I learned this year that one of my favorite Christmas songs was written during a very uncertain time in our country and in our world.
Noel Regney wrote the lyrics and Gloria Shayne composed the music. The pair was married at the time, and wrote “Do You Hear What I Hear?” in October 1962 as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Regney was inspired to write the lyrics “Said the night wind to the little lamb, ‘Do you see what I see?’” and “Pray for peace, people everywhere,” after watching babies being pushed in strollers on the sidewalks of New York City.
Shayne stated in an interview years later that neither could personally perform the entire song at the time they wrote it because of the emotions surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Our little song broke us up. You must realize there was a threat of nuclear war at the time.”
The song describes how the word of the birth of the baby Jesus is relayed to higher upon ever higher authority. The message originates with the Night Wind, which whispers to the little lamb. The lamb reports the message to the shepherd, who in turn conveys the news to the king. The king eventually spreads the message to “people everywhere.”
It is correct that Regney and Shayne employed creative license as they veered away from the facts of the Biblical Christmas story. However, the spirit of their creativity speaks to the spirit of the Christ child coming to the world.
Bing Crosby made the song into a hit when he recorded his own version of it on Oct. 21, 1963 — approximately one month before John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He sang it on a Bob Hope Christmas television special Dec. 13 that year. Over the years, Crosby’s recording is perhaps the most often-heard version of the song.
Cuban Missile Crisis. The assassination of a president. The unspeakable massacre of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn. Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?
And yet none of these tragic events could discontinue God’s love and erase the hope that is eternally present because of God’s presence in the world. We say it and see it a lot in this season of the year — Emmanuel, God with us!
The free will of human beings is a gift given, but when abused becomes an unspeakable evil. My mentor and teacher, Dr. Fred Craddock, said it best when he defined sin as “good out of place.”
An example of Craddock’s definition might be pharmaceutical drugs. They are created for our good health, but if they are abused (out of place), they will destroy us as they also destroy everything precious to us.
The human body is another insightful example. Our bodies are created in God’s image and proclaimed “very good” by our Creator God. However, when they become pornographic objects of sexual fantasy for one’s own selfish satisfaction, they become “good out of place” and sin enters.
When I ponder the events in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 (and I don’t want to ponder such horror and tragedy) I see “good out of place.” “Free will” out of place becomes the death of a president in 1963 and a massacre of precious children and their teachers/leaders in 2012.
When I ponder the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis I see “good back in its place.” “Free will” in its proper place became a nuclear war averted and peace in 1962.
Many have asked “Where was God at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School?”
God was very much at school that day. No, God did not stop this horrible tragedy, but God loved those children and adults with his presence in ways you and I cannot understand as they faced evil — “free will” out of place — in all its rage.
Unfortunately we human beings have fallen from the intended healthy, life-giving relationship with God. Some of us find our way back to allowing the love of God to rule in our hearts while others of us, for a variety of reasons (this is why we are not to judge each other), have not yet understood that God loves us.
We have not yet really heard that when God sent Jesus into this world, it was God’s way to say “I love you! I’m for you! I’m on your side! I know you and I know how!”
And sometimes when we can’t hear the good news, bad news takes over and “good out of place” happens and people suffer — really suffer.
Do you hear what I hear? Love came down at Christmas.
“Pray for Peace, people everywhere. Listen to what I say. The child, the child, sleeping in the night; He will bring us goodness and light. He will bring us goodness and light.”
Terry Walton is senior pastor at Gainesville First United Methodist Church.