The service this Sunday consisted of mostly music compliments of the Black & Bluez Band, and the welcome voices of the congregation and wider community who came to sing along. Two songs were given a more detailed introduction, which follow here:
Intro to the Huron Carol:
Just over a year ago, I got to go on a very special journey to Palestine and Israel. Our journey ended in the city of Bethlehem, where scriptures tell us Jesus was born. Not only were we in Bethlehem, but our group of 20 folk from Canada, the US and the UK, made our way into the Church of the Nativity, supposedly the site of the cave where Jesus was born. As our group neared the inner core of the church, awaiting a peek into the manger room, we talked of our various Christmas traditions and favourite carols. David, my colleague from the United Church in Nelson BC, suggested we sing a uniquely Canadian carol in this holy of holy places. We knew just what to sing – the Huron Carol. `Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled… We managed to get through the first verse, and then alas, where struck with collective amnesia! We simply couldn’t remember how the next verse started. A pity I think, for the song is beautiful and powerful, and as Canadians, it is ours – as much as possible.
You may know all this but, just in case you don’t, it was written in 1643 by the Jesuit priest Fr. Jean de Brebeuf, who, using the tune of a French folk song, wrote it in Huron (or Wendat) to tell the Christmas story in the cultural context of the Huron people. Alas, the priest and many of the Hurons were killed shortly after by members of the Iroquois confederacy. They were encouraged in this by British colonial interests.
Those of this latter tribe who survived the wars were mostly absorbed into Iroquois communities. A few, however, stayed with the French colonies. Their descendants inhabit a couple of villages in modern Quebec, but their language has largely been lost.
The English words we sing were penned in 1926by Jesse Edgar Middleton. They are lovely words, but, in some ways bear little resemblance to the original Huron story. Here are just some of the words translated more directly:
Three men of great authority have left for the place of his birth
Tiscient, the star appearing over the horizon leads them there
That star will walk first on the path to guide them
Jesus, he is born
The star stopped not far from where Jesus was born
Having found the place it said,
“Come this way” – Jesus, he is born
As they entered and saw Jesus they praised his name
They oiled his scalp many times, anointing his head
with the oil of the sunflower – Jesus, he is born
They say, “Let us place his name in a position of honour
Let us act reverently towards him for he comes to show us mercy
It is the will of the spirits that you love us, Jesus,
and we wish that we may be adopted into your family
Jesus, he is born
Let us sing together the Huron Carol – `Twas in the Moon of Wintertime.
Turning the world upside Down
How is it, I wonder, with a story in our collective history so rich with the love between a wise elder and a pregnant unwed teenager, that we have had generation after generation where such young women were forced to give up their babies, or face a lifetime of scorn?
In this passage from the gospel of Luke, we cannot help but see the love that Elizabeth has for Mary, when the younger woman comes to her door, pregnant and alone. We cannot help but see the love Mary has for the child she will bear. That love is already in the heart and the song of the mother, as she sings of God lifting up the poor, knocking the mighty off their thrones, working against power, prestige and possessions, and filling the hungry with good things. And we know of the love that this child had for the world. Our way of living as a faith community, is rooted in the story.
When day by day our hearts are battered with horrific news, tragedies of humanities failure to love, we need to steadfastly remind each other and the wider world of the irrepressible ongoing work of love. We need to be a part of that love. May we take courage and instruction from Mary’s song, as we sing of God turning the world around….
Sing together: My soul cries out…