An Easter Christmas Carol
The oxymoronic tone of the title of this article is hard to miss. If you will allow me, I'll explain. The carol in question is the classic Do You Hear What I Hear? The reference to Easter is linked not only to the lyrics but also to the circumstances surrounding the inspiration for the song's composition.
On a snowy afternoon in early December 2007, I was browsing through the latest edition of St. Anthony Messenger and ran across an article by freelance writer Richard W. O'Donnell. Assisted by Gabrielle Regney, the daughter of the composers of the carol, he related the heart-warming tale of the creation of Do You Hear What I Hear?
The fall of 1962 was a season of tension and fear for the United States and for the world. What history has named The Cuban Missile Crisis was being lived every day with a palpable feeling of anxiety especially by the people of New York City – a prime target if nuclear war ensued. Noel Regney, a veteran of the Second World War, knew full-well the horrors of warfare. Thus, it was challenging for him to get into the mood to fulfill the request of a record producer to write a new song for Christmas. Frustrated, he walked the streets of his neighborhood searching for inspiration. The gloom wore many faces that day. Finally, he spied two young mothers walking their babies who were comfortably bundled up in their strollers. He was captivated by the two little innocents smiling at each other. Suddenly, creative juices rocketed to his brain. In a burst of inspiration, he rushed home and wrote the lyrics of his now classic composition.
In a reversal of roles, his wife Gloria Shayne composed the music instead of the lyrics. In interviews, Noel Regney was surprised that often people did not understand that his song was a prayer for peace. The crisis passed; the song remained. Out of the darkness of human relations, a message of hope and peace based on an enduring faith in a Savior's wish for his creation shone before the minds and hearts of all.
Easter began in darkness and death but ended in light and life. I can perceive of no more powerful reality to provide hope for those of faith who sincerely are concerned about the quality and consequences of the message of their culture. In order to stand firmly on those bedrock values of the soul, what is required is nothing less than the investment of one's total being; the confidence to bet your life on the veracity of those values. From this certitude there arises contentment. No matter how numb and depressed one may become in the face of the banality and pettiness of human nature, the hope and the victory of the Resurrection will bolster one's spirits. If a light is to shine in the darkness, the illumination will be a summoning to all humanity to regain its best self, to insist on the manifestation of graciousness in the manner of personal relations, to recognize the accountability for one's actions before God.
The peace emitting from the great truth of Christ's revelation energizes the human will. Noel Regney's "peace prayer" depends on it. One's conviction is founded not only on the benevolent intent and the obvious virtue of the teaching, but also on the clear authority of the teacher. In that, one finds the surest source of true human strength.
We like to imagine that peace is a delicate thing,which we must lock up within ourselves, and protect, and hide in the depths of our hearts, so that it may not be lost or evaporated. But in the Scriptures, peace is spoken of in an entirely different way. There, it is said that God's peace is a mighty power, which of itself can keep our hearts and our thoughts. God's peace is a mighty fortress, in which we are well defended and safe against all hostile powers of destruction. It is not we who are to protect peace, but rather it is peace that is to protect us.
– Anders Nygren
In the sable stillness of the passing Sabbath night, the massed followers of Christ trembled together in the bleak misery of their starless souls. A new day was to dawn in ways beyond their comprehension. Their Lord and their God, having broken the bonds of death, would stand before them to bless and teach them again. Wrapped in the assurance of an Easter faith, the disciples would be caught up by a fiery and powerful Holy Spirit that would set them on their mission of bringing the Good News to a weary world. That assurance, that Spirit, and that mission is ours.