Friday, December 20, 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Said the night wind to the little lamb, "Do you see what I see?"

Wait a minute. The night wind can see? It has eyes? This is interesting. Further, I find it interesting that the inanimate night wind can not only see, but can communicate with a lamb. Maybe the lamb has some kind of connection with the wind, or perhaps that's the lamb's interpretation of the whistling of the wind. Maybe it blew in a certain direction, and the lamb looked in that direction, thus noticing what the wind was trying to point out.

"Way up in the sky, little lamb. Do you see what I see? A star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite! With a tail as big as a kite!"

So now the night wind is pointing out a star. Probably by blowing the lamb's wool and causing it to look up. That makes sense. As stars are also inanimate, I assume "dancing" refers to how they twinkle. (If I understand it right, as big balls of gas, stars tend to burn with fires which move around, causing it to seem somewhat alive, and from our distance, they often seem to appear and disappear, or at least vibrate somewhat.) Some have interpreted the star in question to be an angel which guided the wise men to the young infant Jesus. I don't know if it was a literal star or an angel, but the next line is interesting. "With a tail as big as a kite" raises two issues in my mind:

1. If the star has a tail at all, it must be either unusually large or unusually close to the earth. Perhaps this is inspired by the paintings of the star with a spotlight shining on the stable?

2. How is a First Century BC lamb supposed to know what a kite is? Were kites even invented yet? Well, apparently so! According to Wikipedia, kites were invented in the 5th Century BC in China! I had no idea they had been around that long. I don't know if the phenomenon had reached Israel by the First Century BC, but that's interesting. I suppose it's possible. I suppose it could also refer to the bird known as a kite. They also have tails.

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, "Do you hear what I hear? Ringing in the sky, shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear? A song, a song high above the tree with a voice as big as the sea! With a voice as big as the sea!"

Now the lamb is passing on the message to the shepherd. I'm sure the lamb is trying his best to get the message across, but I imagine the shepherd just hears, "Baa! Baaa!!" Although shepherds and sheep could get pretty attached, I suppose. Dogs and cats can get pretty good about communicating with their humans. Why should it be different with lambs? If the lamb was bleating loud enough, I imagine the shepherd would have said, "Shush! I'm listening to this choir of angels!" Or maybe he didn't need to. According to Luke, it sounds like the army of angels was hard to miss and likely very loud. I wonder if the shepherd would even be able to hear the lamb bleating over the angels' voices "as big as the sea"? Now that's a big voice!

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, "Do you know what I know? In your palace wall, mighty king, do you know what I know? A child, a child shivers in the cold. Let us bring him silver and gold. Let us bring him silver and gold."

Now we're getting to messengers who can actually talk to humans in such a way that said humans can easily understand them (assuming they speak the same language). This must be after the shepherds visited Jesus in Bethlehem. Now they are spreading the word. But who is the king? It can't be Herod, because as we will see in the next verse, this king seems to have been happy about it. Herod was anything but. Was it the wise men, who are often misinterpreted to be kings? (See my commentary on We Three Kings.) The shepherds would have had to travel an awful long way to reach the wise men, unless said wise men were nearby at this point. In which case they probably would have known about the child. If it's the wise men, they also didn't bring silver (that we know of). They just brought gold. (Well, they also brought frankincense and myrrh, but that wasn't included in the shepherd's request.)

Also, was it cold? It's very unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25, so it probably wasn't winter. From what I've heard, it may have been springtime, right around Passover (thus the need for shepherds and sheep in the vicinity). I'm not sure how the temperature is in Israel at that time of the year. Also, as metals, silver and gold wouldn't help anyone to stay warm. If it's already cold, metals would probably have the opposite effect. They could probably buy lots and lots of blankets with the silver and gold, but it seems like blankets would be a more practical gift if they are trying to solve the problem of the child shivering in the cold. Otherwise, Mary and Joseph would need to take time to find the nearest blanket vendor to buy what they need. I suppose they would be able to get a blanket in a color they like that way...sort of like the First Century BC version of a gift certificate. Furthermore, I would think a poor shepherd might not think to suggest giving precious metals.

Said the king to the people everywhere, "Listen to what I say! Pray for peace, people everywhere! Listen to what I say: The child, the child sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light. He will bring us goodness and light."

Now the unidentified king is spreading the word. Surely Herod wouldn't have been promoting the child that he was afraid would supplant him. This king clearly knows that Christ brings hope, "goodness and light." Several centuries earlier, King David had written that we should "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6).

Wait a minute. What if the mighty King is David? He was a shepherd boy when he was young. Maybe he looked at the stars while he was tending his sheep, holding a little lamb, and dreamed about his descendant who would one day be born in his own hometown of Bethlehem, to beginnings even humbler than his. Maybe when he grew up and became King, he remembered his childhood as a shepherd boy and had more compassion on the shivering children of the world. Perhaps he looked forward to his descendant Jesus bringing us goodness and light, as he took care of his own children.

***

"Do You Hear What I Hear?" was written in October 1962, with lyrics by French songwriter Noël Regney and music by his wife Gloria Shayne (which was a switch, as it was usually the other way around. They released the song after Thanksgiving of that year. It was at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the USSR was threatening to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to fire on the US. My mom tells me that it was a terrifying time, and she recalls people crying, as for all they knew, this could be the end of life as they knew it. So the song was not only a memory of the birth of Christ, but a plea to pray for peace, people everywhere! They pointed out with this song that God could bring peace, goodness and light, and our only hope was to pray for peace. Thankfully, President Kennedy and Russian Premier Khrushchev were able to work it out diplomatically, and it didn't come to a nuclear attack. People's prayers for peace worked.

According to Regney's obituary (he died in 2002), he stated in an interview in 1985, "I am amazed that people can think they know the song, and not know it is a prayer for peace. But we are so bombarded by sound and our attention spans are so short that we now only listen to catchy beginnings." In World War 2, he was drafted into the Nazi army, but deserted. He eventually made it to Manhattan, where he arranged, composed and conducted, as well as writing radio jingles.

After Regney and Shayne wrote this song, they had trouble singing it. It evoked such emotion, especially the plea for peace, that they just couldn't get through it. As Shayne once said, "It broke us up."

I think the plea for peace is just as relevant today as it was at the time of World War 2 and the Cold War.

Many singers have recorded the song over the years, but Regney's favorite rendition was that of Robert Goulet because "when Mr. Goulet came to the words 'Pray for peace, people everywhere,' he almost shouted the words."

Thus, I leave you with two versions of Robert Goulet singing the song. The first video is better quality, and the second one has him "almost shout[ing] the words" that Regney referred to (but I find the random pictures somewhat distracting, so you may want to close your eyes while listening to the second video).



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