Carrol Vertrees: The eloquence of Christmas music stills touches our hearts
Carrol Vertrees December 22, 2012 7:34PM
Updated: January 24, 2013 6:15AM
‘The world in solemn stillness lay ...”
Our Christmas music is a treasure house of words and notes that touch our hearts. In our noisy world, torn by cacophonic sounds, that line may reach highest of all toward the miracle that stopped the world so long ago.
Why was the world so still? Here’s the rest of that wonderful line “ ... to hear the Angels sing.”
The angels surely were singing that night. Whatever our feeling about angels, we can, without stretching our imaginations, believe there was heavenly music. There still is.
I do not know much about theology or about what exactly inspired the musicians and poets, but something awesome, something beyond our understanding happened to them all. They did not create the gripping seasonal music for the Hit Parade. No, they were aiming at our hearts.
Most of us cannot write music or poetry, but we know eloquence when we see or hear it, and there is eloquence in the music of Christmas.
I suspect that some of this music is being sung and enjoyed by people who do not claim to believe the Christmas story or in the existence of angels. And even those of us who proclaim that we believe cannot say exactly just what it is that moves us in the song about the solemn stillness that gripped the world so long ago.
The eternal truth about the event we sing and read about is we do not know what poetic liberties the poets and song writers took, and still take, with the accounts of the birth that touched the world. Does it matter much? Something happened and we sing about it. Some of us maybe a bit off key, but does that matter? Of course not.
The Gospels bring us good news, not documented history. I can accept and appreciate what Bart Ehrman, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina said about that. For those of us who believe truth has to be based on history, he wrote: “ … the story of the Christchild and his appearance in the world can be founded not on what really did happen, but on what really does happen in the lives of those who believe that stories such as these can convey a greater truth.”
We can only try to imagine what would happen if our world “in solemn stillness lay.” We may never hear that silence except in our own small worlds, where it matters most. Do we dare to try that? Maybe not, but in singing the season’s songs that tell us about an event we believe in but cannot prove, we might even hear the singing of angels.
We might inspire and call up what Abe Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
There is nothing in the powerful Christmas songs about Black Friday or marked down prices on iPads or other wonderful electronic stuff, and if we let that kind of music muffle the sounds of angelic singing, we have missed the message.
The poet Robert Browning wrote that man’s reach should exceed his grasp, meaning, I think, that we should never stop reaching for more truth about the grandeur and promise of this season. That adds to the excitement and wonder.
Maybe, somewhere out there, angels are watching. Or maybe “the better angels of our natures” are nudging us.
In the silence of these nights let us listen. In my chilly bedroom upstairs on the farm, my world lay in solemn stillness. I can still feel it, and I can still hear those angels.
I cannot document it, but that is the gospel truth.