Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Every Christmas Eve my family and I try, whenever possible, to listen to A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England. As the name implies, the service uses Scripture readings and hymns to present the sweep of salvation history from the fall in the Garden of Eden through the incarnation. It’s a beautiful and biblical presentation of the Good News that God has come in the flesh to save sinners.

Each year a new carol is commissioned for the occasion, and this year’s offering was a piece by British composer Dominic Muldowney, who chose for his hymn’s lyrics a poem about the Virgin Mary by the Nobel Prize-winning German playwright Berthold Brecht (1898-1956). It’s a gritty poem written from a very human perspective. Here’s an English translation of “Mary”:

The night when she first gave birth
Had been cold. But in later years
She quite forgot
The frost in the dingy beams and the smoking stove
And the spasms of the afterbirth at dawn.
But above all she forgot the bitter shame
Common among the poor
Of having no privacy.
That was why in later years it became a holiday for all.

The shepherds’ coarse chatter fell silent.
Later they became the Kings of the story.
The wind, which was icy cold,
Turned into the song of angels.
Of the hole in the roof that let in the frost nothing was left
But the star that peeped through it.
All this was due to the vision of her son, who was very
Fond of singing.
He lived with the poor
And was in the habit of mixing with kings

And of seeing a star above his head at night-time.

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