A Christmas Carol of Mourning

As news of the tragic shooting in Connecticut spread on Friday, my facebook feed started overflowing with expressions of grief and also, in light of the Advent season, expressions of longing for Christ’s return. The horrific events highlighting humanity’s deep need for Christ were very much on my mind this Sunday as we sang the Chris Rice lyrics, “Tears are falling, hearts are breaking/ how we need to hear from God,” and as we reflected on the miracle of the Incarnation in the words of “Hark the Herald Angels:” “Veiled in flesh the God head see; Hail the incarnate Deity; Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

Then, a friend of mine posted this:

The song is “Coventry Carol”, a traditional Christmas carol from the 16th century that probably doesn’t get very heavy rotation in most churches’ Christmas music repertoire. Why? Because this is a Christmas Carol of mourning, in which a mother laments the loss of her child as well as the deaths of the many children killed in Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents. (Read about it on Wikipedia, here). As the story goes (found in Matthew chapter 2), Herod calls on the three magi to find out where the Christ child is, ostensibly so that he may join in worshiping the infant King. But when the magi are on their way back to report to Herod, an angel warns them that Herod’s true intent is to kill the baby. The wise men, of course, do not return to Herod, and, in a rage, Herod attempts to solve the problem of a prophesied King by having all children under the age of two murdered. Here are some of the carol’s lyrics:

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

This song is a moving and appropriate response to the tragedies of this weekend, but before seeing my friend’s post, I had only a vague inkling that this carol even existed and no idea about its subject matter. As a worship leader, I’ve found myself wishing for more hymns of longing this Advent, because as much as Advent is a time of hope, it is also a time of deep yearning.  We need songs of mourning and longing, as they provide an avenue for our grief:

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

 and context for our hope:

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 when Christ was born.

(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)