It’s early evening. A canned choir is singing in our living room. The stereo plays “In Dulci Jubilo,” and the Cambridge Singers sing:
“In dulci jubilo,
“Nun singet und seid froh,
“Unsers Herzens Wonne…”
My eyes keep landing on our little Nativity set, which is on our sofa table. Because after all, this is what the choir is singing about.
The manger scene’s plastic shepherds are kneeling. Mary looks exhausted. The wisemen are holding Monopoly game pieces because I lost their gifts when I was 9 years old. Poor Joseph has been severely disfigured by dogs who mistook him for a chew toy.
“Leit in praesepio,
“Matris in gremio.
“Alpha es et O…”
My mind is stuck in ancient times. I am thinking about when mankind wrote these choral melodies, during the age of sheep-tallow candles and burlap tunics. Back when your average working stiff had a life expectancy of 31 years, and people’s phones couldn’t even shoot decent video.
These songs belong to our ancestors. Songs like “Lumen Hilare,” ”Adeste Fideles,” “Veni Emmanuel,” “Jesus Refulsit Omnium.”
You might not recognize the titles, but you’d know the melodies. Some tunes predate the plow, Greek fire, the printing press, and the Dave Clark Five.
“Jesus Refulsit Omnium” was composed in 336 AD.
“Veni Emmanuel” traces its origins backward 1,200 years.
“Adeste Fideles” harkens to the seventeenth century.
But “In Dulci Jubilo” is my favorite. It was first introduced in 1328, and would have been chanted by monks while a Bubonic Plague was making a serious attempt to wipe out the human race.
Somehow these ancient Yuletide carols have lasted and are our link to early man. Amazingly these chants survived for millennia without transistor radios, LP records, or eight-track cassettes. How? Kingdoms arose and fell. The horse and buggy gave way to the ‘76 Chevette. And Western humans are still singing archaic lyrics about something that happened in a barn in Bethlehem.
“I’m going for a walk,” I say to my wife.
It’s a cold, moonless night. I can see my breath in the darkness. I’m listening to the Cambridge Singers on my cellphone speakers now, watching icy drizzle fall on the nightscape. And I’m wondering what the choir on my phone is actually singing about. I don’t speak German or Latin, so I can’t understand the lyrics.
The only thing I actually do understand is that it’s nine days until Christmas, and the world feels unreal.
It seems like only yesterday that it was March, and society was closing down. A pandemic was upon us and we had a million questions about what would happen next. We still have questions.
Yesterday I looked up the most common questions of 2020. Among them, I found these: “When is this virus going away?” “Will the world ever go back to normal?” And “I have COVID, what happens now?”
Oh, if only we had answers. But we don’t. And don’t listen to anyone who claims they do. Enormous dogfights have erupted among those who claim to have it all figured out. Brother thrashes against brother. Neighbor against neighbor. Meanness is on the rise. Hell is only a remote control click away.
I’m embarrassed to admit how depressed I became this year due to all this. It makes me feel like a weakling confessing this, especially when I think about what others are going through. But it has been an uphill mental battle.
I have friends whose parents are dying of COVID-19 as I write these words. I have family members still getting over the aftereffects. Tonight, while I was tapping out these very paragraphs, I received two separate texts from friends whose parents were taken to the ER this afternoon with coronavirus.
“O Jesu parvule,
“Nach dir ist mir so weh,
“Tröst mir mein Gemüte…”
I keep walking until I reach the end of our street, then I take a right. I see something in the distance. It’s a shining light, tiny, but radiating through the soft rain. I move toward it like a mosquito heading for an electric bug zapper light.
The far-off beacon is located in a nearby neighborhood. And within this obsidian, suffocating blackness it is the only thing I can see.
Soon, I am in a nondescript subdivision. Only a few decades ago this development was a pasture, but now is a cul de sac with sidewalks, drainage ponds, and public receptacles for dog poo.
I finally reach the source of the light and I’m not surprised at what I find. The light comes from a giant electrified Nativity scene.
I stand on the sidewalk just to take it in because the lawn-art display is not finished being erected. A guy is still in his yard, setting it up with his son and daughter. The man is smoking a cigarette, wearing a wool cap, fiddling with extension cords. His kids are adjusting figurines so that they look just right.
Joseph stands on the left, Mary kneels on the right, the infant rests in the center. Each figurine beams, and the brightness can be seen from, literally, a mile away.
I am stopped in my footsteps, staring at this ancient tableau. The guy doesn’t even notice me watching from across the street because he and his family are also gazing at this humble barnyard scene. We are caught up in its simple warmth.
“Unsers Herzens Wonne,
“Leit in praesepio,
“Und leuchtet als die Sonne…”
Maybe I’m reaching for a deeper meaning here; a meaning within this tired and angry world. But when I stare at this scene…
I think I understand why choirs still sing about it.
Patti A. Culp - December 17, 2020 6:25 am
LOVE THIS!!! HE IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!! I hope you and Jamie are doing ok. Your writing inspires. Breaks my heart that you are not working as much as you normally do but hopefully the Alfa Ad will entice people to book you, ASAP! God Bless Y’all. Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!
Christina - December 17, 2020 8:16 am
Yes, now more than ever!
Mary Bales - December 17, 2020 11:11 am
One of my favorite carols, too. I think you really hit the nail on the head. We gravitate towards the old songs as universal truth ismfound there. Thank you!
Zandra - December 17, 2020 11:52 am
Dawn - December 17, 2020 11:54 am
Jesus! It’s all about Him! Isn’t the name of Jesus wonderful!! ❤️🙏
Katrina Butler - December 17, 2020 12:07 pm
Sean. If you would like to hear a manger scene song that is not ancient, (Written in the 1980s) but is exactly what you are talking about, listen to this one. It will touch your heart. Ask Mister Google for the song “A Child’s Nativity, The Baby Jesus Song“ by Joe Scruggs. Several music streaming choices will pop up to choose from. I think you will love it. Kleenex May be required.
Lisa Wilcox - December 17, 2020 12:35 pm
Thank you for this. Some things don’t change although everything else does. I’m grateful for this birthday of a King!
Bobbie - December 17, 2020 12:45 pm
Amazing to me how your writing just takes me along with you. I’m seeing what you see. This to me is one of your best. Its just like the star of Bethlehem that drew the wise men. There’s something about light that draws us to it. I pray the light of Jesus will draw many this year. So many are struggling in the darkness…with all that’s happened this year is hard to find the light sometimes. But it’s always there…always, no matter what’s going on.
Thank you and God bless you for shining your light every morning in your special way, with your beautiful words. ❤️🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🎄
Laura Martin - December 17, 2020 12:53 pm
Beautiful. Praise God, our only hope.
Kathy - December 17, 2020 12:54 pm
The power of music is amazing and at times humbling. And of quiet words. I can hear the music and can see your words in my mind. Thank you.
Jan - December 17, 2020 12:58 pm
It is sometimes hard to remember that God is with us during this difficult time just as He was with other generations during their difficult times. Your description is beautiful and it provides the instructions we need – Listen to the music and Follow the light …
Penn Wells - December 17, 2020 1:01 pm
Be careful, Sean. Some may think you are a globalist. Felice navidad!
MR - December 17, 2020 1:18 pm
I love the way your mind works, Sean. Please continue to use your gift so that we readers can hold on to the Hope and the Light that is Jesus.
Dianne - December 17, 2020 2:18 pm
Thank you, Sean. Thank you for reminding us all what this time of the year is about.
Robert Chiles - December 17, 2020 3:19 pm
Our most prized possession (other than children and cats) is a creche that we have in which all the characters (even the animals) are smiling and laughing.
Dawn B - December 17, 2020 3:33 pm
I love and appreciate your gift of pondering- thinking things through, taking them to heart. The Christ child, God’s own son, would be so much more important if more people would stop and ponder on His earthly birth and why He came to us. Oh, what love!
Patricia Gibson - December 17, 2020 3:43 pm
We always have God and that gives us hope. Thanks for sharing, Sean
Pilgrim - December 17, 2020 3:46 pm
Because He offers Hope, through time and space, in all conditions , Eternally!
Kathleen Cox - December 17, 2020 4:04 pm
Thanks for reminding us what this is all about.
Kay Keel - December 17, 2020 4:05 pm
The master of the last line strikes again!
Susan Parker - December 17, 2020 4:44 pm
Amen, and merry Christmas, Sean, to you and Jaime!
Ann - December 17, 2020 4:47 pm
How do you do it…like “ nail it”!?
You get my random thoughts and feelings in order and present them as normal in anything but ..normal times. We do have a constant and hope in this season of Jesus’ birth through the beautiful carols written waaaaaay before our time and still felt in the heart to continue our faith and hope..
MAM - December 17, 2020 7:56 pm
Amen and Hallelujah we’re still singing about a little baby born in a manger who became the savior of the world!
SuwaneeGrammy - December 17, 2020 7:57 pm
Dear Sean, I was going to write you really have the spirit. But I believe you have the spirit in you. You are the spirit of love and forgiveness. Thank you for helping to make this a really merry Christmas
Linda Moon - December 17, 2020 8:20 pm
I loved listening to “In Dulci Jubilo” in one of my favorite languages: Latin. There is meaning for the world in this song. And I believe there’s meaning for anyone who admits to some depression or lethargy this year. Thank you, Sean, for introducing me to this ancient carol. Rejoice, Good Man!
Mary - December 17, 2020 9:12 pm
Absolutely so meaningful. Thank you!
Betty Kelly - December 18, 2020 12:59 am
Nancy M - December 18, 2020 4:46 am
All about Jesus! The Word became flesh! The Savior is born! Old carols, Adeste Fidelis, O Holy Night, Joy to the World, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. New carols, Mary Did You Know, A Baby Changes Everything. All carols – all about Jesus!
Julie - January 6, 2021 3:32 pm
Translation – 💚❤️“In Sweet Rejoicing”❤️💚 You don’t need to look for a deeper meaning, Sean. Just focus on the birth of Christ our Savior…He gives Hope, and brings Light in to this Dark World, Amen.