Silent Night” is the quintessential Christmas song. It’s virtually impossible for any artist to record a Christmas album and not have a rendition. In this 200th anniversary of the song’s creation, we thought it fun to expand the variety of recordings of the song to show its durability and to underscore the need to not let musicality overshadow the message of the lyrics.
However, for the purposes of our #CarolStory live presentation, the renditions that best reflect the backstory nuances are by Andrea Bocelli and Mahalia Jackson .
See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.
In the context of #CarolStory, the 10-minute worship play, “Silent Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “O Holy Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15)
Bocelli, singing in Italian, brings to mind the European feel of the original German carol written by Franz Gruber. We wonder how Gruber may respond to the variety of arrangements of the song, especially considering the urgent and somewhat controversial circumstances under which he wrote the piece for Christmas Eve 1818.
There’s a nostalgic prejudice for Mahalia Jackson’s version. It was among the first “church” Christmas songs I heard (as opposed to the just-released “Frosty,” “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bell Rock,”) and was a family favorite. Mother was not a singer but held her own singing along whenever the record (as in vinyl) played , or when the Spirit moved her to burst into song while baking cookies — thinking she was alone in the kitchen in the middle of the night.
As with other selections in this piece, the lyrics of “Silent Night” are woven throughout the play to move the story along and work effectively as scene exposition transitioning between scenes.
Andrea Bocelli is an Italian singer, songwriter, and record producer. Celin Dion, with whom he recorded “The Prayer,” has said that “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.”
Bocelli has recorded 15 solo studio albums of both pop and classical music, three greatest hits albums, and nine complete operas, selling over 90 million records worldwide. He has had success as a crossover performer, bringing classical music to the top of international pop charts.
He was born with poor eyesight and became completely blind at age 12, following a football accident.
Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.” She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.
“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free,” Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.” — Source: Wikipedia.
This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,” a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue. Learn More.
“O Holy Night” is an English translation of the French carol “Le Christien Minuit” that was translated and became a rallying cry of abolitionists during the Civil War. The third verse of “O Holy Night” was a direct Christian call to eradicate slavery, a sentiment that led to the song begin edited or outright banned in some sections of the country. We address this story more in our production, “Freedom Song.”
In the context of #CarolStory, “O Holy Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “Silent Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15).
Danny Gokey, a former American Idol runnerup, cleanly expresses those emotions and the abolitionist sentiment in his elegant yet simple video. As a bonus, we add a unique one-man barbershop quartet performance by Julien Neel, aka Trudbol A Capella, in the original French.
Daniel Jay Gokey is an American singer and former church music director from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the third-place finalist on the eighth season of “American Idol.” After his placing on the show, Gokey signed to 19 Recordings and RCA Nashville at the beginning of a career in country music, releasing the single “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me.”
Trudbol A Cappella (Julien Neel) is a one-man barbershop quartet. Julien sings all the parts from bass, to baritone, to tenor. He typically covers classic barbershop tunes, but also Beatles songs, video game and TV theme songs, choral music, etc.. Julien lives in France and sings in French, English, German, Swedish and will try other languages. Julien sells audio learning tracks and publishes a cappella videos each Thursday.
To catch the full impact of the full gospel message in traditional Christmas carols — those which tell the story of Jesus from birth through the anticipated second Christmas — it’s important to listen to all the stanzas.
The first five selections of “Carol Story” do so primarily by setting the atmosphere of the night Jesus was born to his earthly parents.
The selection which best establishes the setting, like a screenplay stage directions, is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”
LEARN MORE: This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,” a 10-minute play by Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue. Learn More.
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is a paradox in that its author, Edmond Sears, was a Unitarian pastor who believed and preached the Divinity of Jesus. Unitarians may or…
There has been much conversation lately about the meaning of some songs that have become associated with the Christmas season. That is, songs song about cold and winter that are sung during the Thanksgiving and New Year’s holidays then not heard again for another 12 months.
Without assessing a viewpoint on a particular song, admittedly it’s good to frequently examine what we sing and what we say. Scripture reminds us to do so, especially teachings, spirits and self. Re-examination not only yields growth, it also deepens discoveries that yield fruit. Those who lead music for Christian worship are regularly challenged to test the lyrics of newer songs for theological accuracy as well as singability.
At the same time, it’s important to frequently revisit beloved “traditional” songs to make certain we know what we’re saying, and not just singing songs because “it’s my favorite.” Grasping the intent or rationale of creator (small C) is essential in evaluating any work of art, be it music, book, film or visual. This is, perhaps, a reason for some of the conversations about holiday outside of church circles today.
Over a decade ago, Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries, which my wife and I co-founded as an outgrowth of our work in Christian education at our home church, took such a lyrical journey. We took a fresh look at the lyrics and origins of songs associated with Christmas, and discovered fascinating and cathartic messages.
Exploring the Christmas songs — notably the carols — enables a careful listener to actually hear the gospel message of Christ: from birth to death to resurrection to second Christmas yet-to-come. This discovery enabled us to create a one-act play, “Carol Story,” that consists solely of the lyrics of Christmas carols spoken as dialogue.
“Carol Story” has grown beyond our expectations and is now a requested holiday season presentation. So much so, we received a request for a companion piece for Easter. While our “Carol Story” schedule for this year is filled, the stories associated with the songs are on-going. So, in this space and in our social media outlets, we’ll share some of the stories behind the 61 songs that are adapted for the scripts of “Carol Story” and “Carol Story: The Easter Edition.”
Many of the songs we associate as Christmas songs, or as Christmas carols, originated in other nations. As often occurs today, new songs were created by adapting fresh lyrics to standard tunes. The process made the new tune singable more quickly.
Two well-known non-Christmas examples are “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee),” whose tune is the British national anthem, “God Save The Queen;” and, the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That patriotic poem Francis Scott Key wrote during the War of 1812 was paired with a popular drinking song hailed in American pubs as if to thumb their noses at the British.
The prelude to “Carol Story” demonstrates examples of this technique with brief samples of popular Christmas songs whose origins were folk songs on foreign shores. One from England, one from France, one for Ukraine. As a bonus, we wish you a Merry Christmas in the spirit of Christmas today — joy in His name — not as the song was originally intended: as a sarcastic response from the poor to the rich, but a heartfelt sign for you to learn and share when the time is appropriate.
(This essay was original published November 4, 2014 in another medium. It hasn’t been touched since, We came across it by accident today and still found virtually every word as relevant as four years ago. Though the atmosphere of the last two years may make some points less accurate, like anticipated voter turnout, only two updates have been made: one, to indicate that November 11 is on a different day of the week; two, to reflect that the United States has a different President. Otherwise, the state of the union is pretty much the same. So are these sentiments.)
I am truly excited this is Election Day.
True, it’s a mid-term, so it’s not as sexy and evocative as the Presidential elections. True, there’s a general malaise about the candidates, and no one ever knows anything about the judges. There are bond issues at stake, depending on the community, thus there may be some enthusiasm. In general, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm about this election. Voter turnout is expected to be low.
So, why am I SO looking forward to this election?
Because tomorrow I get my mailbox back. And I can answer my phone. Or, if I don’t answer my phone, I won’t still hear a prerecorded voice talking into my prerecorded voice asking my prerecorded voice to answer a prerecorded poll by pressing a number that I can’t reach because I’m across the room…and if I were closer to the prerecorded voice, it would not be a NUMBER I would punch.
I am looking forward to this Election Day because tomorrow, the bloody thing will be over. And when I say bloody, I don’t necessarily mean it in the British lexicon. I mean “bloody” as in that’s what our candidates pursue. I am struck by the timing of this election coming so close to Halloween.
I am looking forward to this Election Day because, difficult as it will be, I will vote. Not, however, because I am thrilled by the roster of candidates or have hope and enthusiasm about their policies. I don’t. As much as I try being informed via the countless postcards cluttering my table, op-ed pieces I read, voter registration guides I peruse, editorial endorsements I check, I have little comfort in any people running for offices. BECAUSE of what I’ve seen, I don’t WANT to vote for any of these people because I don’t WANT any of them leading me. Because they have not proven themselves leaders. LOUDERS, but not leaders.
Why We Vote
I will vote because next week our nation will honor men and women who for centuries have served and died in order that I have the right to enter a polling booth without a gun to my head, or a gun to greet me afterward.
I will vote because of the men and women, ancestors, who suffered through the poll tax, literacy tests, voter ID cards; who marched, sat-in, picketed; who were shot, lynched or burned so that I could walk into a polling booth and even vote for a jerk.
I will vote because I have friends and acquaintances in other countries who do not have the rights – the freedoms – we have in this nation that we so cavalierly take for granted.
A non-vote is not a protest. A non-vote is lazy. A non-vote is…un-American. I will vote because it’s my God-commanded responsibility. (Be wary of your reaction just now. “God-commanded” in an essay about voting has the potential of sending thoughts someplace else. So, just follow what I’m saying, not what you think I’m saying. It’s a quirk of our electoral process.)
It’s an odd paradox that we talk a lot about the separation of church and state when, in our nation, it’s hard to have one without the other. Despite fears and pontifications of whatever cable news commentators you absorb, we are not in the midst of a religious coup de grace. If the House or Senate has more of one party than the other, and if that party is in opposition to the man in the White House, it’s not because one or the other party has a better pipeline to God…no matter what the candidates may imply. The proof they don’t have the better pipeline is in the style of campaigns run. For if the candidates were as God-fearing as many claim, and no doubt are in many cases, we – the public – would not have to endure the unsolicited political pornography that comes into our mailboxes and televisions. We would learn how each man or woman plans to LEAD us…even if they have opposing policies. Test every spirit, John tells us.
Responsibility of Voting Christians
When I say “God-commanded responsibility,” here are a couple of my reference points, both by the apostle Paul.
To the Roman church, Paul wrote,
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. “ (My italics; explaining shortly.) (Romans 13:1)
To his protégé Timothy, Paul later explained,
“…I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. “ (1 Timothy 2:1)
The point of these verses is clear that an individual who claims to be a Christ-follower (or a ‘cultural’ Christian) has a responsibility to pray for, encourage and give thanks to people in positions of authority – appointed or elected – because for whatever His reasons, God has allowed those individuals to be in positions of authority. The individuals in the position of authority – elected officials, candidates for office – have an equal, God-commanded responsibility to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
(If you’re not a Believer in God, or Christ, please just understand the principle here.)
So, when a postcard of distorted images, or commercials with inflammatory, denigrating statements enters my home – whether approved by the candidate or the candidates “supporters” – I must ask, “Is this dignified?” And, do I want an undignified person “representing” me in Congress? No, I want someone in Congress – on the Hill — and at 1600 whom I believe has a modicum of civility. I don’t need to totally agree, and I don’t need to have all MY needs met. I DO want someone who is aware of people before party.
A President by Any Other Name
When I earlier italicized Scripture passages, I was reflecting on the last six years of our nation. Again, for those who claim the Christian perspective (in and out of government), it’s necessary to accept that God allowed Mr. Obama to be elected. (Editor’s Update 2018: Substitute “Mr. Trump.”) Perhaps to reveal something to us as a nation, or to each person individually. What has this Presidency revealed to you about yourself? If Paul reminds Timothy, and us, to pray, intercede and give thanksgiving for those “in high places,” you must ask, “Do I pray for the President…the Governor…the alderperson? Do I pray, or do I complain?”
I guess that’s the bottom line of the rant here, and the frustration of SO many people waiting for this blood-letting to end. The people in office JUST DON’T GET IT, and it’s frustrating that there seems to be no way to get it through their thick skulls. The filth and negativity may get you elected, but it doesn’t make me trust you, like you or WANT ME TO VOTE FOR YOU! Worse, I do not respect you.
I’m no neophyte politically. I know the impact of negative campaigning. I DON’T know that the candidates do, as evidenced one afternoon when a 20-something canvasser came to the door and surreptitiously tried swaying me to his position, without saying, “Hi, I’m from the ______ campaign.”
In the course of the conversation, his goal was to convince me to NOT vote for the other candidate. “Did you know that….?” So, here is my Reader’s Digest outline that I pray comes through to someone by our next election:
When you send me mail with photos and big headlines about the other person, I remember the OTHER PERSON not YOU! Guess for whom I’m more likely to vote?
When you spend thousands of dollars on postage, video editing, buying TV and radio spots – most of which belittle someone else – I see WASTED MONEY. Does this encourage me to trust your fiscal plans for the state budget? (Imagine how many social needs could be met if the same candidates used the funds to, say, buy some medication for seniors…goodness knows the costs are about the same.)
When the debates and interviews lapse into insincere fawning, you are one step above the teen drama, “Pretty Little Liars,” and not as attractive.
When the election is over and the votes counted, when you give your concession speech and let say how much you respect the other candidate and anticipate strong representation in government, how am I to trust your assessment?
An Elder Way of Voting
What our nation wants – and NEEDS – more than ever now is a sense of hope and guidance. This is NOT an opinion about our President. (The problem with the President’s “popularity,” as it was with his predecessors and will be with his successors, is that as a nation we put too much hope and faith in an individual. We then are disappointed to discover our hope and faith is in a mere human.) This is about our LEADERSHIP regardless of the office, regardless of the community.
Earlier this year, our congregation conducted a study about changing our church organization to an elder form of leadership. As we reviewed the Scriptural qualifications to be an elder – a church leader – I thought deeply about how our government may be truly effective if our political process took these qualifications into account – and the people held the leaders accountable. Here are qualifications Paul outlined to another protégé, Titus (substitute your favorite political officer for ‘elder,’ you’ll catch my drift):
“An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1: 6-8)
So, where does this leave us?
Well, I’m going to go vote. In some cases, I know for whom I will vote. Others…well, I’m going to sort the postcards that I’ve been collecting, count the negative messages, and whoever sent the fewer nasty notes I’m likely to punch. That’s part of the fun. Then tomorrow, when the tallies are counted, I’m going to resume praying for those who have been elected – including our President — whether I like them, or agree with them or not. God says do so. I am thankful I live in a nation where I can. It is one of His blessings on America.
— Featured photo by Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash
Depending on the source you’re reading, there are varying views about divorce rates among couples who profess to be Christ-followers. The rates are either growing at the same rate as non-believers, greater than that rate, declining from that rate, or were never as high.
Assorted denominations have particular perspectives whether couples should divorce and what roles those who do divorce should have in Christian ministry, particularly leadership positions. Whatever the numbers, whatever your opinion, these facts remain:
children of God divorce;
they have done so since the time of Moses;
divorce is not God’s desire.
Of the numerous verses in Scripture about divorce, the best perspective is Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ conversation with Pharisees.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
(Yes, we switched from the New International to the King James for the last verse for readers who may have heard the words at weddings yet didn’t realize these are the words of Christ, not just the preacher.)
The salient exchange is this:
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”
The question 20 centuries later, then, is, “What causes hearts of married couples to become hardened today?” Moreover, “How do Christian couples become hardened?” For our purposes, one more reflection: “What happens if one of those hardened Christian spouses is a pastor?”
Keep these questions in mind when listening to Family Priorities, today’s audio installment from “Who Prays for the Pastor?” In this segment, author Frederick Ezeji-Okoye recounts the testimony of a pastor whose zeal for evangelizing produced fruit, not all of which was sweet.
Before you start, discuss or journal about the following:
What does the phrase “God-First Ministry” mean to you?
What does Family-First Ministry mean?
Pray for the health of your pastor’s marriage as you hear the following testimony. Ask God to improve communication between both spouses and their offspring.
“Practicing What Is Preached:”Steps to apply weekend sermons to daily communication.
“The Roscoe P. Love Love Clinic:”Practical relationship communication for men, for women; couples, singles; adults, teens.
For maximum, on-going impact, we recommend purchasing the paperback or the audiobook, or both. Each is available at amazon.com.
This essay is one in a series of devotionals on coping with stress in ministry, and is based on the book, “Who Prays for the Pastor?” written by Bro. Frederick Ezeji-Okoye. The accompanying discussion guide was written by Michael Edgar Myers, who also narrated the audiobook and 1-minute devotional excerpts. If you have any difficulties accessing the material, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Among the teaching in his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul gave what some Bible translations subtitle, “Concerns for Married Life.” Included in the passage in chapter seven, Paul speaks to pastors…or would-be pastors, with an admonition summarized here by the late Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase, “The Message.”
“Because of the current pressures on us from all sides, I think it would probably be best to stay just as you are. Are you married? Stay married. Are you unmarried? Don’t get married. But there’s certainly no sin in getting married, whether you’re a virgin or not. All I am saying is that when you marry, you take on additional stress in an already stressful time, and I want to spare you if possible.”
Peterson and Paul’s perspective is the backdrop for this sequence of audio and written reflections based on the book, “Who Prays for the Pastor?” by Frederick Ezeji-Okoye, founder of the Men of Faith Network. Ezeji-Okoye’s book goes into depth about the pressures pastors (and other ministry leaders) encounter from their work, their ministries, their families, themselves. More than recount them, he offers suggestions in overcoming them.
Author Frederick Ezeji-Okoye
Available Print, Audio
It was our pleasure to provide the narration for the audiobook companion to this narrative. We have edited four segments into one-minute reflections and added our own questions and reflections for discussion points between pastors and their families.
Peace At Home
These brief devotions will be published one-by-one in subsequent days at no cost. As they are published, take time to ponder the preview thought questions, listen to the narrative from the book, then reflect and discuss the follow-up questions, action points and prayer.
As a prelude to these essays, you may learn more about the pressures of which Paul and Ezeji-Okoye speak, review the following resources:
However, more than looking at the data and testimonies, take to heart the principle of the book and devotionals and pray for your pastor. This would be an on-going gift growing out of Pastor Appreciation Month.