K is for kite. No really, it is. I need to do a little stretch here. H was already for Herod, so I’m not doing King.
Said the night wind to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb, Do you see what I see? A star, a star, dancing in the night With a tail as big as a kite, With a tail as big as a kite.
http://www.christmas-carols.net/carols/do-you-hear.html (you can listen to the tune and read the lyrics here)
“Do you hear what I hear” is a lovely seasonal piece, a favourite since it was written in 1962. It became a hit the following year when Bing Crosby recorded his version, and many other artists have since sung it. It is a good example of what story-tellers often do. They take elements from a well-known tale, and use them like a painter uses the colours on their palette, to create something new.
The “new” story may remind us enough of the old one to ensure that we pay attention, and take the new piece seriously. Sometimes this is done quite deliberately, to gain an audience for a message the writer wants to get across. In this case, the composers, Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker had a definite agenda, that is revealed in the line “pray for peace people everywhere”. They wrote their song at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, when they feared a nuclear war was very possible.
The casual listener to this song can easily grasp the message, and is likely not too concerned about the factual details. We know that in the “real” Nativity stories from Matthew and Luke there is no talking wind (or lamb!) no shepherd boy, and that Herod is not much like the King in the song. We also know they have gone beyond the biblical text in describing the star with a tail as big as a kite, dancing in the night.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him… Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem… the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (excerpts from Matthew chapter 2)
At this time of year there are often articles putting forward plausible scientific explanations for the appearance and behaviour of the star. The “tail as big as kite” is from the theory the Magi had spotted a comet. I have also heard versions that involved a distant star going nova, or some alignment of planets that together reflected an unusually bright light. I will say more about the star when we get to Z is for Zoroastrian.
I wonder if 2000 years from now there will be commentators taking time to analyze the words of “Do you hear what I hear?”, and putting forward plausible explanations of how a message could be passed from the wind, to a lamb, to a shepherd boy, and then to a mighty king? If they go to all that trouble, I hope they also get the message, and pray for peace.
The Advent Letter is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, of Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario.