Good Christian Friends, Rejoice
Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say: Jesus Christ is born today;
Ox and ass before him bow, and he is in the manger now.
Christ is born today! Christ is born today!
Dear friends, we are rejoicing today – Christmas Day! As we do, perhaps the words echo in our heads, “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice.”
The beloved Christmas Day carol is based on a 4th century Latin text, which later inspired a 14th century mystic, Father Heinrich Suso. According to Suso’s autobiography, one night he experienced a vivid dream, in which he was singing with an angel choir. When he awoke, he penned what he remembered of the song. A religious populist, Suso’s text was distinct at the time in that it was written in the common language and accessible to all, which in and of itself is the story of Christ’s coming. This theme of incarnation is captured in the first verse of this carol we sing: “Christ is born today!”
Sometimes we approach Christmas and the coming of Christ into our world as something that happened long ago or “once upon a time.” So full of spectacle and wonder, vivid characters, dramatic moments, and ethereal angel choirs, it can seem distant from our ordinary lives. Some of our carols are written in the past tense, as we sing about what “came upon a midnight clear” or what “the angels did say” on a long ago night. But today, we sing a carol in the present tense, full of the possibility of now, rejoicing in the one who comes yet again into our ordinary lives, accessible and embraceable by every one of us.
On a Christmas Eve some years ago, the poet farmer, Wendell Berry, was making the rounds on his small farm in Kentucky, when something about the stillness of the moment caused him to realize, “Oh. This is when it happened.” And he wrote this:
Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened.
(excerpt from “Remembering it Happened Once”)
What happened once, happens still. It’s not once upon a time, but real time. It’s not long ago, but again and again. It’s not merely some distant day in a storied past, but as we hear in the song echoing in our heads this Christmas morn: “Christ is born today!”
— Rev. Alan Sherouse