it was an especially good posting week, I'll do a "highlights" post on RDN.
If you want a quick schooling in both Christmas and these melodic hymns we call carols, you must read Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern by the preserver of today's carol – The First Noël – William Sandys. The text is available in its original published form via Google Books and you will receive a university course-worth of education by just reading the introduction.
That book was published in the early 1800's and is where we find a series of carols (including this one) grouped by the title "still used in the West of England". Sandys was a member of an organization that was intent on preserving long-held customs and observances and Sandys himself was fascinated with the customs surrounding Christmas.
The term "Noël" is French for "carol" or even "birth". The adapted old English "Nowell" can also mean "news". The full song title may sound a bit presumptuous, but the carol is not claiming any sort of initial position. It comes, as is the tradition in many old songs, from the first line of the first verse. The carol makes a couple mistakes many of us do: counting three wise men (the number is not known) and positioning the arrival of these foreign visitors very close to the birth of Jesus (it was most certainly not).
The last verse in the canonical translation has the potential to cause a bit of concern to Calvinists, but the carol hardly attempts to assert that it is an authoritative theological composition and it is fairly generally accepted that "If we in our time shall do well, we shall be free from death and Hell" is a lyrical way of celebrating that if we do believe that Christ is our Lord and Saviour, then we have the promise of eternal life.
While Sandys has deemed Noël be sung on Christmas morning, there are other sources which have it being an integral part of a Christmas Eve festal (holiday/feast) service of "nine lessons with carols". I am most confident that God would not mind us singing this carol on December 24th, 25th or any of the other 363 days of the year. In fact, from reading Psalm 100, I gather that it would truly be music to His ears and it would definitely do our hearts, minds and spirits much good as well.
Drop a note in the comments if you'd like to share your favorite arrangement or performance of this carol.
FOR CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING.
The first Nowell the Angel did say
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
They looked up and saw a Star
And by the light of that same Star,
This Star drew nigh to the North West,
Then did they know assuredly
Then enter'd in those Wise Men three
Between an ox stall and an ass,
Then let us all with one accord
If we in our time shall do well,
Today's Weihnachtslied (German for Christmas carol) dates back to the Austria in the early 1800's. Unfortunately, that is the extent of any authoritative information on the carol's origin. It is still used by parents as a soothing lullaby and over the years, numerous composers have crafted many adaptations to the melody (here is a modern interpretation by Mannheim Steamroller).
As you have seen with other carols, it can be difficult to know just how many verses make up the original version. The arrangements you may be most familiar with usually stop at three or four, but there are manuscripts that show up to six.
The five verses considered part of the original work (by those with far more knowledge than I) are below along with the most common English version. Here is the literal, condensed translation:
- Hush, because the little child is sleeping. The beautiful angels rejoice and play music beside the manger
- Sleep, dear little child, sleep. Mary sings to you and offers her faithful heart (Luke 1:46-55; 2:19)
- Great is the abundant love; God has left the heavenly throne and must travel on the roads.
- We all do call to you, to take us to the Kingdom of Heaven when we die.
- Rest, because the little child is sleeping. St. Joseph puts out the candles. The angels protect the small house.
The carol paints such a beautiful picture of the humble stable enveloped in angelic harmony with Mary caring for recently born son, joining in the chorus with her own melody, singing the child to sleep. It foreshadows the hard life He will have that will ultimately pave the path to our salvation. It ends with Jesus' earthly guardian being able to join his wife and son in slumber knowing the Heavenly Father himself is watching over them and has His heavenly host standing watch.
With such a wonderful message of hope, caring and security, I can see why parents still sing this to their children and I hope we "grown ups" are also comforted knowing the God of the Universe cared enough for us to set these events in motion that we might no longer fear death. Continue reading »
I return to Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) for today's carol, Morning Star, O Cheering Sight!. While the origin lies in a small town in Poland, our first experience with it was at a Morvian Lovefeast (see Moravians, Macaroni & a Few Good Christian Men) in the Lehigh Valley, more precisely at a Moravian church in Nazareth, PA (a scant few miles from Bethlehem...and, yes, there are many names with a Biblical theme in that region). It just so happens, that Francis Hagen, a pastor of that church in the mid-1800's composed the tune that is now sung to the poem the carol is based on, which was written by Angelus Silesius (Johann Scheffer) in the late 1600's. Nazareth, however, cannot call dibbs on the inspired work as Hagen's inspiration came when he was doing a stint teaching at a boys' school in Salem, NC.
During the Christmas Eve candlelight service, a large, central candle is lit, which symbolizes Christ as the light of the world. Beeswax candles, decorated with a red ribbon are distributed to the congregation and then lit from the central candle with each person in the congregation passing "Christ's light" on to each other. With the church darkened, a child is chosen to lead the responsive singing of this carol.
The Moravian Morning Star from the tradition of the northeast colonies is - in two dimensions - an eight-pointed star that is a symbol for love, kindness & hope. There is also a common, more universal 3D version which traditionally has 26-points.
While many pagan beliefs & customs involve stars, it is clear from God's Word who our Morning Star is:
One can trace the entire Christmas story from a thorough study of that single verse from The Revelation to John. That same Revelation gives believers great hope, right at the very beginning of the book:
God loves us. He loves you and I so much he sent His only Son to earth to experience the pain and hardships of our daily lives and to take the punishment for our sin. The original Moravian traditions at Christmas time focused solely on the celebration of Christ's birth. While that may be asking a bit much for these "enlightened" times, we would do well to pause regularly during our modern traditions to rejoice in the hope that God has given us in Jesus.
I have included the responsive form to give you a better idea of how it flows during the service. The fact that a child is the leader is a beautiful reference to Isaiah 11:1-6. I sincerely hope you have the opportunity to echo these responses in worship at a Moravian Christmas Eve celebration someday. Continue reading »
Coming up with a clear way to relate the tale of today's carol has been a challenge. To demonstrate why, lets start with a quiz. You, fearless reader, have had a decent (albeit short) schooling in carols for fifteen days, so I leave it to you to decide if Adeste Fideles (O Come, All Ye Faithful) is:
- Originally a 13th century Latin hymn
- A painstakingly crafted composition by King John IV of Portugal in the early 1700's
- A coded, support song by a talented tune-maker John Wade and some of his co-conspirators in the mid-1700's to rally those seeking to return the Stuart line to the throne of England
- A venerable carol crafted by noted hymnist John Wade in the mid-1700's and translated by Frederick Oakeley
- All the above
I realize you are now thinking, "hrbrmstr's gone carol mad," but stick with me for just a bit longer and travel with me back to a time with no RIAA, no CCLI, no Google Books, no Wikipedia and no bullet-proof, formal method to store, document and track authorship of works. It is absolutely amazing that we can track origins and authorship of anything prior to the mid-1800's, let alone back to the 1200's. God has created, inspired and guided countless souls to painstakingly reconstruct the histories and ownership of so many great works. These individuals have developed whole segments of science and craft around analyzing sentence structure, word patterns and style along with inks, pens, papers and other signature elements. But, these are all too often still imprecise tools.
Take option (a) for example. Authorship is attributed to Cardinal Bonaventure, a noted "general" of the Order of St Francis who has written his share of early hymns. Two of his more recognized ones are translated in this book [1.9MB PDF]. While you can see some similarities if you compare "On The Holy Cross" to the english translation of our carol du jour, an examination of the body of work that is considered to be authoritative of Bonaventure by the majority of scholars would reveal no sign of a propensity towards the "carol". You see how easy it is to fall into the wrong belief.
Option (b) is the least likely since it is based primarily on similarly named compositions by that lyrical Portugese king.
Options (c) & (d) are heavily intertwined theories and the truth most likely lies somewhere between them. You can find tons of info on the Jacobite movement and their usage of key Latin phrases to hide their underground movement, some of which do appear in the text of the original Latin hymn.
It does not help matters that there have been numerous translations through the years and that the one you most likely sing has more verses than the original Latin (and there are even some squabbles over the original Latin).
I have included the accepted, original Latin and the literal translation of it below. "Be present, ye faithful" has such a stronger connotation than what we sing. Anyone can "come", even the "faithful", but to free your thoughts of all daily concerns and to actually be present in mind and spirit at the birth of of Jesus should always cause us to be joyful and triumphant.
If you are not familiar with the diminutive version of the carol, do not squander the opportunity to greet it with fresh eyes (and ears). While it may have taken a twisted, rocky path to 2009, this carol has survived many hundreds of years and I refuse to believe that is an accident. It had many opportunities to become as forgotten as many other ancient texts, yet here it stands before you. I prefer to see it in the light of Romans 11:33-36, where Paul instructs that God's wisdom and ways are far beyond what we can conceive. Everything we have is a gift from Him.
I encourage you to seek the gift He may have given you when looking at this carol anew.
Adeste, fideles, laeti triumphantes;
Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine,
Cantet nunc io chorus Angelórum
Ergo qui natus, die hodierna
Be Present, Ye Faithful
Be present, ye faithful,
Very God of Very God,
Sing, Chorus of Angels,
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Christmas has been cancelled.
Well, not now, but I'll bet you may not have been aware that, for a brief period of time in the 1600's, Parliament in England had banned the celebration of Christmas. It was actually – in part – the fault of one of our previously covered carols (The Twelve Days of Christmas) but mostly due to draconian, Cathlophobes who believed they could legislate godliness into the masses (#protip: you can't). These lawmakers grew concerned about the ever-decreasing focus on the the celebration of Christ's birth during the time leading up to December 25th and the twelve-day celebration that followed. They also were wary of ascribing worth to the concept of "holy days" and thus decided to ban all religious-themed celebrations except for those on Sunday. This ban did not last long (and ended in a similar fashion to the Burgermeister Meisterburger's ban on toys in Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, which is a lesson all those in power should heed well)
You are now, no doubt, wondering what the tie-in is to today's carol, The Holly and The Ivy. For quite some time, people had been decorating their homes with holly, ivy, bay and other leaves during this season since they were fragrant, sturdy, colorful, portable, abundant and cheap. The usage of holly in particular actually dates back to the celebration of Saturnalia that we've covered before and also to the druids who directly associated it with the winter solstice.
This decorative practice in England continued during the ban (rebels, they were) and was a central display in most households. It is posited that this anonymous carol originated sometime in the late 1600's or early 1700's, which would have been just after the ban was lifted. As Protestants were wont to do, they not only usurped Christmas day itself from the pagans, but also the idols and symbolism of the holly & ivy (quite overtly) through this carol.
There is a tradition of God turning evil into good, which is even stated thusly in Genesis 50:20 - "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (referring to Joseph & his brothers). The best example may be the cross itself:
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, 'The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.' And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.
(Acts 3:13–26 ESV)
What idols or practices in our daily lives can you and I turn into a celebration of the majesty and glory of God's precious gift to us?
The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,
The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,
The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,
The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,
I'm not quite sure if @hjon knew the can of worms he was opening up when requesting Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming for today's carol. The truth is, I have been avoiding covering it, even though it is one of my favorite musical compositions, since the history behind the hymn can be thought of almost as a literal "war of the roses" (between Catholics & Protestants).
The original German version of the hymn Es ist ein Ros entsprungen emerged in the 1580's with the documented inspiration for the words coming from the Song of Solomon 2:1 - "I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys". Here is the literal translation of the German:
A rose has sprung up, from a tender root. As the old ones sang to us, its lineage was from Jesse; and it has brought forth a floweret - in the middle of the cold winter - right upon midnight.
The rosebud that I mean (of which Isaiah told) is Mary, the pure, who brought us the floweret. At God's immortal word, she has become borne a child remaining a pure maid.
The floweret, so small, that smells so sweet to us; with its clear light dispels the darkness. True man and true God! He helps us from all trouble, saves us from sin and death.
Between the scriptural dedication and word-for-word translation, it is clear that the emphasis (the rose) for two-thirds of the original carol is Mary, the mother of Jesus, not Jesus himself. As you can imagine, this did not sit well with Protestants, but they must have really enjoyed the hymn since the first adaptation (in German) came in the early 1600's re-dedicating it to Isaiah 11:1 - "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit." - making Christ the rose and helping to forge the Baker translation which the majority of us sing today.
Without going into the gory details, there was a back-and-forth for a quite a while between Catholics & Protestants, each group emphasizing their version of the hymn and trying to influence adoption of it and also various translations.
I do not know what amount of effort was truly put into this "war," but I do know that for every hour of debate over Catholics' supposed Mariaism (spent by Protestants) and every counter debate over Protestants' Biblical idolatry (spent by Catholics) there is a homeless person shivering for one more hour in the cold from a foreclosed house, a family with a newborn baby struggling to make ends meet and lost souls turning away after seeing a struggle between those who should be brothers.
In any of its forms, this carol ultimately leads us to the simultaneous full humanity and full deity of Christ (John 1:14), the Light of the World (John 8:12), who died for our sins (1Cor. 15:3) and who's Spirit is with us every moment to help us on our journey home (John 14:26). I can think of no better place to journey, in song or in daily practice.
Finally, the truth is that we should rejoice with the likes of Luther, Calvin, Wesley and others who acknowledge the profound role given to and accepted by Mary, one of Scripture's most profound demonstrators of humility, personal sacrifice and listening to & obeying the Will of God. We would do well to follow Mary's example, all the time keeping our eyes fixed on Christ (Phil. 3:14).
Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming
Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
O Flower, whose fragrance tender