Article of the week: And their hearts believed again

5 December 2020

ADVENT REFLECTION

Four people have chosen a carol to reflect on during Advent. Major Liesl Baldwin continues the series with ‘A Starry Night’

I WONDER when it is that you begin to feel Christmassy. Is it when your tree goes up? When the music begins to play in the shops? When you sing your first carol?

I remember hearing people say, as they left a particular corps carol service, ‘Now my Christmas starts!’ Although they only ventured into our hall on that once-a-year occasion, it signified a marker on their journey towards Christmas. Somehow, during the weeks of December, our church became a compass for their preparations. People living largely on the fringes of organised worship now happily attend a Christingle or Nativity carol service in this way. Alleluia!

My fondest memory of Christmas meetings – and the thing that often marks the start of my Christmas – is the singing of ‘A Starry Night’ (SASB 112). Far beyond its popularity in the 1960s this carol continues to impact the gatherings that sing it.

Picture our carol service. Parents attending to watch their children play their part, waiting in anticipation to catch their performance on iPhones. Youth leaders rushing around, ensuring that Mary is still wearing her headgear and that the shepherds’ tea towels have stayed in place. A certain amount of chaos exists alongside hopeful anticipation. The excitement filling the air, far exceeding any fear you may have regarding Christingle candles. You are thankful that the miracle has happened again – people have come.

As you ponder this gathering you can’t help but notice the beautiful blend of people: those who look at ease and those who appear less familiar; those who sit alone and those who take up rows; those who know the carols and those who mumble or silently observe. They are all together just for today. And then the words explode: ‘And all the angels sang for him,/ The bells of Heaven rang for him’. The roof lifts at the sound of the voices. The carol has done it again!

It was on a starry night

When the hills were bright

Earth lay sleeping, sleeping calm and still.

Then in a cattle shed, in a manger bed

A boy was born, King of all the world.

 

And all the angels sang for him,

The bells of Heaven rang for him,

For a boy was born, King of all the world.

 

Soon the shepherds came that way

Where the baby lay

And were kneeling, kneeling by his side.

And their hearts believed again for the peace of men,

For a boy was born, King of all the world.

 

From this disparate, beautiful blend comes a song of joy that you can’t help but join in with. Out come the maracas and the shakers, along with clapping, dancing and smiling. You sing at the top of your voice. Regardless of why you came, right now in this moment, the overwhelming noise carries you into
a world of joy.

As I relive this explosion in my memory, I realise afresh the power of this mystery we call Christmas. Earth lay sleeping, perhaps like those who came to the carol service expecting to find an unremarkable, uneventful event. Like the shepherds, they too are carried away by the explosion of joy – he was born and he is King of all the world.

The remarkable is happening again, but it’s not the shepherds who come: it’s the gathered congregation. As their singing bursts out, hope is born. They sing of kneeling by a baby’s side; we can worship again. They sing of transformation; we can believe again.

I wonder how far the words capture their hearts. To worship again? To believe in peace again? The carol is soon over, but in those seconds something deep, something of God is taking place. It’s holy ground. Deep theology carried in a catchy tune.

The Earth may lie sleeping again this Christmas, but the joy can still come, the hope can still be born. Whether at home, online or in your street, this song can explode through the slumber.

So sing it once more, and let God, ‘the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him’ (Romans 15:13 The Passion Translation). As you sing for him, may you radiate hope this Christmas.

 

MAJOR BALDWIN IS CORPS OFFICER, BELFAST TEMPLE

 

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