The Coventry Carol — Carols of Advent Peace

Scripture Focus: John 11.32-35
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.

Matthew 2.16-18
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

Reflection: The Coventry Carol — Carols of Advent Peace
By Jon Polk

The peaceful sounding hymn, “The Coventry Carol,” with its calming chorus of “lully, lullay” (an onomatopoeia also found in the word lullaby), could be a perfect song for singing a sweet baby to sleep.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay”?

The carol takes a decidedly dark turn in the second verse.

Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.

Not what we might expect from a lullaby, these are the words of Bethlehem mothers grieving over their doomed sons. Yes, this carol depicts the often-overlooked postscript to the nativity story, the grim ‘Massacre of the Innocents.’ 

The mothers’ despair results from Herod’s order to kill all the male infants in Bethlehem under the age of two, his reaction to the inquiry of the Magi about the baby born to be king.

Certainly not a scene one typically finds in a modern Christmas pageant.

“The Coventry Carol” originates from 16th century Coventry, England, where it was performed, in fact, in a play called, The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, a medieval performance depicting the complete nativity story from chapter two of Matthew, including the death of the young boys.

Of this horrific incident, Walter Wangerin writes, “It’s a hard thing to think about that event—especially now when it interrupts our Christmas joy. Yet it must be remembered, because lives of happiness are always interrupted by trouble.”

This haunting song reminds us that even the birth of our Savior is accompanied by grief and tragedy. For many, Christmas may not be ‘the most wonderful time of the year,’ but instead, a time when painful memories of missing loved ones or difficult days past overshadow our experience of the season.

Something lovely happens in the final verse, however. 

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay.”

The lamenting mothers recognize “thy parting,” that Mary and Joseph are able to flee to Egypt with the baby. Solace can be taken in the knowledge that Jesus has escaped the wrath of Herod. Christ’s final ‘parting’ will come with his own brutal death, which will serve to bring ultimate peace to humanity.

If you are grieving over loss this Christmas time, know that is okay.

If you are lamenting the past this Christmas, know that is okay.

If you are struggling to feel “Christmas-y” this year, know that is okay.

Take heart. Christ is coming. Peace will prevail. The empty manger ultimately leads to an empty tomb.

Listen: The Coventry Carol by Alison Moyet
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Image Note: The picture used in our image is from an artistic display at the Canterbury Cathedral by the British artist Arabella Dorman. It is made up of hundreds of items of refugee clothing, found largely on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesbos. It is a reminder to us of the violence and darkness refugees flee from, as did the holy family, and the light of Christ that promises to overturn that darkness. The unedited image can be viewed here

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 8 (Listen – 3:33)
John 11 (Listen – 4:44)

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Read more about Joy Despite Everything :: Joy of Advent
Martha greets us at the darkest point of her life. When faith has failed. When her wick smolders. Martha shows us how to wait.

Top 3 of 2018 :: Guest Writers

1 Peter 5.12
With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

Reflection: Top 3 of 2018 :: Guest Writers
By John Tillman

Many publications and groups end the year with a look back. Two days ago we discussed how we recall our failures, and Jesus re-calls failures, like us, to himself.

The remainder of this week we will look back at some highlights of the year, and look forward, relying on God to bring us the strength we need to continue in the coming year.

The first place I’d like to look is our wonderful guest writers. Each of these writers has donated their work to our community this year and I, knowing how taxing it is to produce each 400 word chunk of our content each year, am immensely grateful to each of them.

These are the top three most visited posts on our website in 2018, written by a guest writer.

Jada Swanson, Holding Space

This post was not just the most visited post by a guest writer, but the second most visited post of all of 2018. Pray for Jada as she completes her doctoral work and we look forward to hearing her voice more often.

As Christ-followers, we are called to carry one another’s burdens. However, when someone is navigating grief, a traumatic situation, or a horrific loss (relationship, job, etc.), we must resist the need to try and fix the problem, heal the hurt, or repair the damage, and, instead, embrace the tension that exists. Although it can be awkward, during these sacred times, silence is our ally. Instead of expressing empty platitudes or well-meaning, but unhelpful Christianeze expressions, choosing to simply be present with another is the most loving alternative, even if the silence is deafening.

What is most needed in these times is a willingness to simply “hold space” for another.

Matt Tullos, Surrender

Matt’s writing is so tender, and comes from an intimate relationship with God that is unafraid of tough questions and walking through the difficult times of life.

The image of the cross is an image of absolute surrender.

When we enter into the story of Christ we see a point in time when we cannot use our hands to control anything. Our will, determination, ambition, and skill are nailed to the holy cross of Christ. While the world’s system teaches us how to control others and change ourselves, the cross has no such purpose. On the cross, our hands are not busy. They are surrendered.

Jon Polk, Finishing Well

The next most visited guest post in 2018 was actually written and posted in November of 2017. Jon’s two week walk through the book of Hebrews was a highlight of 2017 that is still valuable to look back at today. This post was one of the first chosen by readers for our Readers’ Choice month in August.

Athletic imagery is a common New Testament analogy for the Christian life. For a faith focused on the ideals of selflessness and sacrifice, it seems odd that biblical writers draw parallels with sports events focused on individual winners. A closer look at a few of these passages, however, reveals that there is more at stake in our spiritual life than winning.

Dena Dyer, Under His Covering and Anticipating His Advent

Dena Dyer also provided some wonderful devotionals that we were excited to share with you, and we look forward to more of her work, this week.

As we look back, we anticipate the great work God will do in our lives and in the lives of our community through the new year.

Prayer: The Greeting
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the Name of the Lord. — Psalm 116:15

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 2 (Listen – 3:42)
Matthew 2 (Listen – 3:18)

Additional Reading
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