The Back Page – Sing It Write


The Back Page

Sing It Write

(I mean rite, I mean right, I mean correctly)

Christmas is coming; time to dust off the carols. Do we listen to what we are singing?
How often has your neighbor intoned, “Star of wonder, star of night…”? Every star is a star of night.
Why should we sing about this one, as if a star shining in the night sky were something extraordinary?
What we should sing, of course, is “Star of Might.” The preceding phrase is “star of wonder,” and the
following, “star with royal beauty bright.” The idea of Might parallels these descriptives, and makes this
particular star one worth singing about. A star of night, by contrast, is nothing out of the ordinary.
Speaking of royalty, have you ever caught yourself singing, “Heaven’s arches rang when the angels
sang, proclaiming thy royal decree”? What decree or edict did the swaddling-swathed infant intone on this
his natal night? None. What the heavenly army proclaimed (not sang) to the shepherds was Jesus’ royal
degree—that is, his pedigree, his rank, his station in society. “For unto you is born this day in the City of
David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” These phrases describe our savior’s degree. In contrast to his
high degree, Jesus came humbly, as the verse continues: “But of lowly birth did’st thou come to earth,
and in great humility.” Let us, with the angels, proclaim our savior’s royal degree.
To whom shall we proclaim? To a group of merry gentlemen (perhaps with goofy grins on their
faces), bypassing the sad ones? Does the song say “God rest ye, merry gentlemen,” or “God rest ye merry,
gentlemen”? The carol is half a millennium old. The word “rest” here means “make” or “keep.” “Merry”
means “mighty,” as in Robin Hood’s Merry (read Mighty) Men. So the song is urging, “God make you
mighty, [comma] gentlemen.” Mighty in your faith, as the next line intimates: “Let nothing you dismay.”
Christians say that words are important. God has communicated verbally. Christians started many
schools in this nation’s early centuries so that all could study the scriptures for themselves. Let us enjoy
our Christmas carols, but let us also sing them with our minds, and sing them correctly (not even “right,”
which probably serves better as an adjective than as an adverb).

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