Three Generations of Noel

Amanda: Welcome to the SPU Voices podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, and on today’s Christmas episode, we decided to look at “Three Generations of Noel” ― three different generations’ interpretation of the Nativity. And to read our first one is Dr. Nathan Hedman, a recent guest on our show, who is a professor of theatre and English. This poem, titled Noel, was written by J.R.R. Tolkien before The Hobbit was published, and only just discovered in 2013 in a 1936 copy of The Annual of Our Lady’s School, a school magazine. The beautiful imagery Tolkien creates with his words resonates profoundly with the winter season’s cold and desolate landscape, but the heavens and the earth are overwhelmed with joy by the eucatastrophe ― as Tolkien would put it ― of Christ’s birth.

Nathan Hedman:

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind,
the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard
That was mother of Heaven’s King

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

Amanda: Our next selection was written in 1990 by Bruce Cockburn, who sat down to write a new Christmas song. “I wanted to put it into terms people could relate to now,” he later told a reporter, “because the story itself is so familiar that it’s been reduced to traditional image that really works against our understanding of it as a human story. A story that happens to real people. ‘Cause the governing body of the holy land is that of Herod, a paranoid man, when he hears there is a baby born King of the Jews, sends death squads to kill all male children under two. You know Joseph got a saint in front of his name and Mary got a halo. Those images so entrenched in people’s minds. The fun part of writing a song about this is to crack those images and try and see through into the lives of the people who were directly affected by those events.”

And reading our next piece is alum and recent podcast guest Esther Williamson, classical actress and teaching artist.

Esther Williamson:

Cry of a Tiny Babe
by Bruce Cockburn

Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph get upset because he doesn’t understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says “God did this and you’re part of his scheme”
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says “forgive me I thought you’d been with some other man”
She says “what if I had been — but I wasn’t anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today”

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
’Cause the governing body of the whole Holy land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there’s a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you’ve got ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It’s a Christmas gift that you don’t have to buy
There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

Amanda: Our final selection this Christmas is written by SPU alum Philip Jacobs, also known as the recording artist Sharp Skills. In 2020 when we couldn’t do our live Sacred Sounds of Christmas concert, we turned to technology and produced a Christmas special using alumni from across the country and across the decades, creating a beautiful example of what can happen when God’s people put their voices together. Our genius music professor, Dr. Ryan Ellis, arranged O Holy Night to incorporate all of our guest alumni soloists into one piece of music. But we asked Philip if he would be willing to write a bridge, a spoken-word piece of new material to fit into the middle of the song. He did, and I hope you will all be as blessed by it as I am.

Multiple Alumni:

O Holy Night!

O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night, O night divine!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us Praise His Holy name
Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
Behold your king! Behold when Christ was born!
Behold your king! Behold when Christ was born!

Philip Jacobs/Sharp Skills:

Into the dark night light is penetrating
Fulfilling the plan of the Most High
To the name of Yeshua’s venerating
O death, your days are numbered
The sword in the scabbard laid in the manger slumber
It was prophesied that God would rise to monopolize
I AM’s prodigal children now authorized
To be in the Kingdom of Heaven
Demons, forget it
Earthly kingdoms fall while the Son of Man raises kings in the desert
Dwell underneath the wings of the blessed
A revolutionary love that even thieves can receive the message
We lay our crowns at your feet
Finally we see perfection.

Multiple Alumni:

Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
Behold your king! Behold when Christ was born!
O night divine! O night, O night divine!
O night divine!
Behold your king! Behold your King!

Amanda: Thank you again to all the alums who helped with our 2020 Behold! production, Katie Malik, Jim Cornelison, Natalie Schepman, Melyssa Stone, Zahara, Philip Jacobs, Aaron Wittrock. Merry Christmas, everyone.

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